July 17, 2012

On the Stupidity of “Worst” Lists

Humans love lists. Or at least the modern American version of humans love lists. There are entire websites that exist only to make lists of largely irrelevant things. I wonder what it was in our ancestors’ history that made us evolve a love for lists.

Maybe it’s just that lists are good fun. They start heated arguments that are ultimately meaningless and wind up with everybody agreeing to disagree and having a beer. It’s a lot easier to bury the hatchet about whether Citizen Kane or The Godfather is the best movie ever made than it is about whether an extension of the Bush tax cuts are a good idea.

That being said, there’s a species of list that seems completely pointless to me – worst of lists. Particularly if you’re talking about art. Best of lists are at least aspirational and tend to be based on some shared idea of quality, even if the details get fuzzy. Worst of lists, on the other hand, tend to be a list of stuff the person making the list doesn’t like or, at best, stuff he thinks is overrated.

Case in point, this piece at Salon titled “Ten Bands I Will Be Forced to Listen to In Hell.” My first thought reading this was, “whoa, and I thought I was a music snob/asshole.” This guy really brings it and against some suspiciously mainstream targets. I’m not a huge fan of any of them (I’ve never gotten the appeal of The Beach Boys), but I have a hard time thinking that any of that stuff could be the grist of eternal torment. It is funny, though (of Sting he writes, “[i]f pretension were bullion, Sting would be the third Koch brother.”).

Because, honestly, anything that’s released in the mainstream culture, much less something that’s wildly popular, is at least competently produced. I don’t mean that it’s “good” in an ascetic sense, just that everything’s in tune and the end product sounds like some care was taken with it. Seriously, does this guy think that some kind of out of tune, obscenely loud, dissonant caterwauling* drilled directly into his ears at Disaster Area decibel levels would be better than anything Creed ever produced? I kind of doubt it.

I see the same thing while reading through the regular-person reviews at IMDB or Netflix after I watch a movie. Someone will breathlessly claim that a particular movie (in this case, it was Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) is the worst ever made. Not just the worst they’ve seen, mind you, but the worst film ever made. I can only assume that such people either haven’t watched a lot of movies or have never seen Mystery Science Theater 3000. There are movies out there where things are out of focus, the dialogue is barely audible, and you can see the boom mike in the shots.

Which makes the whole enterprise kind of pointless, right? It’s just a chance to vent about stuff that aggravates you. I got no problem with that – how could I? Just don’t think you’re making some kind of objective assessment. And think twice before you pop off like that. Like I said last week, hate isn’t really good for you and what does spouting off like that really accomplish, anyway?

At the very least, be funny about it.

* K would not doubt think that describes some of my favorite music, I’m sure!

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