What gets you onto Time’s list of the world’s most influential?
Opinion: How the line-up might differ from 1914
‘Alas, neither Bono nor Brendan O’Carroll has made the top 100.’ Photograph: Alan Betson
Here’s a question that’s not really worth asking. What sort of person would the average well-educated citizen, 100 years ago, expect to register in any list of the most influential Europeans?
The kaiser would certainly figure. The tsar would be up there. The prime minister of the United Kingdom – a country whose monarchy had become almost entirely ceremonial – would also be fighting for a place. Several decades distant from the advent of cultural studies, few would suggest the inclusion of a popular singer or movie star. But writers such as HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw and Thomas Mann seem likely contenders.
Time magazine’s annual list of the world’s most influential people has just been published and it makes for puzzling reading. Alas, neither Bono nor Brendan O’Carroll has made the top 100. Indeed, there are just 10 European-born candidates on the list and one of those, US army brat Amy Adams, only sneaks in because her dad was serving in Italy at the time of her arrival. The magnificent Marina Abramovic, the most influential performance artist of our era, certainly counts as proper Serbian, but she left the country in 1976 and is now very much part of New York’s artistic furniture.
World through US eyes
You could argue that, after centuries of European hegemony, picking just nine bona fide emanations of the continent seems entirely reasonable. The European nations make up about 12 per cent of the world’s population. So we’ve been only slightly short-changed. You can probably see where this is going. An absurd 57 of the selections – among them Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé and Christy Turlington – are from North America. This is very much the world as seen from the Time Warner towers on Central Park West.
Anyway, the depletion in numbers does permit a more digestible precis of the US media’s perception of our little Continent. Two stars of the film world make it in: Benedict Cumberbatch, the man who is Sherlock, and his director in 12 Years a Slave , Steve McQueen. McQueen helmed the most recent best-picture winner at the Oscars, so that makes a kind of sense. Cumberbatch, though greatly loved, is a more peculiar choice. He is admired and quite brilliant but, away from TV, he is something of a recherché taste. Still, it’s nice to have two such oddballs on the list.
The only sportsman among the Europeans is – tough luck, Novak and Rafael – the famously humble, superhumanly sportsmanlike Cristiano Ronaldo. Much as we’d like to spit and storm off in an adolescent huff, this is hard to argue with.
Entirely unknown to this columnist before today, somebody called Phoebe Philo is selected ahead of every European scientist, every European novelist and every European painter for her work designing stuff for something called Céline. The world needs nice bags I suppose.
One simply assumes that Andrew Haldane must have power and influence. There wouldn’t be much point calling yourself “Executive Director for Financial Stability at the Bank of England” if you didn’t have access to the crucial levers of finance. Still, it seems unlikely that he is much troubled by selfie enthusiasts when buying chocolate HobNobs.
Where did we come in? Our imaginary friend from 1914 wouldn’t be altogether surprised to hear that a banker held influence. He would be even less astonished to learn that the leader of an autocratic Russia and an economically unstoppable Germany made such a list. Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel are, sure enough, on the grid. Poor David Cameron is nowhere to be seen.
What’s this? Abdullah Gül, president of Turkey, takes the final place. This really does feel like 1914. The Russians and the Germans are in full throttle. Turkey is still asserting itself. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, hang on.
Sound technicians of the world, rejoice. Your work has, for the first time, generated a brace of heated news stories. Unfortunately, the stories were fuelled by fury. A few weeks ago, viewers of the Irish Film and Television Awards whinged lengthily and loudly about background chatter creeping into RTÉ’s broadcast of the event.
Now, the entire population of the UK is incensed about inaudible dialogue on the BBC’s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s vintage bodice-ripper Jamaica Inn . A genuinely impressive 2,200 complaints came the broadcaster’s way.
To generate that sort of outrage, a character usually has to say “hung” when he means “hanged” or refer to a land-bound Union Flag as a “Union Jack”.
Don’t blame the sound folk. Somebody else needs to crawl from the grave, dust off the dirt and offer a reasoned apology. Yes, we’re talking about you, Marlon Brando. This has been coming since you and your method chums began mumbling in the 1950s.
Now, you’ve spoilt everyone’s Easter. I hope you’re proud of yourself.