I’ve been sitting back as a witness to the bubbling discourse that’s been going on in response to the “Best of 2011” poll being conducted by the Albany Times Union, a local newspaper. In the past, this yearly poll, which, beneath the headline (seen here) is clarified to be “readers’ picks,” has drawn controversy, for obvious and (I believe) deliberate reasons. An example of this was seen in 2010, when Best Sandwich in the Capital Region of NY was awarded to Subway with Panera being the runner up.
Daniel B., proprietor of FUSSYlittleBLOG.com, has taken on the burden of trying to improve the quality of the results from the poll, and has launched what he calls FUSSYlittleBALLOT 2.0; this is the second year he has attempted this. I urge you to read his approach, and formulate your own opinions on the matter. You can also read some of his later arguments here.
I have my opinions, and I commend Daniel for his efforts. I can’t say I back Daniel on all or any of his choices, but I think that a little thought should go into anyone’s choices. What is best for you or him or her might not be the best for that person sitting in the corner. Herein lies the issue with the poll. This is a contest in which there are no set criteria; even with criteria, by design, the results would favor the opinions of the majority. For the majority, with no criteria, price would trivialize quality. This would lead to things like Subway being crowned The Best Sandwich of The Capital District of NY.
Imagine you are relocating to this region. You know nobody who lives here. You’re looking for recommendations for someplace to eat. Lets say you want a sandwich. You flip through your trusty print Times Union newspaper. You see “Best Sandwich – Subway.” What’s going to be your impression? It reflects poorly on the area and on the publication. You wanted a place where you could start exploring the cuisine in the area, and the newspaper is telling you that everyone thinks Subway is the best. You’re back at square one.
Lets step sideways. (stick with me, guys – it’ll be worth it)
Late last year, WWE released a DVD showcasing it’s “50 Greatest Superstars of All-Time.” You all know I’m an old school (ok maybe middle school) wrestling fan, so this was of great interest to me. All you non-fans who know nothing about wrestling, who comes to mind when you hear “WWE?” Hulk Hogan? Stone Cold Steve Austin? The Rock? Ric Flair? Macho Man? I forgive you if the latter two don’t, but, c’mon people; Hogan, Austin, and The Rock are the most recognizable names in pro wrestling history and have significantly crossed over into pop culture.
Here, I present the top 25 from this list:
1. Shawn Michaels
2. The Undertaker
3. Steve Austin
4. Bret Hart
5. The Rock
6. Harley Race
7. Ricky Steamboat
8. Andre the Giant
9. Rey Mysterio
10. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper
11. Eddie Guerrero
12. Triple H
13. Gorgeous George
14. “Macho Man” Randy Savage
15. “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig
16. John Cena
17. Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair (tied)
20. Jerry “The King” Lawler
21. Lou Thesz
22. Terry Funk
23. Hulk Hogan
24. Bruno Sammartino
25. Chris Jericho
Start at the top. Ok, cool! Austin’s number 3. Now start at the bottom. Hulk Hogan at number 23? What’s going on here? He almost singlehandedly brought the business to the mainstream. What gives?
I’d like to offer up the input that the numbers 1 and 2 spots are men who have been loyal (for the most part) to WWE since they joined. At the time of the publication of the DVD and through now, Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair are working for a rival organization and have historically not been unconditionally loyal to WWE.
Needless to say, this list has drummed up much controversy among the internet wrestling community. Because WWE compiled the list with no obvious criteria, the ordering of their greatest superstars could be dependent on anything or nothing. They can put anything they want anywhere. That’s what makes the list in general seem so random.
If this were a poll where people were asked “who’s the best wrestler of all time?”, you’d get a lot of people (non fans) who would vote for someone like Hulk Hogan, because that’s a name they recognize and he was the face of the business for so long that he must be good. To most true fans, Hulk Hogan wouldn’t even rank in the top 100 in wrestling ability because his ability has always been below average. He had the head for the business and a look that was marketable, and that’s what made him popular, but, in his prime, he pales in ability to someone like Bret Hart or Lou Thesz or Steve Austin in their primes.
This is why strong consideration needs to be placed into language and intent when lists intended to showcase things are being put together. The criteria should be obvious and unequivocal. With the WWE list, fortunately, if you pick anyone in the the top 25 and study tapes (not DVDs or laserdiscs…tapes) of their career, you will gain an appreciation for what it takes to be a superstar in the wrestling business. Sure, Shawn Michaels whined his way to the top of the business, but, when that bell rang, that man could work.
What I believe is unfortunate about the Times Union’s Best Of poll is that the intent of the poll is to present what the majority choose as “best” and not to present the highest quality local treasures as the headline would make you believe. I understand this would be a much larger and more labor intensive undertaking, and I also understand that it isn’t practical, and, even if quality were mandated to be the only criterion, the differences in range of quality sampled by person A and person B would make the higher quality places just as unlikely to be voted the top as they are now.
Like I said, I’m not campaigning to the masses to try to sway the results. It’s not my fight, and I’m staying away from it (besides, I have my own Dinosaurs to deal with). I do believe that a newspaper organization needs to be precise with language. People will believe what you say; that’s how we’re programmed. If it’s on the news, it has to be real.
If a newspaper prints that everyone thinks Subway is the best in the area, people could possibly get get jaded on the culinary scene, and, in turn, switch to cereal and forget about sandwiches all together. Worse yet, they could believe Subway does make the best sandwiches in the area, keep going there, and never venture out to see if there’s somewhere that does better. This type of complacency is discouraging to the local business, which already faces stiff competition against chains that already have national brand recognition and can afford to virally advertise across all forms of media.
My brief two-cents on twitter between Daniel B. and Kristi Gustafson, an employee of The Albany Times Union, albeit not necessarily in the line of print journalism, leads me to lose hope that someone at the newspaper would appreciate how the ambiguity of “Best of” in bold is misleading. Like I said, it’s not my fight. I’m certainly not going to change how a newspaper operates, not over this.
I hope that we can all just agree that Subway is the Hulk Hogan of the sandwich shops in the area, metaphorically speaking. There are places that we all know are better in quality, yet we tolerate it because it’s just good enough. Sure some people detest it, but enough people like it for it never to go away. Also, one day, just when you think Subway is going to step aside and let someone else shine in the Times Union Best of competition, they’re going to step in and steal it back, just like Hulk Hogan did to Bret Hart and Yokozuna at Wrestlemania IX.