Why I Won’t Publish a “Worst of 2013″ List

12/13/2013 12:24 PM |

I barely even write negative reviews anymore. What’s the point? As the Culture Editor here, it’s part of my job to keep up with the arts in New York: to read new books, to see new movies, to see plays and operas and concerts. Many evenings I’m out doing those things; if I’m home, it’s to watch screeners, peruse Netflix, or dig deeper into whatever I’m reading. This is to say that there’s so much culture out there, so much to experience, and so much of it is good-to-excellent. I don’t have enough time to consume everything I’d like to, let alone to write thoughtfully about everything I want you all to know about.

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So, with so much great art everywhere around us, why would I take that valuable time I don’t have enough of to write this article write pans? To tell you what not to see? (There are exceptions: sometimes you want to open a dialogue about why something accepted as great maybe isn’t so great, or talk about how something embodies a troubling cultural trend; sometimes an artist is so high-profile it’s worth writing about anything they produce, even if it’s disappointing.) It’s the end of the year, which means everyone’s Best Of lists are flooding out. But with them often come Worst Of lists, too, in which writers jeer at all the things they didn’t enjoy this year.

I understand the impulse. As an editor, I’m privileged only to see/read/etc. things I want to, which means they’re usually pretty good. But when I was a staff writer at the mercy of other editors, I was often stuck watching movies, for example, that stunk—lots of them, week after week. And some of them you come particularly to revile, and you want to shame their makers publicly, telling them they stink and why, in the hopes that they or other artists maybe will happen to read it and not do it again. Also, more crassly, they do good pageviews: people like reading takedowns.

But I think it’s worth resisting these urges. I won’t write or publish any “worst of” lists this year, or any year, even if it’s just a list of one. Instead of crafting Top 10 and Bottom 10 lists, make a Top 20. I’ve come to believe the best way to destroy bad art is to ignore it, to elevate what’s great so that audiences and creators alike will see more of it. And the more great art we see, the more great art we’ll make.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

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