Money, power, fame, and acclaim: possess these attributes and you might be the most influential person in the world. Considering the criteria, it is no wonder that AskMen.com’s list of the “Top 49 Most Influential Men” is composed of Hollywood celebrities, wealthy businessmen, professional athletes, and only one politician. Not all of the individuals deserve to be on a “most influential” list, but that depends on the criteria. Not all of them have anything worthy to say; yet we still listen. Hollywood celebrities can influence public opinion only because millions of people already take an interest in their lives. The characteristics of the individuals on the list are representative of the values upheld by our society and the result of media that focus on hype with little regard for morality. We need to consider the social implications of favouring cultural influence over quality influence. Those who hold our attention ultimately have the power to influence society, but if we focus our attention on personalities instead of policies, it is easy to forget in what direction we are being steered. Therefore, it is important to consider whether our public figures are a positive or negative influence on society before we allow put them on a pedestal. Askmen.com compiled this list, but it seems the only people they asked for opinions were the writers of tabloid magazines.
Popularity may be influence but influence is not about popularity.
The problem with our media-saturated environment is that only the sensationalized stories are heard because we care most about headlines dealing with euphoric, revolting, or tragic stories. As a result, people who have done nothing to merit an influential voice are put on a platform and given a voice through the media. Kanye West ranked #5 on AskMen.com’s list because his repeatedly immature behaviour was shocking and offensive. Similarily, several other Hollywood figures are on the list for being ‘influential’ without necessarily doing anything significant. Some, like Leonardo Dicaprio, Ben Affleck, George Clooney, and Sean Penn, are highly involved in philanthropic work, but others – Justin Timberlake and James Franco– are recognized simply for being young, hip and successful. The influence of public figures must be examined holistically and not based solely on their likeability. Celebrities may be people that we respect, but their influence over society can be minimal if we choose to direct our attention to more pressing matters.
Several businessmen are on the “Most Influential” list because of their ability to expand their corporate conquests. Bobby Cotick (#16), CEO of Activision Blizzard, has been called “the Hitler of the Gaming Industry.” He “openly admitted he has no interest in producing games that don’t have the potential to be exploited year after year on every platform imaginable” We should not be praising businessmen like this for their ability to maximize profits when they do so at the expense of product diversity and innovation. Prioritizing money over cultural integrity results in shortsightedness and an inability to find global long-term solutions.
It is important to consider the motivation behind an individual’s work, be it business, fame or philanthropy. In the digital age, technological pioneers like Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, and Mark Zuckerburg, the founder of Facebook, are highly influential on the technological frontier; it is impossible to ignore the ubiquity of Apple products, which have contributed to our increasing reliance on electronic communication. Both of these men are incredibly wealthy, however, they have done little to influence society in a manner that is not profit-motivated. These men operate within a business, which derives its power from marketing campaigns and business strategies. It is important to consider the methods by which businesspeople achieve their goals; even businesses can be a positive influence on society if they operate ethically.
Influence is about affecting people, positively or negatively.
While a person can be influential in one sector of the economy, more should be required of him to be recognized as influential on society – he needs to be socially aware. The public needs to be wary of people who push their own agendas with no regard for morality and decency; part of a public figure’s power is in the credibility we believe they have. Excelling within a profession – acting, directing, designing, playing football – should not automatically make someone influential. People should have to earn the right to be considered influential by the public. They should have to establish themselves as someone who cares about the betterment of society for people to listen to them and not just be a pretty face.
Public figures may appear to have more influence than us because they are already in the spotlight, but as the list demonstrates, they are all people who go to work everyday. There are some, however, who choose to invest in causes that will make the world a better place for everyone and they deserve recognition for promoting human welfare, be it globally or locally. Similarly, each of us can make that decision. Express dissent, envision a more equitable and democratic world, and act to make it a reality. The power to influence others is both earned and taken, should you accept the challenge.