How Seriously Should We Take the Deluge of 'Best Of' Lists?

Illustration for article titled How Seriously Should We Take the Deluge of Best Of Lists?

Early in December, The A.V. Club released their list of "The best podcasts of 2013," compiled by 15 of their podcast reviewers. Of those 15 contributors, only one woman voted, and coincidentally or not, only one podcast hosted by a woman was included in the final list of the 10 best podcasts of the year.

"Of AV Club's ten best podcasts of the year, ONE is co-hosted by a woman. The rest are all hosted by dudes. Hhhhhh," New York magazine television writer Margaret Lyons tweeted. "I'm not sore from being ignored by Podmass for their 'Best Of' list," Julie Klausner of How Was Your Week? added. "It just gives me more to do in the 'Smash The Patriarchy' dept in 2014."

The individual ballots that A.V. Club's judges submitted don't show many more female-led podcasts that could have cracked the ranking, though they do include Klausner's show, WNYC's On the Media hosted by Brooke Gladstone and How Did This Get Made? co-hosted by June Diane Raphael. And they don't reflect the many caveats that could be considered when looking at this apparent gender imbalance on behalf of The A.V. Club. Most of these shows aren't just a dude or two talking the whole episode; they feature guests, many of whom are female. The list also doesn't reflect the women who might contribute to the podcasts behind the scenes (I should mention for the sake of transparency that I produce a podcast hosted by two men). Lastly, this list might say more about the state of podcasting and the type of content The A.V. Club is interested in than it does about the A.V. Club's sexism: The podcasts they're interested in are largely comedy podcasts, and the comedy world is, as we know, flooded with men.


But this list does bring up a question: how much does the diversity of "Best of" lists really matter? Are they something that only industry insiders care about being included on or excluded from? Are they a reflection of the lack of diversity in the media world or of the already clear inequalities in the industries they're discussing?

The A.V. Club's 2013 podcast ranking is but one example in a long list of lists that aren't particularly diverse. In the weeks since its publication, there have been other examples that have prompted slight push back. For instance, published a "The 75 Albums Every Man Should Own" recently and the emphasis was clearly on the word "man": the only women included on the list are Tina Turner for her album with Ike Turner Workin' Together ("Because they never did anything nice... and easy. They only did it nice... and rough.") and Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville.

"lol There is only 1 female vocalist on this list of 75 and not even 1 Janis Joplin LP, the toughest of all female vocalist!!!" wrote one commenter. "They need to re-title this article as 75 Album Every White Boy (who thinks he's a man and makes more than $94,000 per year, married at least twice, between the ages of 45-70 and lived near Harvard for 6 months in his lifetime) Should Own!!"

And the Friday before Christmas, Grantland posted their own list of "Athletes of the Year: Grantland's writers on their favorite athletes of the year" which features 14 male athletes and zero female ones. "My mind is blown that Serena Williams isn't on this list. Am I missing some sort of criteria that she doesn't meet?" wrote one commenter, adding:

"Favourite" is is intended to safeguard against these kinds of questions. The article had an editor, no? Said editor could have made any number of women a writer's favourite. These guys have a responsibility to the young girls that read this stuff.


In response, Grantland contributor Brian Phillips wrote, "[Serena] was my other top choice, but I picked her last year so I decided not to repeat myself. Cost of sustained awesomeness."

On a base level, let's be incredibly blunt about "Best Of" lists: they're a media company's attempt to get end of the year hits. They provide one last push to boost year traffic totals. They're a good way to get people talking and commenting because whatever the list may be, it's bound to exclude obvious choices, prompting readers to get riled up and want to Facebook/Tweet/comment about who is missing from it. They're fun, they usually don't require endless research and they provide content during a few weeks of the year where there's very little to write about besides the importance of multicolored Christmas lights or what human killed what other human during a trip to Wal-Mart turned deadly. For all these reasons, they're why BuzzFeed is prominently featuring a "BEST OF 2013" badge on their website right now, along with the usual LOL, WIN and OMG buttons.


So as far as "content creation" goes, these lists are not exactly investigative journalism. They also should not be taken as seriously as the cousin of "Best of" lists, a category we can refer to as "Most Influential" lists. Examples of these range from Time magazine's "Gods of Food" issue which, by exalting certain members of the culinary community, made it appear as though there have not been any important female chefs in the last few decades, to lists like Wired magazine's "best reporters, writers, and thinkers on the Internet" that featured few women and seemed to some to have been written with a large dollop of "who is in my GChat history."


"Best of" lists when written by individuals are harder to criticize than those culled from a group of contributors because they reflect the personal preferences of just that person. Would you suggest to a movie reviewer that he or she add movies they didn't enjoy to a "Best of 2013 movies" list so as to include films that had more women or more people of color in them? Probably not. It's far easier to criticize an entire organization, editorial board or group of writers for putting their stamp of approval on a list than one person. That's because organization-backed "Best of" lists full of obvious candidates can indicate a deeper problem with diversity at a given media company.

But "Best of" lists, whether they should be something to get riled up about or not, do reflect how lazy we can be in our consumption habits. If The A.V. Club truly believes that the best podcasts of 2013 were mostly hosted by men or Esquire thinks that the 75 albums men should own are all by men or Grantland doesn't believe a single female athlete was impressive enough to be a favorite this year, that's not about preference anymore: that's about what they're ingesting, what they think their audience is ingesting and what they think their audience should be ingesting.


A couple weeks ago, I happened across a Business Insider piece about a hip hop/pop culture podcast started this year called The Read by friends Crissle and Kid Fury. According to BI, The Read has had a great year: it "made it to #3 overall in iTunes' 'New and Noteworthy' section, and peaked at #1 in the comedy section. When iTunes celebrated 100 million podcast subscribers, 'The Read' was featured on a page of podcasts that helped get iTunes there."

Before this piece about The Read, I'd never heard about it. Now it's in my queue of podcasts to check out. That's what's cool and sometimes powerful about being "a media tastemaker," however disgusting that turn of phrase is: you have the opportunity to share things with people. Yes, "Best of" lists are pretty stupid, but sometimes, they're an opportunity to force people to reconsider what they're consuming. Other times, however, it's the people writing the lists who are the ones who should be doing the reconsidering.

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While we're on it, what are your favorite podcasts? What are some that are hosted by/created by women that y'all would recommend?

The ones I'm always playing or can't wait to listen to are: We Hate Movies, The Broad Experience (it's sort of like a podcast version of Lean In, but more inclusive) Black Girls Talking, The Read (you will cackle, loud) and Blame it on Outer Space (by the same people who do We Hate Movies).

Guilty Pleasure: Monday Morning Podcast By Bill Burr. He's not as terrible as Adam Carolla when it comes to misogyny, but it's up there. I love when his girlfriend Nia comes on and they banter with each other.