Like everybody else, we love Betty White. The successful Facebook campaign that got the 88-year-old star on "Saturday Night Live" for a May performance that lived up to the hype certainly ranks as one of the feel-good media stories of 2010.
But we admit to sharing White's reaction upon learning The Associated Press named her “Entertainer of the Year”: "It's ridiculous."
Welcome to the end of the year, which offers a bevy of silly, mostly meaningless lists we would love to ignore – but can't help taking the debate bait. The lists have been mutating along with the dubiously expanding definition of what constitutes a celebrity at time when Time magazine believes the Kardashian Family holiday card is worth a post.
But let's not be too hard on Time: the magazine came up with a list of 50 Top 10 lists covering 2010 – making a meta statement of sorts while feeding our insatiable appetite for the subjective cataloging of a year.
We got a big kick out of some – like the Top 10 Apologies (Tiger Woods finally places first again in something) and Top 10 Tweets (John McCain's backing of Snooki’s opposition to the tanning tax!) – but none more so than the Time’s Fleeting Celebrity list.
The rogue JetBlue flight attendant, whose name we soon hope will be lost in the pop culture history books, placed No. 1. Unfortunately, there was no sign of the "Jersey Shore" cast, whom, we guess, will be around in 2011, especially with Snooki dropping in a big ball to ring in the new year.
Time appropriately placed White on its Top 10 Comebacks list, albeit at No. 5. Conan O'Brien was a smart No. 1 choice, but General Motors placed second, which may be enough to make White’s fans buy Japanese.
The juxtaposition, of course, is part of the fun and fury inspired by the lists, especially at a time when social media and search engine trends suggest our collective attention is torn between the substantial and frivolous. The earthquake in Haiti was the No. 1 news-related search on Google this year, while Justin Bieber was the top person. The overall top search term was chatroulette, the web-cam chat site. (The earthquake and Bieber also made Twitter’s top trending topics of the year list).
Sometimes it's hard to interpret the online measures: We still don't know whether Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year – austerity – is a sad sign of tough economic times or a sad sign that a lot of people had to look up the word "austerity."
Meanwhile, we’re still chuckling over how another entertainment icon – Cookie Monster – took a Web page from the Betty White playbook in a bid to get on "SNL." The folks at Sesame Street posted a Cookie Monster audition tape – a deft "SNL" parody – that's gained 1.5 million views on YouTube in less than a month, and started a Facebook page that's attracted more than 120,000 fans.
The campaign paid off Saturday when the furry, blue sweets freak appeared on the show and performed "Silver Bells" with host Jeff Bridges. The cameo went straight onto our list of best "SNL" moments of 2010 – but behind Betty White’s hosting stint, of course.
Check out Cookie's appearance below (it starts about 6:30 in) and his audition tape as you make your own lists for the year that very nearly was:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.