To be chosen as one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people is usually an accolade worth fighting for. Yet this year, it seems to be the celebrity equivalent of the booby prize. Cockburn imagines that it was put together by various subversive elements within the publication who hoped to see the mass ridicule that its various choices, both of subjects and of writers, have led to. They will not be disappointed.
That an airbrushed photograph of Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, takes pride of place in the ‘Icons’ section says all that you need to know. He, poor boy, looks as if he has been captured by a militant group and is being made to put out a hostage video, while she — quite literally — is wearing the pants. But it is the text about them by a celebrity chef named José Andrés beggars belief. ‘They turn compassion into boots on the ground…they give voice to the voiceless through media production.’ Dear God. Chef Andrés would be best advised to remain in the kitchen, sharpening his knives, if this is the level of his insight.
But he is not even the worst offender. The parade of sycophancy goes on and on, until the cumulative effect is almost hysterical. ‘She’s a saintly, even godlike figure’, Miley Cyrus gushes about Dolly Parton. David Beckham — a man not known for his Wildean command of the English language — writes of the footballer Tom Brady that ‘What I and his many friends also see is a great human being, a great father, family man, friend and partner.’ Rep. Liz Cheney is described by Cindy McCain as ‘the rarest species of politician yet, the ambitious officeholder who risks her office to speak the unwelcome truth to her own side’. And at a time when Joe Biden’s reputation is plunging into a new nadir, it is droll to see his one-time rival Bernie Sanders praise him for ‘restoring faith among ordinary Americans that their government can work for them, and not just for wealthy campaign contributors’.
There is the odd note of discord to all this mush, such as Nancy Gibbs saying of Donald Trump that his ‘only rule is ruthlessness; he sees norms as opportunities for vandalism, a window left open in our intricate constitutional structure that he can crash through’. But generally speaking, TIME offers a toothless roll-call of empty praise and prissy platitudes that will do little other than bolster the considerable egos of those featured. It is a list that lacks imagination and daring, and seems to have been designed merely to troll the American public.
All Cockburn can say is that if this motley selection are really the hundred most influential people in the world today, then hasten on, climate change, and lay waste to humanity before it’s too late.