Media people love to appoint people they like to positions of influence. Just look at Jon Stewart.
"The Daily Show" draws fewer viewers than reruns of "The Family Guy" on the Cartoon Network, but you’d think he was the biggest name on cable if you went by how much coverage he gets. Magazine covers, gushing TV profiles and praise from newspapers about his influence all ignore the fact that Jon Stewart’s show is beaten in the ratings by "Swamp People."
But then, who has influence has little to do with how many people care about or follow that person. It has everything to do with who the media decides to anoint with the moniker “influential.”
Stephen Colbert rates lower than Stewart, but he’s taking over for David Letterman because he’s perceived as being wildly popular. The TV show 30 Rock was on the cover or was profiled by every major magazine in the country, won Emmys, was treated like a hit, but it wasn’t. In fact, although the show was hilarious (I loved it), it was a ratings flop, rarely making the top 100 shows on television.
The media elite in New York decide what matters, even if what it says matters does not in fact matter to many people. Conversely, if the media elite decides it doesn’t want something or someone to be important, they won’t be.
Time magazine this week released its list of “The 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014.” Some of the listees are impressive people; others are known only for the luck of their birth and media attention.
People such as chef Flynn McGarry, 15, Internet entrepreneur Erik Finman, 15, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, 17, to name a few, have done extraordinary things worthy of the honor. That they would influence people is not only understood, it’s a good thing.
Irish teens Ciara Judge, 16, Émer Hickey, 17, and Sophie Healy-Thow, 17, won a global science competition by doing research that “showed that if Diazotroph (a naturally occurring bacteria) is present (in soil), it accelerates the germination process of high-value crops such as barley and oats, potentially boosting output by up to 50 percent.”
Not sure what you were doing at 16 or 17, but I sure as hell wasn’t discovering anything but hangovers. As an added bonus, they say that “in the long run we are definitely going to continue the project and try to commercialize it in whatever way we can. Then we can really begin to change the world.” Score another victory for capitalism!
Some of the choices, though, simply leave you scratching your head.
Jaden Smith, 16, the son of actor Will Smith, is a prime example. Why does Time include him on the list? It certainly wasn’t his acting ability (the "Karate Kid" remake and After Earth were awful). No, it’s his tweets.
“His real legacy may well be his Twitter musings, which are equal parts absurdist (‘Anything You See In Any Magazine Ever Is Fake.’) and insightful (‘Once You Witness A Cycle Enough Times You Step Out Of It.’), earning him more than 5 million followers and labels such as “Confucius for the Internet age,” Time writes. One of Smith’s recent posts sums him up pretty well: ‘Hate Me Love Me Doesn’t Matter I’m Still Occupying Time Inside Of Your Psyche.’” Profound, right?
The only reason you’ve heard of Jaden Smith is he was lucky enough to have been born the son of Will Smith. Nothing personal, but that’s really it. Yet, in a world of 7 billion people, a large portion of whom are teenagers, he’s chosen as one of the 25 most influential by a major news magazine.
Smith wasn’t alone in making the “lucky sperm” contingent of Time’s most influential list. Other include Kylie, 17, and Kendall Jenner, 18, of “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” fame, who the world never would have heard of had their older sister not had a homemade porn movie released on the Internet with a then-much- more-famous rapper. They, like their sister and most of the rest of their family, do nothing. They have no talent, no skills, provide nothing other than marketing, yet they’re presented by media elites as people worthy of emulation.
Also on the list are Sasha, 13, and Malia Obama, 16. By all accounts they’re lovely girls, but they’re also insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Their father is president of the United States, but they had nothing to do with that. Time calls Sasha “an icon in her own right” because she wore a unicorn sweater that sold out online.
The list also is populated with singers, actors, a transgendered kid, bloggers, etc., like you’d expect. But, with a few exceptions, the list involves people who do nothing or next to it. It makes sense for the participation ribbon generation to hold up people with little to no accomplishments, but should the media be presenting them like they’ve done something or are worthy of admiration?
I get it—25 is a nice number, but so is 10. So why elevate the unaccomplished? Because Time is doing what the media always does—deciding who and what they want to matter rather than what actually matters to Americans. As long as people subscribe to these magazines, read these newspapers and watch these networks, the media will continue to hijack the culture and use it to bludgeon the rest of us with what these out-of-touch elites deem important and ignore what the rest of us know is.