Reflections from a modestly ranked journalist, eccentric, visionary, and Twitter user.
I’m not sure if you’re aware, but right now, you are reading the—as we in the business call it—"opening gambit" of the third most popular local journalist in Madison, according to Isthmus' 2016 MadFaves Poll. I am also Madison’s third-favorite local eccentric, and run Madison’s third-favorite Twitter account. I’m also a visionary; or at least the second-most visionary individual with a Madison zip code. That’s also according to the Isthmus poll.
Now you’re probably thinking: How do I not know the guy who nearly beat Thong Cape Scooter Man for favorite local eccentric? Well, that’s because I used my modest social media clout—and my rakish charm—to swing like Tarzan into the voting for those four categories. I was a finalist in four #MadFaves categories. This is my story.
My campaign to be named any number of "favorite" local things was partly for personal edification—I am not lying to you or to myself when I say my Twitter is better than the Wisconsin Union’s; they only won because people from Verona without relevant social media accounts like the Terrace more than they like tweets about the existential crisis I go through when I clip my toenails. My other motivation was to create a sort of art project about local popularity polls. Local popularity polls are—in the categories awarding individuals—insidious, and, in the categories awarding small businesses, unduly influential and important.
Let's address the latter part first. The wins in the business categories are important for places that rely on Google traffic to get people who aren’t aware of them to try them out. My ladies at Bad Dog Frida deserve more than popping up high on "Best Madison Pet Store"; the help they’ve given me with my lunatic dog can’t be captured in a piece of paper from Isthmus. Publications like Isthmus and Madison Magazine use their annual polls to sell advertising, asking businesses to buy ads in issues they might be mentioned in and they know will be read, since "Best Of" issues move a paper or magazine better than about anything. I realize this is a function of print media's business model, but let’s use our resources to sell ads on important work like this article hectoring the police about that kid who hung out in a hammock all summer around the corner from where Paul Soglin and his police force waged their latest offensive against the disadvantaged in our community. Let’s not try to sell ads on lists that celebrate easily manipulated popularity polls.
And then back to that first part: the categories for individuals to win are a joke, especially in how and why people win. I am basically proof positive for every bit of chicanery you’ve ever suspected in these polls. How is it possible that a guy who doesn’t even live here is able to win Best Local Rapper over a guy who literally shook Michelle Obama’s hand for the important work he does in our community (or for that matter over CRASHprez, the best local rapper and writer, if we’re keeping it 100)? [Editor's note: CRASHprez, aka Michael Penn II, writes for both Tone Madison and Vinyl Me, Please, where Andrew Winistorfer is an editor.] How can a singer-songwriter who decamped for New York City months ago win in her category? How can a rock band whose most high-profile gig is a karaoke night—no shots, Gomeroke is awesome—win best rock band? How can a guy you have never heard of end up as the second most visionary person this year? Because local popularity polls are easy to manipulate and Isthmus' is especially shady: You would think current residency in a city would at least be the bare minimum you could expect for a winner in a local favorites poll. No amount of "he considers the city his hometown" can mask the deficiencies in this thing.
But of course, not everyone can do this: you still need to be able to get people to vote for you. I actually had a lot of fun appealing to the people who follow me on social media to vote for me. I invented hashtags (#MakeMadisonStorfAgain) and reminded them every couple days to vote. I told them my victories would also be theirs. So these four losses are also their fault. But thanks to them, my name will forever lurk in Isthmus' archive of Annual Manuals, and for that, I’m grateful. Shout out to cousin Troy, and Aunt Patty, and my mom and my dad, and everyone at Vinyl Me, Please for voting for me at least twice.
And maybe this all reads like sour grapes. Maybe it reads like a guy who thought he might win a category or two on a lark, and now he’s mad he didn’t. And maybe I eventually let myself believe I could actually win a certificate from a publication that I used to freelance for and quit because of its poor editing practices. Maybe I wanted the recognition that comes with my name being printed next to a 1 on a piece of paper for a little while, dumb poll or not. I'm also a bit annoyed that the listing in the "journalist" category refers to me as a "freelancer" rather than as an editor at Vinyl Me, Please—the full-time job I have held all year, and which I list specifically on Madison's third-favorite Twitter account. Of course, we also don't know how the process really works once the votes are in, or if there's some way Isthmus might (perhaps understandably) try to correct for a stunt campaign skewing the results. But being that I gatecrashed this poll, I know numbers can be juked and people can be mobilized, so I'm not in much place to impugn the integrity of the process.
Or maybe my lark ran into the wall it was destined to all along; a guy who is well known enough—and has social media followers who like him enough—to be the third most popular at something in a given city in a given year. I kinda like that better anyway.