The season is upon us where culture junkies such as myself become enjoyably worked up over various year-end “Best of 2011″ lists – best album, movie, novel, etc. Adam Kotsko of Shimer College wonders what this drive towards “spurious ‘ranking,’ that is, the expression of personal preference as an objective feature of the work” says about contemporary relationships between consumers and cultural production:
Certainly the superabundance of cultural production, which has not been matched by an increase in our available attention, makes advocacy and prioritizing inevitable. Yet these rankings become a kind of black hole of attention and debate. Very rarely does a ranking prompt discussion of the actual expressive content of a work — the debate almost always remains on the level of the ranking itself (“What kind of fool could think Citizen Kane is more important than Breathless?”).
Our discussion of cultural goods implicitly endorses their reduction to competing commodities, so that when we’re talking about Joyce vs. Proust, we might as well be talking about Coke vs. Pepsi. And the only alternative I can think of is the notion that serious criticism, which tests the quality of the work by demonstrating the degree to which it sustains and rewards the scarce attention we devote to it, would really be the best possible advertisement for a work.