The Beanstalk


by David N. Townsend


October 25, 1999


The Top 100 Everything of the 20th Century (Pt. 4)

Milking this thing as far as I can, we today encounter the fourth, but alas not last, installment of this momentous List.  Attribute the recent delays in its publication to the various lawsuits being contested over the rankings.  I offer herewith Nos. 25 through 11, with the Top Ten swiftly to follow, assuming my lawyers can fight back the challenges of H. Ross Perot and Barney the Dinosaur, seeking injunctive relief to be included in the tally.

One little clarification on the "standards" for making this list, in response to inquiries too numberless to count:  With rare exception, these are supposed to be "good" things of the 20th century.  I envision a huge Hollywood auditorium, and a bunch of celebrity presenters opening envelopes, Oscar-style, reading the results -- "Number 40 is . . . Shopping Malls!" -- and the audience bursting into applause, as if expecting a big shopping mall to walk up to the stage and accept an award.   (Trust me, somebody in the Entertainment business is thinking of doing almost exactly this, and you can bet I won't get a damn penny out of it.)

The point is, if you can't envision people cheering for it, it doesn't go on the list.   That's why Mao Tse Tung was arguably a mistake, although maybe they'd still cheer for him in China.  But it's also why you won't see people like Hitler or Stalin on the list, regardless of their "importance" to the century.  The few other exceptions (the Titanic, drugs, the F-word), well, there are reasonable excuses for including them, in my opinion.  And guess what, that's the only opinion that counts!   (Oh, damn, my lawyer advised me not to say anything like that . . .)


Still Even More of the Top 100 Everything of the 20th Century

25.    Watergate.  The defining moment in modern American politics, which transformed both the Presidency and the media forever.  No one else in the world ever understood it for a minute.

24.    "The Lord of the Rings".  Greatest epochal work of the century, arguably its most globally popular piece of literature.   Launched the modern fantasy genre, vastly influential on everything from the computer game industry to the ecology movement.  (The movie, alas, is only scheduled to be released in the next Millennium.)  Let me be blunt: if you don't think it belongs on this list, you and I have nothing more to say to one another.

23.    Winston Churchill.  Pompous English guy who wrote a lot of books (actually won a Nobel Prize for literature).  Saved the world, too.

22.    Barbie.  Single strongest influence on generations of young girls, also the best selling toy ever. Still hasn't had sex.

21.   The Marx Brothers.  Funniest, most timeless comedy team.  The godfathers of everyone from the 3 Stooges to Monty Python to "Saturday Night Live".

20.   The Kennedys.  I'm sorry, yes, they had to be included.  This star-crossed clan has been publicized, glorified, worshiped, and reviled around the world more than any family since the Caesars.

19.    General Electric.  The company that brought you light.  And refrigerators, and washing machines, and radios, and TVs, and virtually every other "modern convenience" that we so take for granted.   Besides, my grandfather worked for them.

18.    The Reverand Doctor Martin Luther King, Junior.  (You have to wonder, did his friends just call him "Marty"?)  Best speech of the Century.  Tied with JFK for most tragic/dramatic assassination.  (OK, Archduke Ferdinand is up there, too.)  We could use a few more of him, these days.

17.    Tie:  Playboy Magazine and the Pill.   This is really cheating to get two into one, but the connection is undeniable.   Playboy was the founding force of the modern erotica/pornography phenomenon, which has penetrated (now, now) as far as mainstream TV and publishing these days. The Pill both aided and symbolized women's sexual liberation, in parallel with the changing social mores chronicled by Playboy and its progeny.  One can argue that you couldn't have had either one without the other.  (How do you like that?  A whole paragraph on Sex-related topics, and only one little pun.)

16.   "Casablanca".  Movies really are the legacy of 20th century culture, and Casablanca will forever reign as the most beloved.   Be honest, how many times have you seen it?  And you still get a lump in your throat, don't you?

15.    The Airplane.  Aside from making it possible to drop bombs on villages, air travel has sort-of transformed the world.   I'll tell you what, that would be true even if human beings were unable to fly on them, and they just carried all of the goods and products and packages that they transport; moving people is just a bonus, in this sense.  They haven't done much for food, however.

14.    Pablo Picasso.  Strange, goofy-looking paintings.  Something called "Cubism".  Whatever.  If you owned a rough pencil sketch that he made on a scrap of toilet paper, you'd be set for life.

13.    Elvis Presley.  An icon.  A legend.   A god-like phenomenon.  A fat drunk.  A pretty darn good singer.   Sure, it shows my bias that he's this high and Sinatra was #97.  (And Al Jolson didn't even make the cut.)  But check back in another hundred or so years, and see if the history books don't agree that Elvis had by far the greater long-term cultural impact.  If I'm wrong, I'll give you ten bucks.

12.    Muhammad Ali.  Speaking of cultural icons . . .  The Greatest, and once the most famous man on Earth.  Today a shadow of his former self, he's almost more legendary than ever.  For a guy who's talent was to beat people up?  Hard to figure that paradox, isn't it?  Something to do with strength and agility, or rising up and confronting the oppressors, or combining poetry with ferocity, or the politics of the times, or all of the above.  He just has an aura, man.

11.    The Internet.  Just misses the Top Ten.   It's a little too young and brash to be allowed to dominate the entire century while still in its adolescence.  Ranking it any higher might feed its ego, make it too cocky.  But watch out as it becomes a teenager . . .


Okay, okay, I promise to feed you the dessert sooner than later.  But this should give you something to chew on for a few days, anyway.   Responses remain welcome, although the votes for the Top Ten have already been sealed in a vault somewhere in Jackson, Mississippi.  If you violently disagree, the filing fee is $100, I think.


Recent ramblings:             

The Top 100 Everything of the 20th Century (Pt.1) (8/31/99) The Top 100 Everything of the 20th Century (Pt.2) (9/8/99) The Top 100 Everything of the 20th Century (Pt.3) (9/22/99)
You've seen the lists, the tributes, the polls, endlessly and everywhere as we approach the false bottom of the Millenium... Here, now, is  the second installment in this List of Lists, the Inter-continental Awards Ceremony that has everyone buzzing (well, the flies in my room, anyway)... Well, the responses have started pouring in, from all corners and crevices, and well over 1% of them have been favorable...

(Click Elsewhen for the complete list)

  1999 David N. Townsend

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