May 16, 2005

Top 100 Americans?

Professor Bainbridge is having some fun with the Discovery Channel and AOL's list of nominees for a "Greatest American" reality TV show, so why shouldn't I? It's really a pretty silly list, compiled as it was from online submissions from the public, but one would think the Discovery people could have done some fudging to come up with something less laughable.

OK, the obligatory Presidents (13), inventors (8) and industrialists (7, not counting Hef and Oprah) are there, and I have no issue with most of these, though like Bainbridge, I think more attention to Founders and early American leaders would have been warranted (see his list of obvious omissions). Apparently one of the most important considerations for being a great American is to be a famous entertainer, as fully 27 of the 100, by my count, are figures from the entertainment industry.

If we're going to accept as legitimate the notion that a legendary career entertaining millions of fellow citizens makes one a great American, or if just becoming an identifiable symbol of American popular culture does the trick, then I guess I wouldn't have any quarrel with Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Johnny Carson, Walt Disney, Elvis Presley, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, and even Steven Spielberg.

In the marginal but arguable category (pop culture "icons" all, but great Americans?) are nominees Bill Cosby, Kate Hepburn, Oprah Winfrey, Marilyn Monroe, Rush Limbaugh, Ray Charles, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hugh Hefner (yes, entertainment), Clint Eastwood, and Michael Jackson.

(The longer this goes, the more ridiculous it seems to be talking about these people as among the 100 greatest Americans of the last 250 years.)

In my "you've got to be kidding me department" are the following nominees: Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Dr. Phil, Christopher Reeve, Madonna, Mel Gibson, and perhaps most ridiculously, Ellen Degeneres. I like Ellen Degeneres. Saw her live at a comedy club once. Talented comedienne. Very funny. In fact, I imagine Ellen herself laughing uproariously when she finds out she's on the list. Am I missing something?

Some great sports stars make the list too, seemingly at random; Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Brett Favre(?), Tiger Woods. A few not at random whose accomplishments actually transcended sports and might even be found in history books, Muhammed Ali, Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson make more sense. Alongside some of the the guys above whose first names suffice, I'd nominate some just-as-great players who put aside their sporting careers in order to serve their country in time of war. Ted Williams and Bob Feller spring immediately to mind, though I'm sure I'm forgetting many more. Speaking of which, Pat Tillman is on the list.

Some of the political names on the list of nominees are pretty much indefensible. For starters, it's lousy with Bushes, as G.H.W. Bush, Barbara and Laura are there to keep George W. company. And I guess Jimmy Carter and Bill and Hillary Clinton were Presidents, after all.

Oh yeah....John Edwards.

The list is noticeably P.C. as well. Maya Angelou makes the cut. (Apparently no spots available for Poe, Dickinson, Longfellow, Whitman, or Frost). Barack Obama appears to be the only first-term Senator to have made the list. He's been serving his country about long enough to have located the restrooms. Then there's Ellen. That's it. I knew I was missing something.

One sterling example of American values and patriotism that was nominated for Greatest American is the man who said to his fellow citizens.."You're stuck with being connected to this country of mine, which is known for bringing sadness and misery to places around the globe."....and of his fellow Americans..." they are possibly the dumbest people on the planet"...and...""We need to change our ethic and aspire to be more Canadian-like". Michael Moore, great American.

Just a couple of people that I think should have made the list (in addition to several already named by Professor Bainbridge...no, not Julia Child):

If Bill Gates and Henry Ford make it, why not Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin? How about Alcoholics Anonymous founders Dr. Bob and Bill W.? Clara Barton. Ernest Hemingway. Lou Gehrig. Whittaker Chambers. Jerry Garcia. I'm thinking on it...

Posted by dan at May 16, 2005 2:10 PM