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The Ten Greatest Lists in the History of Western Civilization
Featuring contributions from Pitchfork, Martin Luther, and Hunter S. Thompson.
By Ben Johnson
The internet, as everyone knows, was invented in 1963 so that Pentagon personnel could circulate Audrey Hepburn nip-slips around the office. But one unexpected benefit of the web has been its value as a medium for the creation and promulgation of rank-ordered lists of things. Soon, the internet will have listed and ranked all things, and the project of the Enlightenment will be complete. In his grave, John Locke will have a raging erection. But before that happens, it's important to look back and celebrate the ten highest pinnacles in the field of List-Making ever achieved in Western Civilization. This is the real shit, people.
10. Pitchfork.com, The Top 100 Albums of the 1980s
Whereas Pitchfork's 1990s albums list was an 8.7, and the 1970s was a 5.4 (Bowie's Low? Seriously?), the 1980s albums list was groundbreaking, pointing the way forward to the future of rankings while nevertheless remaining traditional in its presentation of popular music artifacts in an order voted upon by a panel of critics. Also, they put Daydream Nation number one, and "Hyperstation" rules.
9. William the Conqueror et al., Domesday Book
Domesday Book was the 1086 A.D. equivalent to the IRS Tax Code (basically, it's a giant list of English land holdings and tax liabilities, made from scratch, in Latin). But it gets included here because its name is awesome. I mean, how much more likely would you be to buy an issue of Cosmo if their monthly feature "47 New Ways to Gargle Your Man's Dong" had a title as awesome as Domesday Book?
8. Fats Gonder, Introduction to James Brown Live at the Apollo
A cornucopia of list-making here, as the great R&B keyboard player gives us, simultaneously, a list of songs James Brown is going to sing and a list of James Brown's nicknames. There are a couple important lessons here. First, any list, even your grocery list, would sound way cooler if you had James Brown's horn section blowing notes between each item ("Here to buy Cool Ranch Doritos — blaaaah! — a Hungry Man dinner —blaaaaaaaaaahh! — and a Strawberry Shasta — blaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!!!!!"). Second lesson: when a man's list of nicknames is so badass that the announcer doesn't even mention that he's "The Godfather of Soul," and when, furthermore, a man's list of nicknames is so prodigious that "The Amazing Mr. Please-Please" is like his fourth coolest nickname, I think it is safe to say that the man in question has a world-class list of nicknames. RIP, Mr. Dynamite.
7. Walt Whitman, "The Sleepers"
In a poem, a big list of stuff is called a "catalog." You'll need to know that if you ever want to sleep with an English major from Barnard. Walt Whitman, who would happily let you have all the Barnard English majors to yourself, was the master of the poetic catalog. It's hard to pick just one Whitman catalog (do you want a big list of people's jobs? A list of stuff you can see on a boat ride to Brooklyn? A list of people who are sad because Abe Lincoln got shot? Whitman can hook you up). But if I have to pick one, I pick "The Sleepers," because I enjoy reading it.
6. Karen Owen, The Duke Fuck List
Did I just put Karen Owen one spot ahead of Walt Whitman? Very well then, I just put Karen Owen one spot ahead of Walt Whitman. But let's face it: Uncle Walt would have loved the Duke Fuck List. It has anatomical measurements, pictures of lacrosse dudes, and enough limpid jets of love to fill Cameron Indoor Stadium. And it also works as a pretty ingenious parody of PowerPoint presentations.
Imagine if twenty years ago I had told you that one day there would be a website where you could sell your couch, search for the girl in the vintage summer-camp T-shirt you saw on the subway, purchase rodeo memorabilia, and then, when the girl from the subway never responds, hire yourself a transvestite prostitute. You would have said to me, "This sounds marvelous, Ben — but what the fuck is a website?" The other great thing about Craigslist is that it is bankrupting newspapers, which is probably what newspapers deserve after building their entire business model around "Marmaduke" and Sudoku.
4. Hunter S. Thompson, the paragraph in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where Duke inventories all the drugs in his trunk.
It's like the scene in the Iliad where Homer describes ships for twenty pages, except the ships are cocaine and Achilles is a twitchy, mumbling gun nut in a Hawaiian shirt. It's basically an entire paragraph of Thompson waving his dick around and screaming "I can do more drugs than you! Rawr!" And, God love him, he probably could.
3. Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence
Okay, so all any of us ever learned was the preamble, but once you get past the introductory decorative stuff you discover a big list of reasons why King George was a douche. It's impressive that Jefferson's list of complaints is so compelling, because while he was writing the Declaration, our third President also had to find time to buy a bunch of fireworks and potato salad for his annual Fourth of July party.
2. Martin Luther, 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences
What's more pimp than writing a list that helped produce the Protestant Reformation, pilgrim hats, Tammy Faye Bakker, Paradise fucking Lost, and George W. Bush talking directly to Jesus? Nailing your list to the door of a church — that's what's more pimp. That's like some shit Angel would have done after he deflowered Buffy and turned all evil.
1. Yahweh, The Ten Commandments
This one is so obvious that instead of wasting time justifying my selection, I will give you a bonus list: The Five Greatest Moseses of All-Time: 5. Moses Malone; 4. Robert Moses; 3. Charlton Heston; 2. Edwin Moses; 1. Moses. Not listed: whoever did the voice of Moses in that Disney movie (I just looked it up: Val Kilmer. Fuck you, Val Kilmer — you are definitely worse than Moses Malone).
OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES: AFI's 100 Greatest Romantic Comedies, Stuff White People Like, The Bill of Rights