Marl­boro Man: Most in­flu­en­tial per­son who never ex­isted?

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Katie Nichols

Su­per­man may be faster than a speed­ing bul­let — but in this com­pe­ti­tion, he comes in 33 places be­hind the Lit­tle En­gine That Could. The Man of Steel also fin­ishes be­hind Nancy Drew, Mickey Mouse and (hor­ror of hor­rors) Bat­man.

The list is “The 101 Most In­flu­en­tial Peo­ple Who Never Lived,” the ti­tle of a re­cently pub­lished, semis­e­ri­ous look at how our lives and our cul­ture are shaped by myth, lit­er­a­ture, films, television and even comics.

The book, by Al­lan Lazar, Dan Kar­lan and Jeremy Sal­ter, ranks fic­tional and mythog­i­cal char­ac­ters such as Godzilla, Su­per­man, Icarus and John Doe in or­der of “im­por­tance” — de­ter­mined in an un­apolo­get­i­cally sub­jec­tive man­ner.

One of the book’s most sur­pris­ing picks beat out Santa Claus (No. 4), King Arthur (No. 3) and Big Brother (from Ge­orge Or­well’s novel “1984,” at No. 2) as the most in­flu­en­tial fic­tional char­ac­ter to date: the Marl­boro Man.

The au­thors call the Marl­boro Man the most pow­er­ful brand im­age of the 20th cen­tury, an icon that helped trig­ger thou­sands of Amer­i­can deaths.

“We ar­gued about [. . . ] our No. 1 char­ac­ter and al­most came to the point of throw­ing ketchup pack­ets at each other,” Mr. Sal­ter said in an e-mail in­ter­view.

The Smok­ing Man choice sur- prised some ob­servers.

Don Markstein, a

Mickey Mouse comic book writer and au­thor of “Toono­pe­dia,” an on­line en­cy­clo­pe­dia of car­toons, said the Marl­boro Man seemed “kind of wimpy for a list like that.”

The au­thors tried to judge in­flu­ence by the num­ber of peo­ple af­fected and the depth of the ef­fect. They en­sured read­ers knew that, in their minds, pop­u­lar doesn’t al­ways mean in­flu­en­tial.

“I don’t think any­one will agree with the list,” said Thomas C. Fos­ter, au­thor of “How to Read Lit­er­a­ture Like a Pro­fes­sor.” “I think ev­ery­one will have their own fig­ures that they’d like to see in­cluded or ones they’d like to see high up in the rank­ings.”

Mr. Fos­ter called the sub­jec­tive list “an in­vi­ta­tion to dis­agree” and said the fact that it’s de­bate­able is part of the en­ter­tain­ment value of the book.

And peo­ple most cer­tainly dis­agree with the choices.

“I see a lot who shouldn’t be on here, like Mickey Mouse and Ugly Duck­ling,” said Elsie Car­son of Kala­ma­zoo, Mich. “I can’t say any of th­ese have in­flu­enced me.”

“Lord, I hope not,” said Neil Martin, a 78-year-old re­tired farmer from Mar­shall­town, Iowa, when he was told who was ranked No. 1.

Among the in­flu­en­tial char­ac­ters who didn’t make the book, cited by read­ers in an in­for­mal on­line sur­vey by USA To­day, were God, Homer Simp­son, Darth Vader, Harry Pot­ter, El­iz­a­beth Ben­net, At­ti­cus Finch and hun­dreds of oth­ers.

The book is filled with sta­tis­tics, “Did You Know” sec­tions, opin­ion and in­sight into the per­son­al­i­ties of the au­thors.

Ban­ter and inside jokes are of­fered in the “In­ter­lude” sec­tions that let read­ers inside the au­thors’ ex­pe­ri­ences.

“About 2 a.m., we start in on Moby Dick, the white whale. He was a real whale, but more of a choco­late milk color — Mocha Dick, from hav­ing too much es­presso, prob­a­bly [. . . ] John re­minds us that very few whales will be buy­ing this book — the book­stores are too far in­land and the doors are too small. And no whale ac­cess ramps,” the au­thors write on Page 168.

The book, which took three years to fin­ish, went through dozens of rewrites, and char­ac­ters were still be­ing added to the list early this year.

Al­though the au­thors had their dis­agree­ments and fa­vorites, in­clud­ing Luke Sky­walker for Mr. Sal­ter, Buck from “Call of the Wild” for Mr. Kar­lan and He­len of Troy for Mr. Lazar, they said they don’t even re­mem­ber now why they dis­agreed.

“You could tell they had a whole lot of fun writ­ing the book,” Mr. Fos­ter said. “Any­thing that gets peo­ple talk­ing about cul­ture and the arts, that’s the in­ter­est­ing thing about the book.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

More pow­er­ful than Su­per­man? The Marl­boro Man

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