Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Year-end listmaking, year-end poll-taking

I can understand the anger that many people feel toward the Village Voice and their new, um, editorial direction. On a professional/literary level, the "new" VV is obviously disappointing, as evidenced by horrifically amateurish reviews such as this one. But I have nothing personal against any of the parties involved and have no desire to sabotage their poll by not voting or by submitting a stump ballot (even though doing so would be fairly amusing, for instance, check out this discussion for Hinder's grassroots campaign. I'd rather stump for Billy Talent though -- gotta reprezent da homeland).

All rumours of P&J's sudden death were clearly false -- of course the VV was going to attempt to keep the poll going despite having canned its founder, Robert Christgau. P&J has 30+ years of history behind it, the P&J name sells papers, it has far too much worth as a business/brand name to let it fade away so easily. But more pertinently (at least to me), the VV "owns" the poll in a legal/financial sense, but the guts of P&J -- the results of the actual poll -- isn't "owned" by Christgau, Chuck Eddy, or by any single other person. It's an amalgamation of the opinions of everyone who votes in it. The poll's basic building blocks are nothing but piles of data -- nothing but a bunch of numbers, added up and compiled into an ordered list. The final product effectively averages over the tastes of the individuals who submit their ballots, which is why many people glean more information from the critics' individual ballots than from the overall results of the poll. By examining someone's ballot, it is our natural tendency to extrapolate information about the personality of the human being behind the ballot -- to look for the personal stories of the individuals who listen to that music, if you will.

However, doing this extrapolation for the poll's overall results -- condensing hundreds of individual stories and accounts into one -- is a much more difficult task. This is precisely what Christgau hoped to accomplish with his annual P&J essay, along with the other critics who were invited to contribute musings on The Year In Music to each edition of P&J. So, I feel that the best form of "protest" vote is not to withhold one's ballot, or to submit a stump ballot extolling non-existent adoration for crappy nu-metal bands, but to not bother sending comments. Many critics put a lot of heart into their P&J comments, sometimes waxing in a near-freeform style for several pages, venting and ranting and getting as much off their chests as possible. If the VV only wants word-premium, high school-level soundbytes instead of longer, more meticulously scripted reviews, then that's all I will give them, if anything.

[Jackin' Pop ballots are due tomorrow, which means I had to bump up my usual deadline by two days ... so I'll be back later in the week with a lot more to say ...]

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