Strickler on Top Ten Lists


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December 22, 2008
By Bret

See full post for Yancey Strickler’s 2005 taxonomy of top ten music lists, as cited here.

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01 The Consensus Pick
The first choice sets the tone for the entire list. A critic can either go for the consensus top pick, which earn the trust of a reader, or could make a grand statement by choosing an unlikely number one. 95% of the time a critic will opt for the cultural product he likes that most other people like as well.

02 The Real Number One
I generally assume that the number two item on a Top Ten list is a writer’s real number one, especially if it’s something that’s not especially familiar to the reader. It takes courage to put one’s idiosyncratic tastes front and center; it’s safer to tuck it in just a bit.

03 The One They Will No Longer Like Next Year
If any spot lends itself to listing something that a critic wants to like rather than actually likes, it’s the third place. Maybe the critic likes the idea of the product more than the product itself. Maybe the critic thinks that the item gives him a certain amount of cultural capital to wield. In the movie world, this is known as The Foreign Film Slot.

04 The Disappointment
This is something that early on seemed like a potential number one, but that has not stood up well to repeated viewings/readings/listenings. Always avoid number four.

05 The Sentimental Favorite
Placed any higher and this would stick out as either pedestrian or foolhardy. Put here in the middle, it can instead be merely a curiosity. Number five is a good personality slot — you can tell a lot about a critic by what goes here.

06 Wish They Liked It More Than They Do
This is a retread of number four, only there were lower expectations going into it. There are good moments, but more than likely the critic is the only one who hears them.

07 The Popular Kid
The blockbuster/bestseller that the critic didn’t completely dislike goes here, simply because it will give the reader a sense of comfort that will be needed through the final three.

08 The Token
Somewhere between number seven and number nine you’ll get the token selection from a genre that a critic clearly has no business trafficking in. The token pick implies a much broader knowledge than actually exists. The token pick will almost always be laughed at by specialists in whatever genre, even if they too enjoy the product.

09 The Anonymous
It’s here that the critic really shoves around his “heard it all” weight. Seemingly at random, a critic will pluck something from the abyss and declare it overlooked, then smugly sit back and admire his handiwork.

10 The Catch-All
Undoubtedly the preceding nine choices will omit some movement that the critic would be embarrassed to completely ignore, even if he did so during the previous year. To counteract that, the critic then arbitrarily chooses something that suggests that there could be 20 more items on the list that would be equally impressive and well-considered.

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