The number is not a ranking.
|The 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century|
|Time is compiling its list of the 100 Most Influential People
of the 20th Century. No doubt, it will feature their usual selection of celebrity
dips and rich dweebs, as well as a sprinkling of genuinely important people. So, out
of my own idle curiosity, and to kill some time myself, I thought I'd compile my own
personal list. I expect to make a few controversial selections too, but all in good fun. I
expect to focus more on people who were genuinely influential, and not merely famous or
successful, and especially not famous for being famous or successful at being rich.
Princess Diana, for example, is possibly the most monumentally insignificant person who
ever lived, based on the ratio of news coverage to actual achievement. On the other
hand, Andy Warhol was also an oversized dweeb, but almost everybody has seen his
soup cans and his Marilyn Monroe prints, and has probably given a thought or two to the
idea of deconstructing advertising logos as a result, so he makes the list. I
can't, off hand, think of a single athlete who should make the list as an
athlete-- can you? What importance does it have that a young boy dreams
of growing up to play basketball (and make money) like Michael Jordan? How will he
have changed the world as result? But Time will undoubtedly find space for a Jordan,
DiMaggio, or Ruth. After all, Time's sister publication, People, rated Tiger Woods
as one of the most interesting people of the past 25 years. Interesting?
Good grief. Babe Ruth is interesting, Pete Rose is not. Bobby Hull is
interesting, Wayne Gretzky is not. Oksana Baiul is interesting; Nancy Kerrigan is
If any athlete should be in, how about Jackie Robinson? But then, probably, we should include Branch Rickey. How about Babe Dedrickson? Roger Bannister?
A few thoughts about the top 100:
In the arts, the U.S. most resembles the ancient Roman Empire, which accrued vast economic power, but depended on the Greeks for its culture. No U.S. writer this century has achieved the world-wide importance of Sartre, Camus, or Greene. No U.S. director has astonished the way Kurosawa astonishes, both the eye and the mind, or the way Bergman astonishes the soul. F. Scott Fitzgerald? Oh, please.
Who will be on Time's List but Shouldn't Be:
Bill Gates -- as an innovator, he is a complete dud. As a marketer, he was successful, but again, he didn't invent anything new. He just heads a company that is exceptionally ruthless, and exceptionally incompetent. No, Windows 95 does not multi-task. Several other OS's, including OS/2 and Unix, have been multi-tasking for years and years. The makers of those operating systems just weren't ruthless or bright enough to shove their product down everyone's throats.
Well, he might still grudgingly make the list, because the world wide web runs on the personal computer, and Gates owns the company that makes the software that runs most of the world's personal computers.
Lucille Ball -- popular and famous... how deep is Lucy's influence? Well, how did she change your life? Frankly, Tuesday Weld had more influence on me than Lucy ever did, in 1/100th the time.
Frank Sinatra -- come on... for what?! His fashion sense?
Michael Jordan-- Time Magazine will claim that Jordan is the greatest professional athlete of the 20th century. Not so. Wayne Gretzky exceeds the benchmark of outstanding performance in hockey by a far greater margin than Jordan does for basketball. The point is that neither are really "influential" or important.
Billy Graham-- and how did he influence you? The trouble with Graham is that he has dedicated his life to separating religion from politics, thus ensuring that our politics are amoral and our religion irrelevant. But it worked as he planned: he's still around, still famous, and still gets invited to the White House. Now start over.
Stephen Spielberg-- his movies -- including Schindler's List, are so utterly conventional and shallow, he can hardly be considered an intellectual influence on anyone.
What I Learned about the 100 Most Influential People
It's harder than you might think to come up with a list of 100. The first 60 or 65 are relatively easy, but the last 40... you find you have to start including people you rejected the first time around. But you also start poking into disciplines you might have forgotten about, like architecture and physics.
World War I
World War II
Fall of Communism
The News Stories of the Century: Incidents
Sinking of the Titanic
Landing on the Moon
© Copyright 1998 Bill Van Dyk