Why the Observer Is Going All In (the Pink) on Power Lists

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Elle's Joe Zee is a power bachelor. Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images for IMG

Just two weeks ago, the Observer poked fun at itself for overplaying its hand when it came to "Power Lists." At the time, editors were reacting to lots of (not entirely flattering) attention paid to their Media Power Couples list. This morning, they followed up on those semi-serious listicles with another: 50 Media Power Bachelors. Tomorrow they will do some sort of female version, perhaps Power Bachelorettes. While we are grateful for the inclusion of two of our own studly bachelors on today's list (Geoff Gray and Carl Swanson), we had to get to the bottom of this.

We asked Elizabeth Spiers, the salmon-tinted weekly's editor, to explain all this. Here's what she said:


Somewhere in the long history of man — probably somewhere late in the Pleistocene era — a bunch of Neanderthals lined up in a cave and decided to rank each other according to strength, virility, and ability to acquire high-status forms of shelter and tools. There were long debates — well, lots of grunting and throwing things, anyway — about the empirical rigor of the rankings and whether it was possible to quantify something as abstract and broad-based as status. So one enterprising Neanderthal drew stick figures on a wall and threw a spear at it to determine the frontrunners. The resulting list made them all completely insane and the course of evolution was derailed for a few hundred thousand years. And so it has been ever since.

The Observer has a grand tradition of bastardizing the power list concept (see the 2005 Power Geezers list, the 2008 Brooklyn Literary 100, the 2003 Power Punks) and we're just continuing it. The parameters are fairly loose, of course. The number one criterion for being on the list: We were able to think of you. Which is followed by a wildly subjective assessment of your relative "power" (defined as professional influence, social cache, or your relative geographical position on the dart board we use to make editorial decisions like this and the corresponding steadiness of the assigning editor's aim). In fact, we've discovered that simply adding the word "power" to the hed of any sort of list of people makes everyone reading it 347 percent more insane. We didn't explicitly rank this one — though it was suggested that we rank the men in order of attractiveness and the women in order of power — but we think it sufficiently derailed all objective measures of productivity in 8 percent of the media sector for a few thousand seconds. Which was the objective.


Hear that, bachelors? Now you're single and distracted. Happy Monday, sheesh.

The Free Agent List: 2011′s 50 Media Power Bachelors [Observer]