Time's special edition on the 100 most influential people is especially slavish in its "Artists & Entertainers" category. Al Franken typically overstated the ideological fervor of conservatives in hailing Arianna Huffington's flip-flopping away from conservatism:
I told her the Gingrich revolution was a fraud. Arianna had signed on for the part of the revolution that wanted to unravel the social safety net and replace it with faith-based programs. She took the mission very seriously but soon discovered that the Gingrich Republicans did not. "Effective compassion" was just a fig leaf for closing down the Department of Education, cutting Medicare and getting rid of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Is Arianna an "artist"? An "entertainer"? She's a strange fit for this category. Time's Richard Corliss honored the Dixie Chicks for when lead singer Natalie Maines told an audience abroad she was ashamed President Bush was from Texas. In response, many country music fans protested and threw their CDs away, but the Chicks stayed anti-Bush, to the delight of Time:
Maines, 31, Emily Robison, 33, and Martie Maguire, 36, didn't cringe and curtsy. On their tart, tasty new album, Taking the Long Way, they make stands and take hostages. The title song sets a defiant tone ("Wouldn't kiss all the ass that they told me to") that peaks in the CD's first single, the power-pop Not Ready to Make Nice. Maines' vocal intensity counters that of fans whose doting curdled into death threats, including "a letter/ Sayin' that I better shut up and sing/ Or my life will be over."
The Chicks, bless 'em, don't just carry a macrochip on their shoulders. There's instrumental virtuosity and a songwriting range that spans regions and decades. One country and one form of music aren't enough to contain them or stifle their passion. They'll sing but they won't shut up. That seems downright American.
It gets sillier as "artists" are honored by close friends, or worse yet, by their financiers. Jeff Skoll, the Ebay tycoon now funding leftist movies, is honored by Stephen Gaghan: "His company, Participant Productions, has just relieved Warner Bros. of half the budget of my film Syriana." Gaghan claims Hollywood is shy on idealistic liberals, and it's somehow "incredible" when liberal movies are nominated for Oscars:
He tells me his new business is a movie company that asks of every project, How is this film going to make the world better? We're eating lunch on set, the abandoned mental hospital, which is perfect because nobody in Hollywood talks like that. It's too straightforward, too idealistic, not bottom-line oriented and certainly naive. In Hollywood people would rather be dead than naive. Skoll wants to change the world right now and believes film can help to do that. And how is he doing? Well, in less than three years he has made, among others, these films: Syriana; Good Night, and Good Luck; Murderball; North Country; and the soon to be released Fast Food Nation and An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's documentary about global warming. So far his releases have—incredibly—garnered 11 Academy Award nominations. Both Truth and Nation are being screened at Cannes, and the former looks to be a massive hit in the U.S. More important, as Jeff says, "This Al Gore film, whoa—this movie may save the planet. That's pretty cool."
That would be the magazine's second plug for Gore's new film in this week's issue alone. (But then again, Time once again honors Bill and Melinda Gates, who have funded Time magazine events and received some rather nice purchased publicity as a result.)
Kissing up to people who helped you make it also is obvious in the tribute to Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee. Actress Zhang Ziyi declared "I know he is also making a huge influence in the lives of younger filmmakers and actors. I, for one, will be forever indebted to him for casting me in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Also honored in the gay and lesbian-celebrating section: Ellen DeGeneres and Howard Stern.
For overstating the record for your pals, I'm not sure supermodel Heidi Klum can be beat for hailing fellow supermodel Tyra Banks. Tyra is not just a "whip-smart business mogul," but "She is dynamic, positive and real, and we are only at the beginning of her special brand of global domination."
Predictably, harsher words in Time are saved for Matt Drudge, penned by Ana Marie Cox, formerly the blogger known as Wonkette, now an online columnist for Time: "With 10 million readers daily, Drudge, 39, has paved a generous path for the blogs; without his example, semipro scribes might not have unearthed 'Rathergate.' Of course, the price for such cyberscoops has been the coarsening of the evening news; Drudge has goaded traditional media into playing catch-up on sordid stories they once safely ignored." His fit into "artists & entertainers" feels demeaning.
And rounding out the cheers, NBC anchor Brian Williams hailed the hot Bush-bashing comic of the moment, Comedy Central's phony Bill O'Reilly clone, Stephen Colbert. Williams tries to be funny by making up claims about Colbert, then pretends Colbert is sending him up instead of conservative talk TV: "My friends tell me that Colbert's mimicry of the narcissistic, preening, puffed-up personalities who inhabit TV news these days is spot on. Personally, I don't see it, but they find him very funny."
He's following in Tom Brokaw's footsteps again. Brokaw oozed over Jon Stewart, Colbert's old "Daily Show" boss, in Time for 2005's Hot 100:
During the Democratic Convention in Boston, I told him I was heading next to Athens for the Olympic Games, and asked, "You ever been to Athens, Jon?" He laughed and said, "No. Brokaw, you forget. I'm a comic. I've been to Akron, but Athens, no." I am not so sure. Perhaps he was there in another life, for in many ways last year, Jon Stewart was our Athenian, a voice for democratic ideals and the noble place of citizenship, helped along by the sound of laughter.