Obsessive list-making is a hallmark of contemporary pop culture. No institution has contributed to this more than VH1, which has a list for everything from the “100 Greatest Artists in Rock N’ Roll” to the “40 Most Awesomely Bad #1 Songs…Ever.” But more serious entities have partaken in this mania as well.
Just a few months ago, the New York Times released its list of the best works of American fiction of the last 25 years. (Toni Morrison’s Beloved grabbed the top spot.)
Lists like these are remarkably unscientific, of course. They’re capricious and usually the subject of both debate and disgust. But their existence is understandable. Pop culture is America’s civic religion, and these lists are our canonized, sacred scriptures. Cultures have used lists as reference points forever. Remember the Ten Commandments? No doubt, the Israelites sat around the mountain debating that one, too. (“Keeping Kosher isn’t on the list? Are you kidding me? And adultery in the Top 10? Please!”)
Well, the Forward just released its annual Forward 50, the 50 people who “are doing and saying things that are making a difference in the way American Jews, for better or worse, view the world and themselves.” The list includes establishment figures like Abe Foxman and Joe Lieberman, and media personalities we’re happy to colonize like Jon Stewart, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Scarlett Johansson. Like all lists, the Forward 50 is somewhat random, somewhat obvious, and somewhat informative.
Take a look for yourself, and I’ll post some other thoughts about it later.