Tuesday, 31 July 2012

20 “Most Influential” Americans: stereotyped

Today, Time magazine has published a list of the “20 Most Influential Americans of All Time”:
  1. George Washington
  2. Thomas Jefferson
  3. Sacagawea, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
  4. Abraham Lincoln
  5. Sitting Bull
  6. Alexander Graham Bell
  7. Thomas Edison
  8. Henry Ford
  9. Wright Brothers
  10. Margaret Sanger
  11. Albert Einstein
  12. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  13. Louis Armstrong
  14. James Watson
  15. Martin Luther King junior
  16. Muhammad Ali
  17. Steve Jobs
This of course is a “top seventeen” but it includes twenty people. It is terribly stereotyped with not a single surprise, and what is more than this the influence is as much by what they did as much as what they thought.

To me there is something troubling about such a perspective, because few people ever have the desire to imitate such businessmen as Henry Ford - at least in my experience people never say they want to design a new type of private car, although such could be different in the Enriched World where comfort is less pronounced and people may have greater ambition to do something life-changing. Even those with some influence on their own generation, like Louis Armstrong, have never been able to sustain their influence. Some of the Native American figures appear to be chosen more for political correctness than for their historical significance since it is impossible to say their influence rubs off the United States we know today.

Only FDR, Margaret Sanger, Martin Luther King junior and Muhammad Ali really could be said to have deeply influenced the psyche of the United States with their lives. Ali was undoubtedly a prototype of the adored professional athlete, and the behaviour of so many of these people, as my mother says of Ben Cousins and his drug abuse, is often extremely deplorable.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the man who introduced a new system of government into the United States and became idealised by the majority of the population in a manner never seen before even of Lincoln.

Margaret Sanger’s ideas - after she died - transformed the thinking of the Boom Generation radically, giving rise to the Bush Senior generation’s radical demand for abortion rights as well as providing the cause for Roe v. Wade. Then, Martin Luther King junior must be the ultimate popular icon in the United States for his nonviolent civil rights protests and his assassination in 1968.

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