The Trouble With Rankings

I started off this blog with a ranking of my favorite movies from the 2010s. A sweeping ranking list allowed me to toss out my thoughts on 35 movies at once. It introduced my Tiered Ranking system. There are a few thoughts I have about this choice.

First,rankings teach me broader trends about my cinematic taste. It isn’t the most scientific method, but as I wrote, the flow of words became my guide for ranking the movies. As words poured out of me to celebrate Inside Out and Lady Bird, I knew where they would go. I knew as I sat and stared at my blinking cursor to write about Get Out and John Wick: Chapter 2 that they could only go so high. When I finished writing about M:I – Fallout and A Star is Born did I realize that there were four movies that I felt more strongly about. 
And in the end, I found a common theme in all the movies: personal change at the center of the story. Inception wasn’t only a heist movie, but a fable about finally facing grief. Lady Bird perfectly bottled up the angsts of senior year to knock me on the ground. Annihilation is a magnifying glass examining guilt and moving beyond it without self-destructing. And The Social Network focuses on an unlikeable protagonist who changes as the years go by, and as his power grows he becomes the harbinger of seismic cultural change.

Which says quite a bit about who I am, and how I view movies and how I digest them. 

But I also contributed to the destructive practice of assigning objective worth to pieces of art. 

Ranking art is of little inherent value. Declaring one film to be in another Tier than another doesn’t do much. I draw an arbitrary line in the sand for the qualifications of art and what makes it worthwhile as if I am the judge of that. Clearly, I am not, and should not be. 

Pretending to be places me in a crowd of white, middle-class, and heteronormative men who have dominated conversations around art for centuries. They’re an unnecessary class of gatekeepers that don’t promote beauty in the world, but limit it. To assign binary worth to art is to silence the creative voices of people considered less than for the most superficial and despicable of reasons. 

Piling on to that destruction, reading a ranking isn’t interesting. I see the list, get the gist of who the person is and probably get rankled or soothed by where they place my favorite movies. I may breeze through their writing, though I don’t truly care for it. 

And that likely happened with my own ranking series. What interesting things did I say in that entire piece? I joined the masses in declaring The Social Networkand masterpiece. I joined in the zeitgeist by slotting in three MCU films. I planted a flag on a culture way hill by placing The Last Jedi in the list. The same as many, many other people. 

I imagine there will be a Future Jay Dubs who looks back on all of these lists and rankings with distaste. I hope there is. I hope I grow enough to free myself of ranking and assigning value to things which are indefinable. 

For now, though, I find that rankings help. Not because they are sexy right now, but because I find value in defending and discussing and debating films. I do not fully buy into the Kumbaya feeling of avoiding rankings. I still find it more interesting to stir the pot a little bit, only enough to get discussions going. 

I recall writing a history paper in college, a final for a class, about United Fruit and the Guatemalan Coup of the 1950s. In it, I argue quite forcefully that United Fruit pushed the country into revolution. I argue that United Fruit was behind just about everything to do with the coup: from exploiting a country to enticing the CIA to intervene in a Communist coup. My history professor docked me a half grade because I put too much of the blame on United Fruit, and as a historian I should be careful about assigning so much responsibility to one party. 

The reaction I still have to this day about that is “Well, isn’t it more interesting that I did?” 

I firmly believe that planting a flag proudly on a hill is better than watering down the message to appease the academics, or the crowd, or whomever. Essays are meant to provoke, not to pander. Hopefully the essays provoke more thought and respectful discussion than emotions and fights, but nonetheless essays are about constructing an argument and arguments are provocations. 

Personally, I don’t fully believe everything I wrote in that paper. But I do believe that my paper was more interesting because I took an aggressive stance. In daily life I hold much more nuanced, and centrist thoughts about most things. When I write an essay, I am making an argument, and writing a centrist, middle of the pack argument isn’t evocative or interesting. 

And yet, that’s the genesis of my blog. Followed up by a self-indulgent post examining my own posts. Which, honestly, if you have gotten this far I truly appreciate you and how amazing you are. 

I look forward to watching each of these movies, writing about them, and looking at my past entries to see how I have changed. 

And I hope in many ways that I don’t agree with those original posts.

Featured Photo by Joshua Golde on Unsplash

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