Every March, people who run websites that are not heavily influenced by sports collectively decide to have various tournaments comparing various items because if there’s a large sporting event, they want to cash in and grab some pageviews. At first, it was a fun time. I remember Jezebel had an innocent “Cake vs Pie” tournament and other sites did other things I don’t feel like looking up but this year the gimmick has reached a tipping point.
How do I know it’s reached a tipping point? Because I no longer have any desire to be righteously indignant about any of them.
The first one was Grantland’s Top 32 The Wire characters bracket. Seems like this is right up my alley since this is The Greatest TV Show of All-Time (c) but when I was looking over the seeding, preparing to feel outrage, I just felt…empty.
People love the characters of The Wire, probably because there are so many of them and they all have a particular story and purpose within the larger narrative of The Wire. Some shows have tertiary characters to simply propel the main characters’ arcs but The Wire was different that ALL of the characters had their OWN interests. Great. Amazing. Let’s compare all the characters!
Wait, what? You want to reduce some of the best characters in TV history to a binary contest of 1 vs 2? And people just VOTE? No discussion of what creates a great TV character? No insight like, “Well, the Bunk/McNulty dynamic was mutually beneficial to each, Bunk was able to feel morally superior to McNulty’s poor decision making while Bunk’s fears of McNulty’s follies helped shape McNulty’s own sense of martyrdom.” Or is just, “I LIKE IT WHEN MCNULTY FUCKS CHICKS LOL!!!!” It’s more the latter. Horrible tournament.
Next up was Maryland’s favorite non-Under Armour alum, Scott Van Pelt. I love (both non-sexually and sexually) some SVP but he put together arguably the worst “Best Rapper of all-time” Tournament I’ve ever seen.
Now, ranking rappers is actually a thing. Before 2000 and before it was hip to make a top 10 list about every goddamn thing, everyone who listened to rap would constantly tell you their top 5. I’m not sure why rap decided to have such a fierce/battle element to it from the beginning, it’s a weird art form, but a tournament for it somewhat makes sense. Unlike TV characters, who are apart of a larger narrative and are more cogs in the machine, rappers ARE their own machine. You can judge by albums, songs, lyrics, or general hutzpah as Gucci Mane says.
However, what SVP has done here is basically bring the worst elements of any popular culture contest to the forefront. A. It’s clear he’s a fan of rap, but not an aficionado as most of choices skew early 90s and heavily east coast, leaving a large chunk of the history of rap out of the bracket. B. There’s no discussion of either the rankings or method of why certain groups were picked, you just “Vote” which is fine but I’m not sure if you knew this but everyone except for you and me are idiots and should not be trusted to vote in anything important like a rap bracket or political election. C. Kwame was given a 9 seed. D. KWAME WAS GIVEN A 9 SEED.
Lastly, Vulture is running a “Best TV drama of the last 25 years” tournament and every morning, a TV loving friend instant messages me about the round of the day and we debate for an hour about the merits of each TV show, the merits of the article, and the merits of TV criticism in general. While there’s voting on Facebook (a nice way to garner fans to “like” Vulture and thus, increase pageviews) the final say goes to the writer of each match-up.
Although I agree with 80% of Vulture’s choices to be in the tourney and none of the first round match-ups, it’s the daily write-ups they have each day that are the gems. Do I care if the writer picked Breaking Bad over Friday Night Lights? No. FNL losing doesn’t make me feel any different about the show. What I do want to see is a dissection of why someone with an intimate knowledge of the subject at hand and a reasonable mind to deduce good storytelling to tell me why both are great which in turns gives me a greater appreciation for it.
As a culture, we are becoming more savvy at recognizing “good” and “bad” pop art but collectively, we still lack the specific ability to state why elements of pop culture are great. We often know right away whether we like something or not but cannot vividly describe why we feel that way. These tournaments, done correctly, can offer the general public valuable insight into why critics vaulted The Wire into such a high regard or why Biggie, Rakim, and Kanye are considered so great. These tournaments offer a wider audience than a typical review of one show, movie, or album so why not use that opportunity to give a mini-lesson on criticism to the masses so they can better understand why they love what they love?
In conclusion, a representative democracy is a failure and we need to adopt a constitutional monarchy.