An interview with Rex Sorgatz of fimoculous


“Lists allow people to establish an identity. By saying ‘These Are The 10 Best Albums of 2005,’ you’re allowed to declare some ownership over this vast culture machine that spits out much more than we can possibly consume. In that sense, making a list is a little like starting a blog — it’s an attempt to take back the media and recontextualize it as your own.”

Rex Sorgatz
fimoculous.com

An interview with Rex Sorgatz of fimoculous — king of all lists: I think this is a blogging first. I feel fairly certain this post is the first time in history that a blogger named Rex has interviewed another blogger named Rex. So be sure to make a note of the time and place you read this.

I first heard of Rex Sorgatz and his unique blog Fimoculous (and also MNSpeak.com) when I — oh what the heck? — it should be obvious how I first heard of Rex Sorgatz and his blog for anyone who has ever done a Google ego search of his or her first name.

Then, a couple of years ago, around this time of year, I discovered that Rex Sorgatz is the list guy. You know, the guy who compiles the mother of all annual lists. The list meta-list. A list that lists all things listable.

Despite my well-blogged conviction that “lists” are editorial fluff and more often than not, flawed and meaningless, I realize that readers and viewers of (and advertisers in) magazines, newspapers, websites, TV sports shows and blogs must find something compelling about them as they seem to proliferate each year. That, and they generate great publicity, as everyone who’s on a list feels the need to tout it (humbly, of course).

When I finally met Rex at SXSW earlier this year, he told me he was a web-developer at a company that sounded something like IBZ (it was IBS, for Internet Broadcasting Sytems). And so I asked if he worked on any sites I might be familiar with. I had one of those “duh” moments when he asked me nicely — not at all with one of those ‘my, you are a dumbass’ tones I probably would have used — , “Did you see NBC’s Olympics site” (Here’s an interview with Rex about that site on lost remote)

In September, Rex had a non-list-related 15-seconds-of-fame when lawyers for a famous Twin-Cities radio humorist sent him a letter ordering him to stop selling T-shirts with “A Prairie Ho Companion” printed on the front of them. Rex, who lives in Minneapolis, recently announced that after the Winter Olympics, he’ll be moving to Seattle to join MSNBC/Microsoft (not MSN) in March.

I’ve been curious about several aspects of his list project, so I decided to bundle some questions up in a Q-A list and run the answers here. He was nice enough to tear himself away from compiling this year’s list and planning for the Winter Olympics (yeah, and you’re busy) to answer them. So, enjoy:

How’d you get the idea for doing a list of lists in the first place?

When I started doing it (2001), it was an experiment in figuring out the psychology behind the desire to create lists. Every December, the public is inundated with lists from big media and small media and medium media. I thought keeping track of all the year-end lists would help me develop some insight into our listophile society.

It took a couple years for a theory to start emerging.

Over the years, you’ve had some great media attention for your list. How has all of this fame changed you?

Just a second while Christina and I finish off this bottle of Cristal….

Speaking of fame, have those lawyers for that famous Minnesota public radio show host stopped hassling you?

That was a surreal time. The day after posting [http://www.mnspeak.com/mnspeak/archive/post-733.cfm] Keillor’s cease & desist, it got linked everywhere — DailyKos, Andrew Sullivan, Powerline, Metafilter, Drudge, etc. In addition to calls from innumerable reporters, I had lawyers from around the country offering to fight the case pro bono. In the end, I decided that a dumb t-shirt wasn’t the kind of free speech worth invoking the First Amendment over. (As the New York Times hopefully learned with Judy Miller, there is more nuance than immediately evident in these kinds of cases.) Ultimately, I think I “won” in the court of public opinion, so I hope it will cause other corporations to question the wisdom of becoming a litigant in clear cases of parody.

What’s the craziest list you’ve ever run across?

The craziest lists are things like “2005’s Top 20 Boat and Tackle Shops in Sarasota,” but I tend not to include those. However, I’m a big fan of Loren Coleman’s yearly Top Cryptozoology Stories [http://www.lorencoleman.com/top_cryptozoology_2004.html].

Loren is hardcore.

I’ve got to tell you, I say I don’t like lists because they just seem to be designed to fill edit space and generate publicity, but I find myself fascinated by them. Any theories?

As a media event, I’m not a fan of lists either. Several pop culture publications do long lists just to get a splash in wire stories, which annoys me.

But as a personal expression, I’m a huge fan of the list. In the process of becoming a listophile, I’ve evolved a two-part theory about the motivations behind our ineluctable desire to make lists.

First off, we live in a culture where events fly by so fast that history never has time to establish itself. (VH1’s “Best Week Ever” is the personification of this — a week is as far back as we can see, and pop culture events from three days ago already feel like ancient history.) Lists allow us to peer back with the context goggles on.

Secondly, with this surfeit of media and culture reportage, lists allow people to establish an identity. By saying “These Are The 10 Best Albums of 2005,” you’re allowed to declare some ownership over this vast culture machine that spits out much more than we can possibly consume. In that sense, making a list is a little like starting a blog — it’s an attempt to take back the media and recontextualize it as your own.

How many lists do you anticipate you’ll have when you close out this year’s list?

2001 had 350 list, and it has grown steadily to last year’s high of 550. So I’d expect 600+ this year. Some of it depends on which lists I allow in — if I included every single music blogger’s list, that would be a couple thousand alone. (Music is always the biggest category. I apologize every year that I can’t possibly add every single music blogger’s list.)

Here’s a day job question for you: At the Olympics, do you get to ever attend an event, or are you at a computer all the time?

There isn’t a smidgen of glamour in doing the Olympics website. You sit in a building several miles from the Games and watch everything on big screen TVs — very nice big screen TVs, but still.

The Olympics and celebrity trials are the two most mediated events in our culture — they happen almost exclusively through the television set, and are overlain with a massive amount of commentary.

Another day job question: Are you sure about that new job?

Very sure. There is no industry I’d rather be in right now than new media. Of the handful of companies who are trying to figure out what exactly the future will look like, the tech+media (Microsoft+NBC) combination in MSNBC.com is one of the trend-setters. Our new little department will be trying to figure out next-generation news products, and I think we’ll do some innovative work in ’06. I think I’ll even make a list….

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  • Rex (Sorgatz)

    I’ve noticed that we’ve been swapping places around #3-#8 for the Google search of “Rex” for a while now.

    Thanks, it was a fun interview.

  • rex

    We may swap around on Google, but you’re the only Rex on the A-List. (I have a gentleman’s B)