Reading through Forbes’ list of the 71 most powerful people in the world this afternoon, I was struck by something interesting. For all that we talk about the influence of culture on both society and individuals, there only two people involved in the production or distribution of culture or the arts on the list.
There are a lot of figures from tech companies, many of which are made more valuable by cultural content, on the list. Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page are tied for 20th on the list. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg comes in at 27th. Apple CEO Tim Cook is 35. Robin Li, who founded and runs Baidu, China’s largest search engine ranks 64th.
But in comparison to all of those tech titans, there are just two people involved in the production of entertainment or cultural content. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos comes it at 27th on the list. Joseph Blattner, who runs the International Federation of Association Football, is the 69th most powerful person according to the list, on the grounds that he “runs the world’s most popular sport–and unofficial religion.”
It’s notable both that neither of them are artists—they’re both on the business and distribution side of content. The people who have power, apparently, are not the ones who come up with the ideas, images, and sounds that reach wide audiences, but those who come up with the paradigm-shifting means of distributing them, whether it’s the broadcast deals for FIFA matches, or the Kindle. And while content is an important part of Amazon’s business, the company’s come a long way from being a book retailer. Instead of just eliminating local bookstores, it’s now going after big box stores.
Similarly, it’s telling that the only head of a an organization that’s primarily a content creation enterprise is Blattner, and that he’s involved with sports, rather than with movies, music, or television production. Obviously FIFA games reach an enormous number of people, and anyone who’s thought about the cable package in the United States knows how critically important sports, particularly football, are to maintaining the viability of cable as a subscription service. But that it’s sports and Kindle sales in the mix rather than a television network head or a movie director says a lot about what it takes to get on the Forbes list in the first place. Numbers, it seem, matter more than ideas.