There was a time when a kid could walk into pretty much any North American drugstore or supermarket and find themselves exposed to a wide range of Top 21 Lists. The reasons for the current absence of Lists (Top 21 or otherwise) in such outlets are far too complicated, to say nothing of depressing, to get into here. The end result is that, while today’s Top 21 Lists are better-crafted, well-thought out and detailed than ever before, the form itself is in decline, perceived as lacking relevance for all but the most diehard members of the so-called “T21L community.”
The advent of the internet has given many hope for a renewed public interest in Top 21 Lists, and indeed the web has been the source of some of the most exciting and innovative lists of the last few years. Such lists did not come into existence in a vacuum, though, and it’s important that we take a moment to give some consideration to the ever-evolving Top 21 Most Influential Top 21 List Writers. Some are old-school, some are the wave of the future, but all have added something vital to the art of the T21L and deserve recognition for their contributions to this once-much-beloved format. And so, without further ado, I present to you my picks for the Top 21 Most Influential T21L Writers, in ascending order of importance.
21. Vince Neilstein
Some in the Top 21 List writing community argue that anyone who could write something like Vince Neilstein’s “Top 21 Albums of 2008” should be disqualified from any List purporting to examine Top 21 List Writers, owing to the fact that he “posthumously added” an additional 2 entries at the suggestion of his readers. While I’m sure the desperate losers that comprise the bulk of the Top 23 Listmaking community would be only too willing to welcome Neilstein to their ranks, I and many others firmly believe that Top 21 List writing is going to be in serious trouble if it continues to be bound by the strict formalism T21L purists demand. Frankly, the insistence that Top 21 Lists should have exactly 21 entries, no more and no less, regardless of context is only going to further alienate a public that already harbours the mistaken belief that the T21L community is entirely composed of a bunch of obsessive losers with nothing better to do with our time than compose lists. It will also lose us writers like Neilstein, whose willingness to break the rules has earned him his “T21L Hunter S. Thompson” nickname.
20. Dan Tynan
Dan Tynan’s List of “The Top 21 Tech Screwups of 2006” arguably made him the breakout T21L talent of 2007, and for good reason. Entertaining, enlightening, and frightening at the same time, his body of work is a must-read for anyone with interested in either technology or Top 21 Lists.
19. Jack Humphrey
A bit of a one-hit wonder in when it comes to Top 21 Lists, I have to admit. But what a hit it was! I defy anyone to find another “Top 21 Best Article Directory” List that combines the elegant minimalism of the list’s 21 entries with the joyfully passive-aggressive introduction Mr. Humphrey penned to go along with it. The echoes of this groundbreaking Top 21 List are still being felt in the community today, months after its release.
18. David Schwartz
Admittedly, Schwartz didn’t exactly break new Top 21 List writing ground with his “21 Worst Cartoon Characters of All Time” List, but there’s something to be said for giving the people what they want–especially when the people are the natural audience for a list about cartoon characters. Schwartz’s list and others like it are nothing less than an alarm, a clarion call alerting fans of the form to the danger of letting Top 21 Lists stagnate into irrelevancy by not doing everything possible to cultivate new fans.
Some will almost certainly take issue with my inclusion of Shira, and not just because her best-known work in the field, “Top 21 reasons to be a belly dancer!!!” is co-written by “friends”. Rather, these naysayers will object to Shira’s tone, believing the person behind a tongue-in-cheek Top 21 List ought not to be included in any serious survey of T21L writers. To those people, I say that a writer’s work being of a humourous bent doesn’t prevent it from being influential. The #6 entry on her belly dancer list, “So friends will start buying you little camel statues” has undeniably had a wideranging impact on the Top 21 Lists that followed, for good or ill. Also, the addition of redundant exclamation marks in certain of her list titles displays an admirable enthusiasm behind their creation–and only the most rigidly unimaginative Top 21 List purist could find fault with that.
16. Mike Olbinski
For a shamefully long time, the world of Top 21 List writing reeked of frustration and testosterone, making it an unwelcoming environment for women and girls. It’s only thanks to Top 21 List writers like Olbinski (best known for his “Top 21 Less than manly movie moments” List) that we’ve started to see a new influx of female T21L fans. Perhaps someday there’ll even be enough of them to create a “Top 21 Female Fans of Top 21 Lists” List. If and when that happens, it’ll be thanks to the hard work of T21L writers like Mr. Olbinski.
A master of the “Ways to Annoy _____” Top 21 List subcategory, Wes’ “Top 21 Ways to Annoy a McDonalds Cashier” is widely regarded as the standard by which all other annoyance-themed Top 21 Lists are judged.
14. Dr. Kushnood H.
Though he was far from the first to combine words and pictures in Top 21 List form, Dr. H. is truly a pioneer when it comes to Top 21 List photo placement. His landmark T21L post “Top 21 Travel Tips and Pictures” broke with longstanding tradition, ultimately birthing what T21L fans came to refer to as the New Density movement. Eschewing the conventional wisdom associated with Top 21 List photos, “Travel Tips and Pictures” featured fewer than 21 pictures that were not interspersed throughout the list text to illustrate Dr. H.’s points. Instead, he boldly shoved all the images together before the body of the list. This maneuver sent shockwaves through listmaking communities of all kinds, from 2 to 200, and changed the way we look at pictures and lists forever.
