Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Time's 100 Most Influential

As promised, this is a follow-up to my post about Tumblr making me feel like a jackass. I thought I'd take the chance to talk about Time's Most Influential list a little more in-depth. But before doing so, here's the current listing:

Sorry, got Jan Brewer twice with the screen shot. But you get the idea. So Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, India, is leading. Cumberbatch is in 6th (still behind Ron Paul, to many a Tumblr fangirl's chagrin), and Vladamir Putin finally got ahead of Zooey Deschanel.

Why does this sound like some kind of insane race? "Beyoncé is beating out Anna Hazare and Hillary Clinton is just sneaking past George Clooney!" Why, Time Magazine? Why?

Whenever I have questions that cannot be answered by the website itself, I go to my favorite website in the whole world: Wikipedia. Here, they tell me this poll was first published in 1999 back before Dan Rather dissipated into the shadows of shunning, and that Oprah Winfrey has been listed the most times. More importantly, the selection criteria is as follows:
In 2004 Time's editors "identified three rather distinct qualities", when choosing the Time 100 explained Time's editor-at-large Michael Elliott: "First, there were those who came to their status by means of a very public possession of power; President George W. Bush is the pre-eminent example. Others, though they are rarely heard from in public, nonetheless have a real influence on the great events of our time. Think of Ali Husaini Sistani, the Grand Ayatullah of Iraq's Shi'ites. Still others affect our lives through their moral example. Consider Nelson Mandela's forgiveness of his captors and his willingness to walk away from the South African presidency after a single term."  
In the 2007 Time 100 list managing editor Richard Strengel explained that the Time 100 was not a list of the hottest, most popular or most powerful people, but rather the most influential, stating: "Influence is hard to measure, and what we look for is people whose ideas, whose example, whose talent, whose discoveries transform the world we live in. Influence is less about the hard power of force than the soft power of ideas and example. Yes there are Presidents and dictators who can change the world through fiat, but we're more interested in innovators like Monty Jones, the Sierra Leone scientist who has developed a strain of rice that can save African agriculture. Or heroes like the great chessmaster Garry Kasparov, who is leading the lonely fight for greater democracy in Russia. Or Academy Award winning actor George Clooney who has leveraged his celebrity to bring attention to the tragedy in Darfur.
If it's not about popular people being nominated, then please, Time, explain to me WHY EXACTLY LANA DEL RAY AND LFMAO WERE NOMINATED. BECAUSE I DON'T UNDERSTAND.

I estimated about 75% of the names were celebrities; that was a gross over-site - upon a quick count, it's more around 40% (not counting athletes or movie directors, and this was a very quick count; not one with a super detailed eye). But still, around 50% are celebrities. Of course, this coming from a country that had Lucille Ball's childbirth overshadow President Eisenhower's inauguration, I suppose it shouldn't be that surprising.
And yet it is. When I try to surmise who I'd put on a list of most influential people, I'm torn between people who probably should be on it, people who I'd like to see on it, and people who actually are the most influential and yet I totally don't trust (and thus feel like honoring them is a bad idea). It's all very complicated and muddled and now the whole idea seems totally impossible to me. Most influential? That's like trying to narrow down who's the smartest person on the planet or the most talented or the wealthiest. But oh yeah, "influential" is trying to cover all of that too. Balls.

And yet Time really helps us out here to narrow it down because their descriptions of each nominee are really quite shitty. They describe Ashton Kutcher's occupation as "actor/Twitter personality." Oh, I'm sorry - I didn't realize tweeting could be a JOB. And Benedict Cumberbatch's bio makes me cringe (really, Time, this was the best you could do? For a BAFTA nominee?):
Britons might be forgiven for thinking human cloning had already proved successful. How else to explain the ubiquity of an actor whose name is only slightly less angular than his face? He's the eponymous hero of the BBC's extraordinary reimagining of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and he appears in other small-screen dramas with a regularity that would be monotonous were he not so compelling. And after a star turn in War Horse, Cumberbatch has roles in the new Star Trek movie and the Lord of the Rings prequel.
Here's what they have for THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:
After three years in office, Obama has transformed from an inspirational figure with a thin résumé into the nation's gray-haired steward. He has put distance between the U.S. and the Iraq war even as events like the alleged massacre of 16 civilians by a U.S. service member complicate the 10-year quagmire in Afghanistan. He has faced down Iran with sanctions and congressional Republicans with scoldings. But a fragile economic recovery threatens his re-election prospects and an even lengthier résumé.
You know what? It kind of sounds the same. Think about it... intro piece, physical description. Something sort of vaguely negative with positive overtones. 
To close, here's the Koch brothers:
From their perch atop a private Kansas-based conglomerate, the Koch brothers have showered cash on conservative candidates, free-market think tanks and pro-business advocacy groups. Longtime backers of libertarian causes who provided support to the Tea Party and spearheaded efforts to derail cap-and-trade and health care reform, the Kochs have become infamous in liberal circles and heroes to the Republicans to whom they've opened their vast wallets.
Really, Time? That's all you got? The Koch brothers own a humongous oil refinery (and probably half of the free world) and that's what you come up with? No wonder I didn't major in journalism...
You know what this is beginning to feel like? This SNL clip with Obama ranking the most powerful people in America. It's just kind of absurd. The people who seem influential don't really have as much influence as we think. The really influential people don't get votes because people don't know about them (or feel awkward voting them into something that sounds prestigious and positive). The people who are maybe making a positive influence are overlooked or not adequately accounted for. And then people like Lana Del Ray get on there and confuse the hell out of me (don't get me wrong; I like the song "Video Games." I just don't understand how it makes her influential. Rebecca Black wrote "Friday" and caused a huge controversy but I don't see her on there).

Yeah, I don't get it. That's what we've learned from this. I don't get Time's poll. And that's okay. I'm totally jaded about politicians and still torn about the Kony 2012 campaign and really concerned about the state of the affairs of the entire world. Such is life. But just because I don't understand this poll doesn't mean I fail. It just means it probably doesn't make sense. Much like this phenomenon:
Still don't see it. Hedgehogs don't drink beer. Or wear jumpers. Or look like they're pondering the meaning of life.


  1. Ha ha ha ha,28804,2111975_2112269_2112278,00.html

    1. :D Nice. Can't decide if he's being serious or joking when talking about swirling a brandy sifter when compiling this list.