This past year has seen the proliferation of the insidious Top (insert subject and number here) List. Top ten this, top twenty-five that, top fifty, top one hundred, hell there might even be a top one thousand something or other out there for all I know. On its own “Time Magazine” has put out at least four: Top 100 English language books, Top 100 movies, Top 50 Blogs, and Top 10 Graphic Novels.
Over the past few months I’ve seen lists ranging from “Rolling Stone’s” Top 100 Guitarists, Top Ten worst band names, worst song titles, best all time actors (both male and female). Hell I was guilty of contributing to the mess myself by compiling a list of my twenty favourite women actors.
I have yet to see any point to these things. The argument could be made that they are a means of formulating discussion on topics, but have you seen any of the comments left in any of the threads where these lists are discussed? The majority of it descends into slanging matches and insults. In a world where very few people understand that someone can hold a different opinion without being a congenital idiot, reasonable discourse has gone the way of the horse and buggy.
The question in my head, one of many about the peculiarities of modern life, is what impulse drives these list makers? Do the publications make them simply to attract attention to them selves or do they honestly believe they are seen as arbitrators of taste and style to the extent that their opinions are of significant consequence?
Of course by far the worst offender in that game is our friend Oprah. Not content with clogging the air waves with her hackneyed new age babble speak psychologist friends, celebrity ass licking, and sentimental manipulation, she has set herself up as the seal of approval for novels.
That ubiquities O stares back at you from the covers of books everywhere now. Bookstores have racks devoted to “Oprah’s Book Club” choices, and I’m sure publishers are vying for the right to get that blue sticker plunked on the cover of their books. Somehow or other she has gained such influence that the sales figures of any book she selects jumps significantly.
When I think about, and in all honestly I try not to give the world of popular culture too much thought because it tends to make me cranky-hence this article-, I begin to see a correlation between Oprah’s book club and The Lists. As she gains more influence on the minds and hearts of the consumer, others have begun to worry that their self-perceived place in the pantheon of mass cultural impact is being eroded.
Establishments like “Time Magazine”, who’ve always had an overblown view of their own importance (Man of The Year), are finally beginning to realize that they are not even close to being the only game in town anymore. As a weekly they’ve never been able to be as topical as the newspapers, and now with more and more people using the Internet as a source of news, they have become even less relevant. They and the other print media are desperate to find the means to regain their positions as the voice of authority.
Thus the lists: create a category that makes it significant and unique to your publication, and yours becomes the definitive list. Perception and appearance are what matters today above substance, so that the actual content of a list is secondary to the fact that people see you as being important enough to produce one. If worded correctly, like “Time’s” best since we’ve been publishing lists, people don’t tend to question why you’ve done it, instead they treat them seriously. Even when they disagree with you they are giving credence to the fact that what you say matters.
I could spew out list after list and probably no one would give a damn. I just don’t have the reputation or influence. But for magazines like “Time”, “Rolling Stone”, “Newsweek”, and “People”, these things are becoming more and more important. It used to be that most publications would do some sort of end of the year round up, an annual summation to help their audiences put the previous months in perspective.
But now it seems like they create any old excuse to come up with a best of type list that will increase their appearance of mattering. It’s like they are all hoping that they will become a label on the cover of a book or a record. In the past a book may have had a special notice about the author winning the Booker or the Pulitzer Prize; a record a Grammy; a video an Oscar, and so on.
But if publications like “Time” have their way, are we in for a future when books, cds, and DVDs are covered with labels: “Picked as one of the top ten books written during a Leap Year” or ” Chosen one of the top twenty albums using pan European-Asian percussion in the new age/retro rock category”
Lists have become serious business for the publications producing them. A list is a means for them to utilize their name brand to establish themselves as an authority in a certain field, whether they warrant it or not. Nobody has questioned Oprah’s literary credentials; her name alone is all that matters to publishers and booksellers, and the same applies to all the purveyors of lists.
It’s only a matter of time before publishers, movie producers and music executives start specifically looking for items that will fit the characteristics of what could be chosen by Oprah, or any of the other lists. It will become a symbiotic relationship where items will be produced to fit into the lists, and the lists will identify these items as pieces of quality cementing their reputations as arbitrators of culture. Everybody will be happy and make lots of money, except for the people who don’t fit into the list.
But if you’re not the list, you can’t be any good, because you’re not on the list.