Why Are We So Obsessed With Idiotic Bucket Lists?

Notes from the fashion apocalypse.
May 29 2012 6:15 AM

The Bucket List

America’s most idiotic new pastime.

A silver bucket.
Why is everyone making bucket lists?

Photo by Stockbyte.

The fabulously talented, already-much-missed Robin Gibb was making one right before he slipped into a coma. Faye Dunaway tweeted that she needs one. Bill Clinton has got an unsurprisingly large one. Jane Fonda made one right after she divorced Ted Turner and has been scratching things off it ever since. Even Kathy Griffin’s mother has one.

Simon Doonan Simon Doonan

Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.

So why don’t you?

Not having a bucket list in this day and age is like not having a navel. It’s verging on ungodly. In the half decade since the eponymous Rob Reiner movie hit the screen, the bucket list concept has slipped into common parlance and become the “read any good books lately?” of this century. Any lull in conversation—whether on reality TV or in real life—is now filled with a things-I-intend-to-do-before-I-kick-the-bucket roster of clichéd dreams and treacly aspirations.

I did not see this coming. Our culture is characterized by death-denial and a white-knuckled fear of aging, so it seems strange that we have adopted this intrinsically funereal trope with such enthusiasm. But adopt it we have. Everywhere I look, people of all ages are hurling lists into buckets as if the grim reaper were just minutes away.

The declaring and sharing of bucket lists is by no means confined to interpersonal intercourse. The Web is now filled with the all-pervading stench of bucket-listery. While how-to sites and celebrity B.L. sites abound, bucket lists find their most intriguing application in the arena of online dating.


The bucket listed items appearing on Match.com, et al., can be divided into the following two categories: the extreme, and the extremely materialistic. Let’s start with the former.

This is by far the larger of the two groups. Every bucket list includes megabutch activities of the hot-air ballooning and river rapid-riding genre. Candidates, both male and female, are at great pains to communicate the idea that they are “up for anything.”

Call me skeptical, but I am not sure I buy it. I cannot escape the feeling that these bold, hearty bucket-listers are all talk and no action. Their bucket lists allow them to virtually rebrand themselves as sky-diving sportifs or intrepid adventurers, while they’re parked on the couch on their ever-widening asses.

A good pal recently resorted to JDate, thinking that the legendarily cautious Jewish milieu would offer a respite from all the shark tanks, fire eating and hang gliding. Au contraire! The Jewish bucket lists fairly bulge with bungee-jumping bravado. The following are some example activities:

Zip-lining. As a freakishly undersized individual I would be terrified that the harness—presumably designed to accommodate the girth of the chubbiest amongst us—would not fit, and that I would plummet to earth, thereby sustaining paralyzing spinal cord injuries, at best.

Throwing a dart at the map … and just GOING! It’s hard to think of anything more ill-advised than blindly heading off to a travel destination selected in this manner. You could end up in strife-torn Aleppo, lawless Somalia or, worse still, Reading, England, the town I grew up in. It was dubbed “a cemetery with lights” by Oscar Wilde when he was imprisoned there.

Swimming with dolphins. Everyone knows that dolphins can suddenly turn “frisky.” Why risk the embarrassment of an interspecies erotic encounter? Wouldn’t that be on your un-bucket list of things you would rather NOT experience before you die?

As you can see from the above-listed horrors, the emphasis is on daredevil extremism. These activities are not just things you may wish to do before you die, they are also things which are quite likely to cause you to die.

Juxtaposed with this extreme stuff, the second category—the extremely materialistic bucket-list wishes—seems quite life-affirming and fluffy. Popular themes include buying a speedboat, getting louche in Las Vegas, and guzzling champagne in improbable locales. While these are undeniably naff and dorky, they make so much more sense than the nihilistic jumping-out-of-planes-in-a-wetsuit genre.

While it is easy—and great fun—to mock the clichéd desires of others, assembling one’s own bucket list is, as I found out when I attempted to create one for inclusion in this column, a mind-numbing challenge.

Having no desire to get eaten by a hyena or to concertina my vertebrae while attempting to parkour across Manhattan, I found myself scraping the barrel for some meaningful bucketlistobilia. After hours of brain-ransacking, and a long one-way conversation with my dog Liberace, I managed the following meager assemblage:

First and foremost I would like, before I die, to nuke the blotch of toe-nail fungus which afflicts my right big toe and which has proven resistant to every product on the market. Out damned spot!

Second, I would like, one sunny day, to run up to the Russian Embassy, knock on the door and shout, “Hello! Is Len in?”

And lastly I would like to go shopping at Forever 21. For some reason this fashion discount outlet features on many teen bucket lists online, and I want to find out exactly why. One day I will walk proudly through the doors and … (gurgle, gurgle, death-rattle) … too late!


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