I haven't had any self-respect for a long time, ever since I watched "40 Least Hip Hop Moments" on VH1.
That's right. I lost my soul to VH1more specifically, to the arbitrary lists of pop culture trends. You know what I'm talking about: "Top 10 Hair Metal Bands" or "200 Worst Dressed Hollywood Celebrities." They get me every time. I first noticed the lists in the mid-'90s, when music magazines came out with cover stories like "100 Greatest Songs of All Time" or "50 Best Album Covers of the Past 50 Years." I would inevitably buy the magazines, just to see who made the list. "What? They listed the White Album as No. 7?" I'd exclaim, turning to my mother to regale her with reasons why that album's cover, while a cool concept, was totally inferior to No. 8, the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers cover. "I mean, come on," I would say with more passion than I've ever shown for politics or world peace, "Sticky Fingers has a real zipper on the front! That's totally cooler than plain white."
The lists intrigued me. I could babble about unfair rankings for hours, explaining why the Beatles' Revolver had a much cooler cover than Sgt. Pepper's, even though it was just black and white and not nearly as psychedelic. I'd use hand gestures and analogies, making impassioned pleas to my parents' musical integrity. "I tried to call Ringo on the phone when I was 14," my mother would reply, and I'd know she wasn't really paying attention.
I'm not really sure how or why this fascination with pop culture lists started, but it has quickly become a full-blown addiction, not just for me, but for my entire generation. If I'm home alone, I'll turn on VH1 and watch the latest installment of "100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock." I didn't even know there were 100 hard rock artists, good or bad, but apparently I was wrong. After I get through that showcan you believe they listed Metallica over The Who? They might as well just include Barry Manilow and call it a nightVH1's next show, "25 Mediocre Actors Whom You Recognize But Can't Name" comes on, and I'm mad all over again because they put Cliff from Cheers below Norm. Cliff was totally better than Norm. How could they do this to a U.S. postal worker? Have they no respect?
Sometimes, I turn on these list shows, only intending to watch them for a few minutes. This is a bad idea, like telling yourself you're only going to do heroin a couple times. Two weeks ago, I was sitting at home on a Saturday night, waiting for my friend Josh to pick me up so we could go to a concert. I started watching a show called "100 Hottest Hotties" and knew from the moment John Stamos beat Ben Affleck that I was in for the long haul.
"Ready to go?" Josh said when he came to pick me up.
"Hold on," I said, "They just said Jenna Jameson was hotter than Heather Graham."
"No way!" Josh cried and sat down on the couch.
In the end, we made it to the concert, but we missed the opening band. For that, I blame VH1 and its assertion that Ashton Kutcher (No. 3) is hotter than both Johnny Depp (No. 5) and Brad Pitt (No. 6). I mean, that's just wrong. Taking-your-sister-to-prom wrong.
The next week, Josh and I tried to go out again, but VH1 stopped us with "100 Most Wanted Bodies" show, which is totally different from "100 Hottest Hotties." Apparently, there are some hot people whom nobody wants to look like. Julia Roberts was on the "Hottest Hotties" list but not the "Most Wanted Body" list. Does she secretly have a clubfoot? As a journalist, it's my duty to find out.
Television stations aren't the only culprits in this list-making mania. Spin magazine just published its "The Ultimate List Issue," which covers such credible topics as the "Five Most Illegible Metal Band Logos" and "Seven Places Where Courtney Love Has Exposed Her Breasts." I know it's tasteless and wrong to buy this magazine, but I don't care. By the way, did you know Courtney Love once flashed in a Wendy's restaurant?
If this column included information of actual substance, I would write about the cultural significance of my generation's fascination with lists. I could relate it to society's decreasing attention span. Perhaps it has to do with organizational conditioning and the heightened importance of celebrity subculture. But really, the lists are just fun. I can't think of a better way to spend the evening than by discussing the aesthetic merits of Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp. These list-makers have provided Americans with something we never had before: complete and total shallowness.
What did my grandparents do when there was no one to tell them who the 50 most beautiful talkie stars were? Who was a bigger sex icon, Sophia Lauren or Brigitte Bardot? Generations of people lived their entire lives without any definitive pop culture analysis. They had to make up their own minds about whom they liked and didn't like. That's no way to live.
But now, we've been freed. No longer are we burdened with decisions. We can turn off our brains and let VH1 and Spin do the work for us. I only wish the list-mania could have come earlier. Perhaps if people in the Middle Ages were supplied with a list of the Top 10 Diseases That Will Wipe Out Your Village, they would have been more prepared. "Sure, this leprosy thing is bad," they'd say, "but it's no Black Death." And they would have looked on the bright side, just as we do when faced with another Lindsay Lohan film. "She's so annoying," we say, "but at least she's not Hillary Duff." We know this, thanks to the television show "30 Most Annoying Teen Idols." And like that, we are saved. Hollow and dead inside, but saved nonetheless.