The Subjectivity Of Rank
  • TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2012

  • Posted by: Joe Puglisi

Today's Internet discourse has a tendency to blur the line between "opinion" and "encyclopedia," often leading to some subjective opinion pieces acting like fact-based articles, and receiving severe backlash from other minds who -- rightfully -- disagree with one thing or another.

No one is more guilty of this than the haughty, self-aggrandized writers who currently rule the music journalism landscape. This is the vertical we're talking about here.

Criticism is inherently divisive, especially of things that are already divisive in their own right. That being said, the music "critic" or as the new media landscape should more accurately be referring to them, a "tastemaker," is selling an opinion to their audience. You read a source, or a writer, because you trust their taste, and want to enjoy the same things they enjoy, to consume the same things they find interesting. At least, that's how it would be in some other, more orderly universe. It is the critic's job to create a context, and try and frame the art within that context, for a more thorough understanding for all.

It is increasingly strange to me that despite reading and/or believing in a source like Stereogum or Pitchfork for their opinions, people are angry or offended when they disagree. These sources are tastemakers, whose guidelines are clearly stated and reinforced by their coverage. If you take these sources as litany, you're bound to be offended by their intensely subjective nature at one point or another.

Then we receive things like editorial focused on rank, and yes, I find it hilarious that the word "rank" could mean authority, stature, criticism, or a particularly offensive smell. The modern ordered list is the bane of artistic discourse. It is perfectly fine for someone to maintain a top twenty list of their own personal favorites, but when a respected -- and often, a cultish -- publication, online or other, attempts to create a definitive rank-list of music, within any framework, more people are bound to disagree, be angry and confused, and riot in the comments section.

The ordered list may be an attempt to inspire discussion, and stir music fans to have a tasteful, friendly discourse on the subtleties between items two and three, but it's an erroneous one. This is the Internet, where concepts like "butt-hurt" were first invented to describe the general population of people completely unable to detect humor, sarcasm, or inherent subjectivity.

It's important to establish a consistent tone, and creating ultimate lists of every piece of music, to then live on your website indefinitely, is a good way to establish a mission statement. But websites that maintain too large a rotating roster of writers -- while simultaneously acting as a premier source for taste -- are doomed to find detractors everywhere as their opinions morph, despite their own assertions. But it's not the hate mail that anyone should be concerned with. It's the narrow view of trying to quantify and catalog art in an absolute way, rather than what should be the purpose of all this list-making: trying to foster discussion by presenting a set of opinions to a loyal reader base.

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