South Africa, World, Life, etc, Media

Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World: A heartbreaking list of staggering genius

By Kevin Bloom 20 April 2012

You’ve forgotten how brilliant it was last year, but you’ve been reminded by the cover on the newsstand. Thankfully, Time is back with its 2012 list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. Always ahead of the pack, this year the influential magazine has chosen as its focus the Internet and social media. By KEVIN BLOOM.

The first clue that you’re about to read something deeply moving and heartbreakingly beautiful, that your world is once again about to be rocked by the monument to profundity that is Time, is in the opening paragraph of the editor’s letter.

The cover that encloses this letter has a background, laid out in neat rows, of small Warholian-style portraits, and the solitary barker, presented in a deadly serious sans-serif font, reads: ”The 100 Most Influential People in the World”. You couldn’t help yourself, the cover pulled you in, so you bought the issue. Now you’re reading what the editor has to say.

And there it is, three sentences from the beginning: “Before microphones and television were invented, a leader had to stand in front of a crowd and bellow. Now she can tweet a phrase that reaches millions in a flash.”

Incredible stuff, just incredible.

So you’re hooked, and you eagerly flip to the list, where you discover that you don’t know as much as you thought you knew, an insight for which you silently thank Time, because knowing what you don’t know is, after all, the first step on the path to wisdom. Yes, the first name you recognise on the list, seven names down, is Louis CK.

“Amazing!” you shout, “How did they think of that?”

You read the opening paragraph of the entry aloud to your wife. “What you see on Louie is just the tip of the iceberg – a funny, clever show. What you’re not seeing is that he produces it, he writes it, he edits it, he knows every lens, every camera angle. He’s Steven Spielberg without the beard and with humour. And Louis CK, 44, knows the future – that it’s all about the Internet and social media. I love that he let people buy his special, Live at the Beacon Theater, online for $5.”

Your wife, who’s now leaning over your shoulder and staring at the picture of Louis, says, “I’m mad about the Steven Spielberg analogy, it’s inspired. But look, Louis actually has a beard.”

You look. Louis actually has a beard. “Maybe,” you say, “it’s not such a huge mistake. Anyway, the real point of it is that Louis understands all about social media and stuff. These Time people really understand the Internet.”

Your wife agrees. “Who’s the ‘I’ that wrote those words?” she asks.

You search for the name. “Hell,” you say, “it’s Joan Rivers. Do you think it’s the same one?”

“Can’t be,” says your wife, “she’s not talented enough to write for Time.”

You nod, and then scan the list for the next name you recognise, making a mental note to come back and closely study the entries for all those you don’t. The next name you recognise, about 30 places down, is Anonymous. Although your wife is still leaning over your shoulder and has been able to read for herself for three decades already, you’re just too excited, you have to read aloud again.

“United, if at all, by a taste for shock humour and disdain for authority, this leaderless Internet hive brain is plundering and playing in the electronic networks of an ever shifting enemies list: Arab dictatorships, the Vatican, banking and entertainment firms, the FBI and CIA, the security firm Stratfor and even San Francisco’s BART transport system. Did Anonymous fix the Time 100 poll? ‘Depends who you think is smarter, a global collective of highly skilled hackers or the Time IT department,’ says one fellow traveler (sic) anonymously. Anonymous earned its place on the list, one way or the other.”

You haven’t laughed this hard in years. Neither has your wife. You’re both laughing so hard you’re crying, and when you try to read the entry aloud one more time, you keep getting stuck on the rhetorical question about poll fixing, and having to start from the top.

Eventually, when you’re both finished laughing, you say to your wife: “But seriously, it really is unbelievable how these people manage to find the link to the Internet in all their entries. The editor has completely delivered on the promise from his letter. And that phrase ‘Internet hive brain’? Wait till I tell the guys at the office about that.”

“Oh, you should,” says your wife. “You should.”

You decide you will. Definitely. Then, coming back to the list, down near the bottom, you see the name Walter Isaacson. It’s a name you know, because you’re also interested in the Internet and information technology and all these new-fangled gadgets. Isaacson was the guy who wrote the book about Steve Jobs.

You get the book from your shelf, and look at the author’s biography. It says Isaacson worked at Time for over 20 years and was made top dog there in 1996. You go to the entry on Isaacson in the magazine’s list, but you can’t find any mention of the fact that he used to be editor.

“Why do you think they left that out?” your wife asks, after you have explained the anomaly to her.

“Dunno,” you say, “but if he used to be top dog at Time, there’s no doubt he’s one of the 100 most influential people in the world.” DM



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