A month ago I asked readers What is the most misunderstood idea of all time?
My next big (slightly morbid) question is Whose death would stun the Western World?
A few years ago when Michael Jackson unexpectedly died, it felt like the world sort of skipped a few beats. I was in South Korea at the time. I tended to go to foreigner bars that catered to Canadians, Americans, Brits, Aussies and New Zealanders. My main bar was essentially running a several day long Michael Jackson marathon. He may well have been the most famous person in the world.
On a smaller but still huge scale, Kurt Cobain‘s untimely death in the 90s deeply affected a certain Western youth subculture. Indeed, suicide rates among teenagers and young adults spiked a little bit in the immediate period following Cobain’s passing.
I don’t think that Kurt Cobain’s death was as big of a deal to the Western World as a whole as those of MJ, Di, and JFK.
Who, if they were to die tomorrow, would be the next MJ, Di or JFK in terms of the cultural impact of their passing? Alternatively, whose death would have the greatest impact on the Western World if it were to happen tomorrow?
I will offer a few nominations (in order of impact; NOTE: My listing is VERY North America centric):
1. Barack Obama. Any currently serving American President.
2. Oprah Winfrey
3. Michelle Obama
Barack Obama and Winfrey would be in a shared class of their own. I don’t know that anyone else would stand beside them in terms of cultural impact of death. Except maybe Michelle Obama. A lot of people just seem to love her. Part of me wonders if perhaps Oprah should be #1.
3. Hilary Clinton
4. Bill Clinton
5. The Pope. Any Pope.
6. Stephen Colbert
7. Jon Stewart
Colbert and Stewart? They’re just political comedians! They’re also among the leading voices of a growing, and increasingly frustrated segment of Americans. What is more, they’ve affected the culture. Often times, it used to be said, the jester can get away with saying things to the powerful that no one else can. They’ve been able to get away with subversion that actual news anchors almost never engage in. Really, when it comes to informing the people and holding the powerful accountable on a grand scale, one would be hard pressed to find others that measure up to these two.
8. Rush Limbaugh
9. Bill O’Reilly
From my left-leaning perspective, these appear to be the two biggest and, definitely in the case of Limbaugh, most polarizing figures on the American Right.
A close call:
10. Elton John
Elton John has been a trans-generational musical superstar, cultural icon, and gay rights icon. He has left a mark on the culture.
Marshall Mathers, Slim Shady, or Eminem, has been a subversive, category-challenging, censor-defying, voice for several millions of Westerners. He came on by storm because he an extremely talented white black-talking rapper. He had bleached hair and a young face, but a vicious scowl, a piercing voice and even more piercing lyrics. He put out smash hit albums one after the other. A major movie success. Puff Daddy was right when he said “10 years from now we’ll still be on top”. Slim has lasted even longer.
Have I missed anyone? Do you disagree with my ordering? Give your two cents in the comment section. If you think this is an interesting question, share it and like it
UPDATE: Feel free to call me out on how unbelievably America-centric my offerings were. Two major oversights that have already been pointed out to me: Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger.