Aaron Johnston is a New York Times bestselling author and comics writer. His novel Earth Unaware with Orson Scott Card was released by TOR in 2012. It’s sequel, Earth Afire, will be released June 4, 2013. He lives with his wife and four children in South Carolina. Follow him at aaronwjohnston.com or on twitter @aaronwjohnston.

Kicking a Dead Horse: Or Why We Don’t Need “Worst of the Year” Lists

This week Entertainment Weekly has printed a special double issue that lists “The Best & Worst of 2012.” They give you a bit of everything: best and worst movies, music, TV shows, books, games, scenes from movies, etc. If you go to their site, you’ll find even more best/worst options, including their list of [thanks but no thanks] best/worst nude scenes. And no, I’m not providing a link.

Now, I like Entertainment Weekly. I’m a subscriber. Have been for a long time. But do we really need to point fingers and call something the absolute worst something of the year? That strikes me as cruel. Yes, we should celebrate the achievements. Yes, we should applaud those who did the unexpected, or who wowed us with their talent, or who moved us with their performance, or who broke our hearts with their prose.

But must we also turn up our noses and say, “Hey, remember John Carter? Wow, that movie really stunk. That was the absolute worst movie of the year.” Because that’s exactly what Entertainment Weekly does. It calls John Carter the worst movie of the year.

Now, my purpose here is not to defend John Carter. I haven’t even seen it. And it may, in the eyes of some, indeed be the worst movie of the year. But why rub its nose in that fact? Why kick it when its down? It lost a bajillion dollars at the box office. Isn’t that enough suffering for those involved? Why must we parade its corpse back out into the street and take a communal pee in its wounds?

What do we gain by this except to bring greater shame and disappointment and hurt feelings to those who made this movie? It’s unnecessary. The movie flopped. It got terrible reviews from people who didn’t like it. Careers were ruined. Jobs were likely lost. Let it be. It’s been six months or so. These people are trying to move on. Reminding the world that you think what they achieved was pure rubbish isn’t doing them any favors.

But they brought it upon themselves, you say. They made a bad movie. They have to pay the piper. When you make a product for the general public, and the general public doesn’t like it, the general public has the right to smear its failure into the creators’ faces again and again and again.

Well, if you honestly think that, my friend, then you’re not what my mother would call a “nice person.” Reminding people that they failed, or even worse, telling them that they failed more than anyone else is simply mean spirited. It breaks people. It cuts deep. I don’t speak from experience, but if you told me that I was the worst dad of 2012 or the worst guest poster of 2012, it would likely sour my day.

Do corporations give plaques to the “Worst Salesman of the Year”?

Do retail establishments plaster photos of the “Worst Employee of the Month”?

No. They treat their employees with respect and encourage those who may have underperformed by rewarding those who succeed.

Or what about schools? Does the administration point a collective finger at the “Worst Teacher of the Year”?

Or consider the Olympics. Should we have a fourth podium on the awards stand? A spot for the worst athlete? “Ladies and gentlemen, here are our four winners of the men’s 100 meter race: gold, silver, bronze, and a tinfoil dunce cap for that slowpoke from Nigeria. Ha ha, what a snail. Did you see him? He totally came in dead last. What a goof. What a maroon. What an absolute failure. To get to the Olympics and then to finish dead last. Hardy har. Go home, Nigerian guy. Hang your head in shame. You’re the worst runner of the Olympic qualifiers.”

No, of course not. We’re better than that.

But if we won’t do it to athletes or accountants or salesmen or teachers, why would we do it to people who work in the movie business? Or the music business? Or television? They’re people too, right? They might be wealthy and famous and living large, but does that gives us the right to stand and clap and jeer when they fall? Taylor Kitsch of John Carter has feelings too, after all.

But that’s the risk you take in the entertainment business, some might argue. You’re putting yourself out there. You’re sharing your art and talent. You’re inviting criticism.

And that’s true. I’m not suggesting that we don’t be critics. If we don’t like something, we have every right to say so. What I dislike is taking what we call “failures” and putting them on their own little loser scale. To me, that’s taking criticism a little too far.

Because the sad truth is, lists like these get noticed in the industry. They destroy careers. They ruin people’s livelihoods. Who’s going to hire Taylor Kitsch now that his movie was the “worst movie of the year?” Answer: Not many. Which is a shame. I think the guy’s a solid actor.

So while Entertainment Weekly might think itself charming and clever for doing these lists, they’re actually doing a lot of harm.

What I find especially amusing is that the reviewers throw all this scorn without directing any of it at themselves. Did Entertainment Weekly give us a list of the Worst Movie Reviews of 2012? Or the Worst Movie Reviewers? Of course not. They’d never eat a piece of their own mud pie.

So I say poo to “worst of the year” lists. And in 2013, let’s spend our energy applauding the achievements. Let’s hail the victories. Let’s give standing ovations where ovations are due.

And let’s leave all the failures alone. Let’s let the dead horses go peacefully to their maker. Let’s be civil, not mean spirited. Polite, not cruel. And let’s rely on publications like this one that do exactly that.

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