Top Five Rationalizations

Here’s the thing. A big part of me doesn’t want to fill this blog with lists. Too often, bloggers, magazines, and countless other publications use them as a cheap way to lure in readers, and offer little in the way of interesting commentary about their preferences. I don’t want to become another one of those writers who constantly concocts new lists because they’re too lazy to write anything else more challenging. Moreover, the journalistic purveyors of lists often present theirs as the definitive and immutable 10, 27, or 500 Best, capital B. Putting them in print this way makes discussion and evolution of preference impossible, when in real life, our preferences change constantly and our knowledge is far from encyclopedic. One of the reasons a 9-year old might say that Speed is the greatest film ever made, for instance, is that it is, in fact, his favorite film that he has seen. Most publications’ lists uphold a pretense of omnipotence that is impossible to maintain outside of the professional-critic world. There is simply not enough time to hear every album, see every film, read every book. And yet readers flock to the lists as authoritative. In this flocking, I too am guilty.

That said, one of my closest friends (John) and I have been trading lists since we were nine years old. Back then, they weren’t very sophisticated (#1 Film of all time by 9-year-old me: Speed). These days, while I wouldn’t call them sophisticated, our lists often prompt what I think are interesting discussions and arguments about the merits of some of our favorite pieces of popular culture, and about why we prefer certain works to others. Since John lives in New York and I live in Chicago, these lists and discussions invariably occur over email.

In the coming days, I’ll be sharing these lists and conversations in this space. As you’ll see, none of our preferences are authoritative, objective, or immutable. On the contrary, they are entirely subjective and are ripe for debate, further discussion, and revision. In fact, my mind has already changed about a few of them, as I’m sure it will continue to. If you have any favorites, additional thoughts, or vitriolic disagreement, please share.

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One thought on “Top Five Rationalizations

  1. There was a really great Judge John Hodgeman podcast recently on the issue of personal “best ever” lists. In that case it was a list of best horror films, but John Hodgeman has an excellent bit where he argues that lists like this exist solely to provoke debate about the relative merits of the things listed.

    In that light, I think that lists can be a great starting point for thoughtful discussion and look forward to seeing yours. I think the AV Club does a great job of subverting the typical list syndrome with their “Inventories.” They aren’t hierarchical, they highlight a unique theme, and always include a paragraph or two of rationalization and criticism for each entry. The entries in their lists become examples to explain a trope.

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