Matt Weiner wrote:"Culturally significant" is an untenable post-hoc justification--we get it, Chris, you like Bob Dylan. So do I. I also like the Violent Femmes a lot (allmusic calls them the "textbook American cult band of the 1980s" and they sold a million copies of their first album, so I guess they're culturally significant). And it's hard to argue, given the obsession that most news outlets have with her these days, that our old friend Lady Gaga is not a significant part of current American culture. Do you see my point? By definition, anything that is widely known enough to be asked about in a non-impossible tournament is "significant" to something. Appeals to "significance" are either meaningless (in that they would rule out nothing that is currently asked in trash) or a smokescreen for an actual "only ask about trash that the author of the argument considers enjoyable or highbrow" agenda.
If you think having a little bit of trash in situations where it won't decide who wins PACE NSC or ACF Nationals is fun, helps expand the audience for quizbowl, helps avoid the temptation to write questions on Gothmog for the lit category, fine--say those things. Those are fairly compelling arguments. But let's not mask our intentions by grasping at this "Bob Dylan is significant, T-Pain isn't" straw; you will never be able to articulate that belief at any level higher than a gut feeling.
Fine then, I'll use The Godfather
as my stock example instead from now on, which is unquestionably culturally significant but which I have no particular attachment to (Embarassing confession: I've never even seen it). I've gone with Dylan because I generally prefer to use a musical example- the boundaries seem to be more fluid when it comes to film questions here, though. Also because it's a subject I can speak with much more knowledge about. But seriously, arguing that "you only want pop culture questions because you like Bob Dylan" is a pretty offensive ad hom, and I'm not going to let it slip by. Besides, there are plenty of things which I don't have particular knowledge or affinity for which I would still gladly recognize as significant. Like the Violent Femmes, for instance.
Leaving aside the fallacy there, the idea that "appeals to significance are meaningless" is simply untrue. What I will grant is true, is that an appeal to significance is, in fact, an appeal to the sum total of those factors which make sense to accept as arbiters of significance. Those factors include such things as:
a) the critical judgement of, well, professional critics and/or academics
b) continued popularity after a certain amount of time
c) other events and cultural products which can be directly traced to the "significant" thing-at-hand (i.e. a critical mass of imitators)
and so on. Yes, it's an appeal to authority, but ultimately all canon judgements in quizbowl have to be based on some authority, so I don't have a problem with it. And I'll certainly buy that in most cases time really does help clarify these things- if ten-twenty years from now Lady Gaga has somehow attracted a mass of imitators, and is still selling craptons of albums, and has spurred on a sufficient amount of hagiography from rock critics and novelists and other such writers, well then yeah I'd be willing to call her fair game even if I hated her music. That hasn't happened yet, obviously.