The Top 5 Reasons Of All Time To Use Top 5 Lists (UPDATE)

Earlier Today, Bleeding Cool posted an article by a contributor wherein he selected the villains he deemed the “Top Five Batman Villains Of All Time” based primarily on their depiction in the Batman ’66 TV series that is finally coming soon to DVD, and tracing their latter-day depictions in films. It was a well-reasoned list that showed an awareness of TV and film culture as well as comics culture and as we have been saying on Bleeding Cool of late, we want to welcome in new voices and new opinions—this article was an example of that.

The website Outhousers decided this spelled the doom of Western civilization in that Bleeding Cool had posted a Top 5 list, or at least the “Newsaramification” of Bleeding Cool (same difference, right? I jest).

Not everyone likes Top 5 lists, obviously, but many people do and they are something of a staple of pop culture conversation, so there are plenty of arguments to be made about their potential value and role in the way we talk about comics, films, TV, and many other areas of entertainment culture.

So, without further ado, here are our Top 5 Reasons Of All Time For Using Top 5 Lists…

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5. People Like Them. Many people do, and that’s why using Top 5 lists garners accusations of creating “click bait” purely for the clicks, and thereby ranking for the website concerned and money from advertisers. But the purpose of fan websites that disseminate news, opinion pieces, and even gossip and rumors like Bleeding Cool does is to do that—to create content that readers find enjoyable and want to read as a form of dialogue with the writers voicing their views. Now if the title promotes expectations in the reader that they then find are lacking in the content of the article—like if the title sounds reasonable but the article is not well-argued or well-written—then that’s another matter. And fans make their voices heard if they feel misled and vote with their eyes and their time. But even if people liked or didn’t like the particular piece that prompted this conversation, it isn’t hard to find a well-written Top 5 list somewhere that fans have appreciated and benefited from. Saying that all Top 5 lists are a waste of space is impossible to agree with. It depends on content in the end.

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4. It’s An Age-Old Rhetorical Device That Encourages Critical Thinking. If you never had a teacher or professor give you a handy list of items to remember, either in groups of 3 or 5, you probably didn’t have very good instructors. Short lists have been the basis of education in Western culture, and many non-Western cultures for thousand of years. Short lists stick in your memory easily, and therefore you can talk about them, and argue them with peers afterward, rather than having to refer back to notes. And almost everyone who encounters a Top 5 list is prompted to ask themselves, “What’s my Top 5 here?” and by either agreeing or disagreeing, they reach a point where they define their own position and views more clearly to themselves and others. Top 5 lists mean that you can’t pick everything, and that means you have to engage in a process of elimination with yourself and others that involves a comparison/contrast pattern where you are forced to spell out the specific virtues of something you approve of. In this case, a comic, TV show, or film. You are forced to evaluate your own reactions and recognize the features that have influenced your reactions. You come away with a better understanding of the subject you’re talking about, especially when arguing with others, because you have to decide exactly why you disagree and make your points clearly.

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3. It Promotes Healthy Competition And Self-Esteem. This point addresses the process of creating a comic, TV show, or film. Those who have made something, finding that they have been selected in a competitive Top 5 list can see that they’ve succeeded in reaching fans and have been selected over and above other projects, and if the Top 5 list gives solid reasons for this ranking, it shows creators what fans have most appreciated about their efforts. Often Top 5 lists are surprising, and give a more egalitarian view of artistic achievement that’s not based purely on sales of a product or on media presence. The honest to goodness reactions of readers and viewers inform Top 5 lists, especially in blogging, and that’s a level of honesty that creators often find useful. Even if they didn’t make it onto a list, they can now observe the qualities that fans are looking for, and perhaps set their goals on making a better product. There’s a place for Top 5 lists in reflecting what has been most effective in reaching fans.

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2. We Aren’t All Made Of Money. When it comes to making Top 5 lists of comics, especially, or graphic novels, or even of Kickstarter campaigns, there’s an economic element involved. There’s a lot of product out there and so little time, and often so little money to spend as consumers. We hear about books, films, and TV shows by word of mouth from friends, but we also hear about them on the internet on fan sites and news sites. From those tidbits of information we make our decisions about what we have the funds to purchase and what we have the time to check out. If we disagree with a list we’re looking at, then we don’t follow the list’s advice, but a strong argument in favor of a product might hit on key elements of what we enjoy and tip the scales in favor of that item. And that’s a helpful step in a selection process in a world where we must be selective. And hopefully that selection process means that worthy projects get attention and sales so that creators can keep doing what they love by finding their fan-base.

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1.It’s A Good Litmus Test of Cultural Change. Top 5 lists change and are updated on a  regular basis. They are re-evaluated in the light of new items that appear on the cultural radar, and things are never set in stone. In fact, it’s a very good historical perspective moment when we look back over Top lists of the past year and recognize what the most popular or interesting projects have been and compare them to the new year’s projects to see how things shift over time. It’s very enlightening when it comes to genres expanding and developing. We might find in comics that all-ages comics are suddenly appearing in new Top 5 lists a lot more than in previous years and draw conclusions from that—like that very talented people are being attracted to work in all-ages comics and there’s a renaissance developing in that category. Or we might find that a sudden glut of horror-based TV shows may not mean that they are all high quality if only one of them makes it into a Top 5 list, engaging with competition in other genres like drama that are beating them out on the artistic and thematic level. We can learn a lot about ourselves over time by looking back on our selective choices and the things that we single out for praise. Even when looking at a list like “Top 5 Batman Villains”, there’s no fixed point for evaluation. The villains we like this year will be reassessed in a few months and the way that we perceive them over time will change. Are we including more female villains than we used to? Is that because we now view female villains as equally powerful to male villains? These kinds of questions arise and are a testament to our changing views in pop culture.

So, yes, there will be the occasional Top 5, Top 10, or similar list appearing at Bleeding Cool, especially from contributors who have something to say about their own fandom and their own critical thinking processes evaluating the pop culture products they love. And that’s one option among many for writers expressing their views on Bleeding Cool, and one that we will continue to support for a lot of good reasons, but these are our Top 5.

UPDATE: Today, January 30th, The Outhousers in their great wisdom, not only conceded our points that Top 5 lists are the coolest thing ever (or something like that) but dedicated an ENTIRE DAY of Top 5 posts in honor of Bleeding Cool (and not at all to spite us, as Prof. Thaddeus T. Puffinbottoms assured everyone).

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And what’s more, every January 30th shall now be Bleeding Cool Day, whoops,  I mean,  “Top Five Day on the Outhouse”. So dig in to the Top 5 list goodness on their site today and bask in the magnanimity.

Hannah Means-Shannon is EIC of Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter

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