Voting closes tomorrow on the 2011 Time 100 poll. Mercifully. Time intends for you to, given a list of notable people from the past year, help decide who is influential and who is not. The winner, the person who is voted most influential (by way of 'influential' votes minus 'not influential' votes), gets a place in the Time 100.
That's the intent. Being a poll on the Internet, it has devolved into a gigantic popularity contest. The defending champion is Korean pop singer Rain, who it cannot possibly be argued has been influential beyond influencing Korean girls to yell EEEEEEEEEEEEEE, and given the current standings, he is winning again going away. In a distant second is Jay Chou, AKA Kato from The Green Hornet, and far behind Chou in third: Susan Boyle.
The rest of the top 25, as it reads when I get there:
4- Cheng Yen, head of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation
6- Chris Colfer, aka Kurt from Glee
7- Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great
8- Bradley Manning, the soldier being held for leaking to Wikileaks
9- Lady Gaga
10- Julian Assange
11- Ron Paul
12- Glenn Beck
13- Fukushima power plant workers
14- Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit-cart owner who set himself on fire and in the process kicked off all the Arab protests and wars and revolutions
15- Wisconsin's 'Fab 14' state senators (these would be the Democrats who went to Illinois)
16- Han Han, a Chinese writer/blogger who gets away with criticizing the government because he is also a celebrity and racecar driver
18- Dan Savage and Terry Miller, founders of the It Gets Better Project
19- Tawakul Karman, head of the Yemeni group Women Journalists Without Chains
20- Mohamed Elbaradei, part of the Egyptian opposition to Hosni Mubarak
21- Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford
22- Gabrielle Giffords
23- Wael Ghonim, who kicked off the Facebook movement to bring about Egyptian revolution
24- Mark Zuckerberg
25- Mahinda Rajapaksa, president of Sri Lanka
Exhibit B that the poll has descended into farce: the middle of the pack. Michelle Obama, the First Lady to Barack, is 26th. Barack himself, the president of the United States, is 46th. Aung Sun Suu Kyi (40th) comes in six spots back of Betty White (34th). Vladimir Putin (67th) is 15 spots behind Conan O'Brien (52nd). Benjamin Netanyahu (86th) is two spots back of Jamie Oliver, aka the Naked Chef (84th). David Cameron (110th), John Boehner (112th), Joe Biden (109th) and Dmitri Medvedev (105th) are all losing to Katy Perry (100th). Justin Bieber (137th) is four spots up on Kathleen Sebelius (141st) and 17 spots up on Hamid Karzai (154th). Aaron Rodgers (176th) is two spots ahead of the Nobel Peace Laureate, Liu Xiaobo (178th).
Exhibit C: the other end of the list; the bottom. Supposedly, the 'least influential'. The bottom 25 (of which Xiaobo only misses by one spot):
179- Ai Weiwei (Chinese artist and activist; detained by Chinese authorities earlier this year)
180- Jenna Lyons, executive creative director of J.Crew; Michelle Obama wears a lot of their stuff
181- Bruno Mars (aka the guy who would catch a grenade, throw his head on a blade, jump in front of a train, take a bullet straight through his brain for you, but is miffed that you wouldn't do the same)
182- Bob Dudley, CEO of BP
183- Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil
184- Sarah Palin
185- Grant Achatz (American chef doing molecular gastronomy, like pretty much everyone else at that level of cooking after they heard about Ferran Adria, who now can't go out for a simple cheeseburger without getting three-hour presentations of pizza foam or malted scallops or other insane things he's done himself, better)
186- Michael Vick
187- Annette Bening (from The Kids Are All Right)
188- Russell Brand
189- Aziz Ansari (from Parks and Recreation)
190- Silvio Berlusconi
191- Willow Smith (aka 'I WHIP MY HAIR BACK AND FORTH I WHIP MY HAIR BACK AND FORTH I WHIP MY HAIR BACK AND FORTH I WHIP MY HAIR BACK AND FORTH')
192- Newt Gingrich
193- Lady Antebellum
194- Rooney Mara (The Social Network, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
195- Gwyneth Paltrow
196- Scott Walker
197- Zach Galifianakis
198- Chelsea Handler
199- Kim Kardashian
200- Charlie Sheen
202- Amy Chua, the Tiger Mom
203 (last by miles and miles and miles)- Kanye West
Thankfully, the very bottom is mostly populated with annoying celebrities. Where they should be, assuming they even belong in the poll at all. But then you've got Scott Walker and Sarah Palin in there. And two different heads of state. You may hate them. You may want them out of the political arena. But to say they're not influential? You might make a case for Newt Gingrich, who has had a problem getting traction in Republican primary polls, but Sarah Palin not influential? Come on now.
It's not like Time didn't know this would happen. Back in 1998, they opened up their Man (changed the next year to Person) of the Year vote to the public. That is intended to be the person who had the most influence on the year, for better or worse. (This is the standard response every time someone brings up the fact that Hitler won it once, even though Time has been known to shy away from people who would draw a similar reaction in the United States.) The public decided that this should be Mick Foley, professional wrestler and, that year, author of the book Have A Nice Day. Time responded by removing him from consideration. The title eventually went to Bill Clinton and Kenneth Starr.
Now, over a decade later, they've just decided to go with it. They've given up. If people want to say Rain is influential and make Stephen Colbert shake his fist screaming RAAAAAAAAIIIIIIINNNNN, then that's what Time is now prepared to do.
And if you take out the people who clearly have no business being 'most influential', leaving it just to the newsmakers, that creates another set of problems, as with votes come campaigns for those votes. Not debates. Campaigns. That's why you see the likes of Palin, Walker and Berlusconi at the bottom. Are they influential? Do they have an impact? Who cares? Suck it, Walker!
The best solution is simple: cancel the vote and put the decision back in the hands of the Time staff. If you want the job of deciding who's influential done right, you've got to do it yourself.