On Monday, Slate’s staff published a list of what we dubbed “New Classics,” the cultural artifacts from the first 11 years of this century that we think will stand the test of time, and asked readers for their thoughts and suggestions. As of yesterday, we had received 107 comments on the original article, dozens of tweets using the hashtag #newclassics, and a bushel of emails (including one from our editor, David Plotz, who endorses Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the Sodastream machine).
Slate readers had some quibbles with our choices, to say the least. Movie critic Dana Stevens’s nomination for the canon, Mulholland Drive, sparked quite a bit of controversy, prompting one commenter to muse that “someone must have spilled peyote into the coffee pot at Slate HQ.” But the blowback over Mulholland Drive was nothing compared to the near-universal condemnation we received for culture editor John Swansburg’s selection of the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.” One commenter described it as “a watery piece of tripe”; another wrote (one hopes hyperbolically), “When I saw Black Eyed Peas do that song at halftime during the Superbowl, I realized for the first time why Al Qaeda wants to kill everyone in America.” Swansburg’s choice also handily won our poll asking which of our cultural artifacts would prove least classic with about 32 percent of the vote. Not all reader reactions to “I Gotta Feeling” were purely negative, though; several respondents helpfully suggested that Outkast’s 2003 hit “Hey Ya!” would make a much better choice of timeless earworm.
We also received an outpouring of support for cultural critic June Thomas’ choice of The Wire as a future classic television series. In fact, to judge from our New Classics submissions, it may not be an exaggeration to say that almost everyone who reads Slate loves The Wire. One commenter described the series as the Great American Novel (“who cares if it’s five seasons of teleplays?”); another wrote, “I doubt I’ll ever see another show that changes the way I look at the world so much.” The single commenter who swam against the tide by suggesting that The Wire is an inferior version of Homicide: Life on the Street, was quickly taken to task by other commenters. (We cannot at this time verify the Wire-skeptic’s whereabouts.)
Though most of the suggestions we received from readers fell into the same groupings as ours—movies, music, TV, and books foremost among them—some people didn’t like our categories. Several readers let us have it for not including any video games on our list. “In a list of cultural classics that has room for a boot and a viral video, you can’t even come up with a single video game??” typed one incredulous reader. Two commenters and one tweeter nominated Grand Theft Auto for the canon, though there was no consensus on whether the third or fourth chapter of the game deserves the new-classic distinction.
We received a few other out-of-the-box proposals that we liked a lot (Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, Facebook’s “like” button, Michigan’s ArtPrize festival, the Toyota Prius, Captain Jack Sparrow), along with some that were either too broad (composting, bicycling, “The concept of the social network”) or too old (the Harry Potter books, Clueless, NewsRadio)—for our parameters, anyway. And in addition to serious nominations, there were inevitable responses from trolls and spammers—either that, or some people hold William Hung, Carrot Top, and the Shake Weight in unexpectedly high regard. On Twitter, a Herman Cain impersonator winkingly named the film Horrible Bosses a new classic; another sarcastic tweeter proposed rotary phones and legwarmers.
A few readers took issue with the entire exercise. Some thought the task of nominating new classics was pointless because classics are impossible to predict in advance. “Literature, art, and music we regard now as masterpieces (Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Monet’s impressionism) were excoriated by critics when they first appeared,” one commenter pointed out. Another—who described our efforts as “pretty pathetic”—expressed exasperation with the self-consciousness of our endeavor. “Just consume the art purely and naturally, and let history tell you what it appreciates when it wants to,” the commenter pleaded. Fair enough—though we think it’s kind of fun to speculate about this kind of thing, as do, apparently, many of our readers. Meet us back here in 50 years to find out who was right. We’ll bring the peyote.
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