On Lists, and the Popularity Thereof

The internet is filled with lists. Leaving aside economic motives for producing web content that people will find objectionable, good-faith lists have to embody two related requirements: they position the writer within the ranks of people who follow whatever is being listed, and they serve as a signal to people who have no familiarity with the genre what those in-the-know consider to be worthwhile. Lists on Gawker sites exist to start arguments. Lists on Buzzfeed or The Toast exist to make the reader feel hip should they get all the references. Pitchfork's lists are good exercises in both functions: within a community, they signal the willingness to accept or reject the hype for different musicians; outside that community, they function as a comprehensive guide to what is good in certain genres of hipster-approved music. Book rankings, like Modern Library's 20th Century Novels list, or film rankings, like those of AFI or Sight and Sound, are exercises in canon-making, but allow people to make certain claims about themselves based on where they disagree with the ranking.*

Given these two functions, this ranking of Sonic Youth albums is quite odd. The purpose of the list is, as the author announces it, to establish his credibility as a superfan, hip and knowledgable.** If he did not expressly announce this, making Daydream Nation--the generally agreed best Sonic Youth album--#6. One does not bury an obvious #1 unless Making A Statement. The list, however, culminates with Dirty, which contains five or six of Sonic Youth's most accessible, poppy songs. In other terms: it's like making a list that situates itself as bold and contrarian by asserting II to be the best Led Zeppelin album, not IV, or that Steven Spielberg the best director--neither implausible nor original.

*Let me tell you sometime about my feelings on The Best Years of Our Lives, or, say, Faulkner.

**It is also to make the bizarre argument that Sonic Youth is best when it's Thurston Moore's band which, given Moore's recent shredding of the principles he built his stardom around, is an odd choice, to say the least.

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