Vanity Fair’s power list says a lot about the country that produced it, says Jeremy Hazlehurst
You will, no doubt, remember that famous New Yorker magazine cover from the 70s that showed The World From Ninth Avenue. It shows Ninth Avenue in the foreground, 10th Avenue behind it, then the Hudson River. Behind this, in the distance a sprinkling of other American states can be seen, Mexico and Canada lurk at the sides of the picture. Behind it is the Pacific Ocean, and then, just nudging over the horizon, are three vague landmasses labelled Japan, China and Russia.
The annual Vanity Fair list of the most influential people in the world is more than a little bit similar.
The list is “based on a number of factors: wealth and influence, as well as such intangibles as vision, philanthropy, and the x factor.” Which means either nothing or means that it is based on the whims and opinions of the Vanity Fair staff, who you can easily imagine sitting about in a penthouse bar somewhere in Manhattan, slurping cocktails and loudly proclaiming their geopolitical opinions.
That is to say, the list is very, almost absurdly, biased towards America and Americans. The most surprising thing about seeing the name of Vladimir Putin in number one spot is the words “new entry” in brackets next to it. How was the Russian leader not considered one of the most influential people in the world last year when Leslie Moonves, the Coen Brothers and Vinod Khosla made it? And while we’re on the subject, why is Carlos Slim Helu, the world’s richest man and the owner of many mobile phone networks in South America, only 46th? And based on what perception of the world are the most powerful Britons artist Damian Hirst (31) and fashion designer John Galliano (83)? And where is Hu Jintao, the Chinese leader?
The presence of Putin and Roman Abramovich’s quick rise from 30th to eighth shows that America’s media land is quickly waking up to the importance of Russia. Its oil-men, presumably, have been aware of his presence for a little longer. Putin taking the top spot demonstrates the worries about Russia’s re-emergence of a superpower, albeit a threadbare one. For all the mockery of its ancient military equipment and smooth faced troops, the recent conflagration in Georgia shows that it’s not the amount of muscle that matters, it’s the willingness to use it. Where Abramovich fits into this picture is unclear, apart from that he’s a Russian that people have heard of.
Last year’s number one Rupert Murdoch falls to number two on the list, presumably because Murdoch’s Fox News is sure to have a massive effect on the outcome of the American Presidential election in November (not to mention the impact that he could have on British politics through his stable of newspapers and television stations in the UK).
Some might think that having Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, along with their new CEO Eric Schmidt, right behind Murdoch is strange. But the Google boys’ position is based on two things, firstly the power of their business – 40 per cent of internet advertising in the US is made through Google, and 60 per cent of searches on the internet globally are made on Google.
But secondly, is their increasing influence on politics. Google had a massive presence at the Democratic Party conference in the US, and is very close indeed to the conservative Party in the UK. David Cameron has twice spoken at the Google Zeitgeist Conference, and Google’s European head of communications is Rachel Whetsone, who was former Tory leader Michael Howard’s chief of staff and is close to a number of Cameron’s closest political friends.
The presence of Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, also shows a newfound appreciation of the importance of the Middle East. With many American businesses looking peaky at the moment, the rise of Sheik Mohammed’s Dubai International Capital (DIC) Investment Group, which pumped money into Citigroup earlier this year, might well have made Americans realise just how important sovereign funds could be in the years to come.
Finally, non-American eyebrows might be raised at the presence of couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in the top 10. Their billing as “actors and activists” suggests that it is the second which has raised then to global players. Jolie’s work as a UNESCO Good Will Ambassador is well-known, and Pitt has put his weight behind issues such as alternative fuels and fair-trade.
Maybe the New York commentariat needs celebrities to get behind a cause before they recognise it. Who knows how powerful they could get if they moved any closer to Ninth Avenue.