TIME 100 most influential animals featured image
Illustration by Martin Gee for TIME

Four Legs Good, Two Legs Irrelevant

Apr 21, 2016
Ideas
Joel Stein writes a weekly column for TIME magazine. His book, Man Made: A Stupid Quest For Masculinity, changes people’s lives.

Time hired me in 1997 with the hope that I would make the magazine relevant to young people, something I have clearly succeeded at. I've kept up on all the cool trends, and lately I've become concerned about the TIME 100's fixation on human beings. The influence of individual people is waning because of technological advances that are democratizing the media, business and taxi driving. Individual animals, meanwhile, are totally waxing. They've got Twitter accounts, product lines, their own television channels and celebrities who not only won't eat them but also won't stop talking about not eating them.

This is why I've created the TIME 100 Animals, the definitive list of the most influential animals in the world, which you can find at here. To do this, I enlisted a board of directors consisting of seven of the world's top animal experts. This was important because I'm not personally a big fan of animals or, to be honest, plants or rocks or anything else outside. Also, I've learned from previous lists that 100 is a way bigger number than it sounds like, so I needed to Tom Sawyer some animal lovers into doing my work for me.

The Animals 100 board consists of PETA president Ingrid Newkirk, Animal Planet and Discovery Channel president Rich Ross, environmentalist Philippe Cousteau, Farm Sanctuary president Gene Baur, BuzzFeed Animals editor Chelsea Marshall, my friend Phil Johnston--who not only co-wrote Zootopia but also wrote the scene in The Brothers Grimsby in which the characters get stuck in an elephant's vagina--and Moby, the vegan musician who lives a few houses away from me and was walking by my driveway while I was working on this. "I applaud you for representing our collective obsession with the creatures we love and, paradoxically, hurt and eat," Moby said. See what I mean?

All the board members agreed that some animals are far more influential than others because of their distinctive personalities. "At the dog park, everyone has the experience of the dog that's a dick. It's usually a German shepherd," said Cousteau. Similarly, he said he could immediately tell if a shark was a jerk, though I think he was just bragging about being around sharks. Not surprisingly, Ross talked a lot about sharks when he was nominating animals for the list, since, as a naked attempt to lure advertisers, Shark Week is his TIME 100.

The Animals 100 board members agreed that we were embarking on an important endeavor. "We would all have the same basic answers with the 100 most influential people, like Obama and Malala," said Zootopia co-writer Johnston. "If you talk about influential animals, other than that dog from the French silent movie, most people would say their house pet. Which is why this is a much more difficult list and makes you a better journalist." It also helps that I don't have pets.

The TIME 100 seems to stick to living humans, and TIME 100 Animals totally gets the logic in that, because it's awkward to invite dead people to the TIME 100 party--but the publisher isn't letting us throw one, possibly because of postparty cleanup costs. So our top influencer is Cecil, the African lion killed by that Minnesota dentist who prompted international outrage over big-game hunting and then a teeny bit of outrage over people making death threats against Minnesota dentists. In another departure from the TIME 100, some of our entries are fictional. But it wasn't like we could leave Mickey Mouse off. He's worth about $180 billion. You show a picture of Mickey Mouse to anyone in the world and they say, "Mickey Mouse!" You show a photo of TIME 100 banker Jin Liqun to them and they say, "Show us Mickey Mouse again!"

PETA president Newkirk had been pushing for Tilikum, the orca whose plight was detailed in a documentary that got SeaWorld to get rid of its killer-whale show, to be first on the list. Newkirk also nominated Sunder, an abused elephant in India. And Grecia, an abused toucan in Costa Rica. And Dorothy, an abused chicken in Virginia. At which point I told her she was being a bummer. So she suggested Gus, a bulldog who stars in a viral video in which he insists on bringing a kiddie pool into the house. "There's not someone pushing him. It's him. It's very different than the surfing squirrel that's just being used. That squirrel doesn't want to be there," she said, going right back at it.

Some of the TIME 100 Animals influence humans, like Miley Cyrus' pig, who is the reason Cyrus became vegan. Others influenced other animals, like Reef, the top dog on the winning Iditarod team. Eleven of the entries are sports figures, compared with only eight in the TIME 100. And ours are objectively better. Sure, Usain Bolt is fast, but he would be left pretty far behind by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Ronda Rousey is tough, but is she as tough as Long John, the Professional Bull Riders' world champion bull who despite several injuries ended the season with 23 outs, 14 of which were on the Built Ford Tough Series? Jordan Spieth is a wonderful golfer, but could you say about him, as the world's best polo player said about the American-bred bay gelding Chocolate, "He has good power, a good temperament and a really sensitive mouth"?

But there were actually a lot of similarities between the two lists. They have Leonardo DiCaprio from The Revenant; we have the bear from The Revenant. And honestly, it was the bear that influenced America's intense, if misinformed, discussion of bear rape. They have Kathy Niakan, a biologist who is approved to work with the gene-splicing tool CRISPR, while we have the freakazoid supergoats that Chinese scientists created with CRISPR. You decide which you'd rather read about. They have Christiana Figueres, leader of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, while we have a polar bear that starved possibly because of climate change. They have Lin-Manuel Miranda, the hipster creator of the musical Hamilton; we have Hamilton the hipster cat. They have Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg; we have Boo, a Pomeranian with 17 million Facebook likes. They have Barack Obama; we have Obama's dogs. In terms of their ability to sway Congress, that is currently a tie in influence. And in the eeriest similarity of all, TIME 100 has Bernie Sanders and we have Grumpy Cat.

The Animals 100 does have 29 entertainers, which is more than are on the TIME 100. And most of ours are famous just for being on Instagram. But that's what being famous is now, TIME 100. At least we don't believe that working on Star Wars is two-fifths as influential as every single thing that is happening in Africa. We also have a lot of entertainers because BuzzFeed Animals editor Marshall, who oversees two other BuzzFeed Animals writers, kept sending me suggestions, including Lil Bub, Colonel Meow and the two llamas that Arizona police chased on live TV news, which she says were more influential than people realized. "The llama thing was the day of the dress," she says, referring to the dress on Tumblr that looked blue to some people and not blue to others. "I ran home with so much energy. There was so much stuff happening on the Internet that day. The llamas would have blown up more if the dress wasn't so crazy." Unlike Newkirk, Marshall suggested I pick animal-interest stories. "We won't have sad animal news in our section," she said. "Our viewers want to be uplifted and be happy." This is the future of news, TIME editors. Trust me; I get young people.


Ideas
TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.
TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.