SOLOMON: 30 Years Later, "A Day in the Life" Resonates
I read the news today, oh boy. About some lucky men and women who made the grade.A recent issue of Time magazine -- revealing "The Most Influential People in America" -- arrived on newsstands exactly 30 years after the Beatles finished recording their most famous album. That coincidence is worth pondering.The final surreal song on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band mounted quite a polemical assault on mainstream news. "A Day in the Life" deftly blasted shallow media fixations.News media, of course, have gained much more leverage since the day in April 1967 when the Beatles called it a wrap at their Abbey Road studios. Three decades later, the enormous clout of standard media deserves re-examination.Time's cover story is as good a place as any to start.Like most artifice designed to capture the public's non- imagination, the magazine's "Most Influential People" gambit needs to drag us over the threshold of customary illusions before it can sink its fangs into our brains.Our first reaction might be: "What a stupid concept! They can't be serious!" Our next thought will probably be to realize that they are. Moments later, we're reading, and the hook is set. Pretty soon, it's all apt to seem fairly reasonable.Flipping through the April 21 edition of Time, even before you get to the main story, some powerful messages are hard to miss. The first advertising spread, on a pair of pages just inside the cover, compares the Mercedes-Benz logo -- favorably -- to a peace sign. ("Right behind every powerful icon lies a powerful idea.")Turn the page, and a blurb describes the cover story: "Time's roster of the most influential people in America ... includes a young golfer and an industrial rocker, a Buddhist activist and an Ivy League encyclopedist, a hapless cartoon character and the irrepressible conscience of the U.S. Senate."In other words: Tiger Woods and Trent Reznor, Robert Thurman and Henry Louis Gates Jr., Dilbert and Sen. John McCain. Five men and a comic shtick figure. Influential? Maybe. But in this case, more to the point, they're filler between all the slick ads.There are two-page plugs for Microsoft, sporty Ford trucks, a Chrysler luxury car ("Are you keeping up?"), a deluxe Jeep ("Four Wheeler of the Year"), an antacid to control heartburn, a medical-insurance plan, a Lexus coupe ("now priced from $39,495") and Sun Microsystems -- all before the start of the color- splashed pageantry about "Time's 25 Most Influential Americans."Who made the grade? "People whose styles are imitated," the magazine explains, "whose ideas are adopted and whose examples are followed."Passive voice comes in handy here, allowing Time to get the idea across without quite rubbing our noses in it: Who is presumably doing the imitating, adopting and following? You and me. The United Sheep of America.Those supposedly in the saddle, rounding us up and herding us along, include the editor of the National Enquirer, radio shock-jock Don Imus, TV talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, a fashion designer, two musicians and an inevitable "Web entrepreneur."To add a bit more realism, the magazine also lists a couple of very wealthy men with divergent politics, Richard Scaife and George Soros -- plus Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who just happens to be "a centimillionaire." Out of the 25 visionary sheepherders, Rubin actually has the closest proximity to the nation's power centers.But such a listing of "The Most Influential People" winds up inviting us to mire ourselves in the vicarious images of individual personalities. The spotlight falls without context."A Day in the Life" evokes the vast distances between routine media preoccupations and what we experience on a daily basis as we go about our lives. Mostly, the mass media offer white noise and trivia instead of depth and meaning."And though the holes were rather small / They had to count them all."