13. Lorna Shanks
12. Pat Shanks
The Shanks are truly one of the Top 21 List community’s best-known power couples. Their “Top 21 Uses of Spectacular Presentations” is rightly considered the pinnacle of the “top 21 reasons you should hire us list” form. Few, if any, have matched the Shankses when it comes to self-promotion, but they’re a model for anyone in the T21L community who wants to give it a try.
11. Jennifer M. Ryan, M.Ed.
It’s generally accepted that, by and large (or XXX-Large, as the case may be), Top 21 List fans tend to be a solitary bunch, and the majority of major works in the form are understandably targeted at the pathetically lonely person demographic. Ms. Ryan’s stroke genius was in creating a list designed specifically for couples, rather than individuals. At the time, it was a breath of fresh air, one that many T21L writers have tried to reproduce since, with varying degrees of success.
Loverock’s classic T21L, “The Top 21 Things Not To Say When Pulled Over” combines crude drawing with crude humour to create a Top 21 List that unleashed a flood of crudely drawn, humourous Top 21 Lists. While some would prefer to ignore his T21L contributions, those contributions cannot be denied by any serious Top 21 List scholar.
9. Scott Colby
It’s an unfortunate, and unfortunately all too accurate, stereotype that the vast majority of Top 21 List writers are overweight, socially awkward losers living in their mothers’ basements, obsessively ranking every aspect of what for lack of a better word we’ll call their lives. Colby’s list of his Top 21 Workout Songs, appearing on The Abs Expert Blog, is an important contribution to the field, demonstrating that, while it’s true many T21L writers are not particularly health-conscious of individuals, the activity holds wide appeal in many different, less indolent, demographics.
Arguably the first post-modern Top 21 List writer, Mike’s Top 21 “Best Ping Sites for Your Blog” post is a playfully deconstructs the motives of the typical T21L writer, taking a jab at the rampant egotism displayed by many of the form’s best-known names. Reinforcing Mike’s point is his use of an incomplete, possibly even false name, implying that he (if he is a he), unlike many Top 21 List writers, is engaging in T21Ls for love of the form, rather than any desire for recognition or praise. Nevertheless, praise is what “Mike’s” earned, whoever he is.
7. Christopher Bird
Barely a day old at the time of this list’s writing, Christopher Bird’s “Far Superior and In No Way Derivative Top 21 Most Influential Comics Writers” list has already inspired at least one T21L. It could be argued that Bird’s list was itself a direct response to another list of the top 21 most influential comics writers, and therefore shouldn’t receive the credit for influencing the creation of the T21L you’re currently reading. This is a valid argument, but this is also posted on Bird’s website, so he gets the nod. Sorry, Justin.
6. Amy Marathe
Marathe’s Top 21 Lists may not be suitable for readers of all ages, but a little sex appeal goes a long way, especially with people who might not normally be inclined to seek out T21Ls. Characterized by a playfully coquettish quality, Marathe’s work has broken barriers between Top 21 List fans and the reading public. That, along with her seminal “Top 21 Sexiest Beaches” List (which garnered Marathe substantial recognition in the community and eventually ended up in the “Top 21 Top 21 Lists That Inspired Others to Create Their Own Top 21 Lists” list.) A more deserving candidate for the #6 slot on this list I cannot conceive.
While the Top 21 List phenomenon is largely a North American occurrence, that hasn’t stopped many young Top 21 List writers from attempting to bring a more international flavour to this most enjoyable of pastimes. While Goose’s top “21 US Celebrities in Japanese Commercials” is not the first such T21L, its use of multimedia put it head and shoulders above similar lists in taking full advantage of the technology currently available to those who post lists on the web under aliases like “Goose.”
4. David Lake
3. Sarah Haas
I would hope the reasons for including the creators of “The List of the Top 21 Mustaches on Television” in this list are self-evident.
2. John Shelton Ivany
The godfather of the modern T21L movement and possibly the most prolific Top 21 List writer working today, Ivany’s work ethic alone earns him his high ranking on this list. In fact, in my opinion, he’s really the only legitimate challenger to our next entry’s title as the Number One Most Influential Top 21 List Writer, losing that spot only because of his his frequently lax attitude towards the format that made him famous. While I’m all for a T21L writer occasionally adjusting and even adding to a Top 21 List (see #21 on this list), one must ask at what point one stops being a Top 21 List writer and becomes just another writer of lists with no numerical consistency.
1. John of Patmos AKA “The Revelator”
While fans of Top 21 Lists will doubtless debate some of the other entries on this list of the Top 21 Most Influential Top 21 List Writers, I sincerely doubt anyone will be able to fault me for placing The Revelator in the top slot. Widely believed to be the original Top 21 List writer, almost 2000 years ago John of Patmos was an archetypal T21L writer: he was deluded, didn’t do a lot of socializing, and spent a lot of time writing lists in a dark, enclosed space. While many of his Top 21 Lists have been lost to the ravages of time, two are preserved in the chapter of the holy bible he wrote while in prison.
The first act of Revelation features the Top 21 Things John Saw One Night After Eating Some Bad Prawns. This list is composed of three sublists: the seven oracles, the seven seals and the seven trumpets. This alone would have earned him a place in the pantheon of T21L writers, but he proceeded to top it in Act Two of Revelation, which contains the spellbinding “Top 21 Things Jesus Told Me Are Totally Going To Happen Someday”, which, in typical John of Patmos style he broke down into three subcategory lists, those being the seven signs, seven visions, and seven prophecies.
With these two superb Top 21 Lists, John vaulted from the ranks of demented religious fanatics to take his much-deserved place at the top of the Top 21 Most Influential Top 21 List Writers List.