There is a fantastic scene in The Devil Wears Prada, in which Meryl Streep (who plays a character reportedly very similar to Vogue editor Anna Wintour) decimates Anne Hathaway and her ‘lumpy blue sweater’ by outlining the influence which the fashion industry holds over even the most unfashionable of people. When Hathaway’s character sniggers at the depth of debate over a choice between two seemingly identical belts, Streep turns to her scathingly with an, ‘Oh… ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you’.
This is a telling anecdote. Because we’re often unaware of just how influential certain industries are on our culture, history and even our personal lives. Unless you’re living in an wifi-free desert island, and haven’t had much human contact throughout your life, the day-to-day choices you make are undoubtedly influenced by larger systems than you realise. This may sound like a conspiracy theory, but as Streep’s character demonstrates, all of the decisions we make as consumers are in some way guided, manipulated, and even determined by individuals like the five below…
5. FASHION: Anna Wintour
There was a point at the end of 2012 when it looked possible that fashion’s infamous ice queen would be made ambassador to either the UK or France. In the end Wintour’s friend Obama decided against it, but the fact that he was even considering the fashion editor for this position shows the depth of her power.
As is often the case with media moguls, Wintour comes from a family of powerful players. She was born in 1949 to newspaper editor and war veteran Charles Wintour and philanthropist Elinor Wintour. Just before graduation Wintour dropped out of school, and used her connections to rise up the fashion magazine ladder to various editorial positions in NY and London. She has held the most powerful position in fashion, the editor in chief of American Vogue, since 1988. In addition to building Vogue’s $160bn empire, she has also been the cause of the success of many designers like Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs. She continues to hold firm opinions on controversial issues like fur (which she loves), and fat people (whom she hates), but people are generally too frightened of Wintour to call her on these un-PC stances.
Wintour’s influence even extends past the world of fashion. On June 14th, 2012 she hosted a meal during which each plate cost $40,000. The event took place at Sarah Jessica Parker’s New York townhouse, and was attended by both Michelle and Barack Obama. In fact, Wintour’s involvement in Obama’s election and reelection was extensive, having raised over $2,682,001 for the cause in 2011/12.
4. MEDIA: Rupert Murdoch
Murdoch’s media empire has earned him a fortune of $7.6bn. This amount of money alone would be enough to make Murdoch an extremely influential individual, but when combined with his newspapers, film studios, and broadcasting companies, it makes him one of the most powerful people of our time.
He has been repeatedly listed on both Forbes and Time’s lists of the most influential people in the world, with business interests in every corner of the world. Like Wintour, Murdoch was born into a media family, with an Australian newspaper magnate as a father. His newspaper empire started in his native country, and expanded from there into the UK and US.
Murdoch’s list of assets has included the New York Post, Wall Street Journal, the UK’s Telegraph, The Mail, The Times, FOX Broadcasting, National Geographic Channel, BSkyB, 20th Century Fox and Hulu. Many people find Murdoch’s dominance of such a wide range of different forms of media to be worrying, as his empire plus an enormous fortune and political connections make him effectively immune to external control. The result of this empire is that Murdoch has control over a large percentage of the news that the world reads, and the TV and films which it watches.
3. MUSIC: Lucian Grainge
Although most of the names on this list are familiar to some degree, the 54-year-old chairman and chief executive of Universal Music Group is more of an unknown. An online search of any of the other names will turn up a whole host of award ceremony photos, magazine portraits, and publicity shots, but a search of Grainge’s name tends to turn up photos of the acts which Universal owns.
The French owned, American based music group is the world’s largest, and as its CEO Grainge is essentially in control of over 40% of the music in the charts. The artists on the label include 50 Cent, ABBA, Bjork, the Black Eyed Peas, Coldplay, and David Guetta… and that’s only from the first four letters of the alphabet.
In an era which has been predicted to be the death of the music industry as we know it Grainge is one of the leading major labels embracing new digital opportunities. As a result of the changing times there have been a number of controversial court cases, legal disputes over music on YouTube, and the creation of Vevo, the joint venture between Universal Music Group, Google and Sony Music Entertainment.
2. FILM: Scott Rudin
Scott Rudin’s IMDB page is probably one of the most intimidating resumés ever. In the past four years he has been credited as the producer of a range of films to receive great critical and commercial success. The Grand Budapest Hotel, Captain Phillips, Inside Llewyn Davis, Frances Ha, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, True Grit, and The Social Network all bear his stamp. In fact, in 2012 Rudin became one of the few people (and the only producer) to have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award.
Along with the Weinsteins, Rudin is one of the few people who can truly say that they personally hold enormous sway over the movie industry, deciding which books are adapted, which scripts get green-lighted, and which up and coming stars make it big.
The producer’s status as ‘Kingmaker’ means that industry insiders have been known to say that ‘If you’ve got a movie you want to have a tilt at an Oscar, or one with a performance in it you want Academy members to sit up and take note of, then Rudin’s your man’.
1. INTERNET: Sergey Brin and Larry Page
Every month Google receives 100 billion queries, typically taking only microseconds to come back with results. For the average internet user it is a rare day that doesn’t include a Google search of some kind. In mid-2013, the internet giant held a 67% share of the internet search market, and over 81% of the cell phone market with the Android operating system.
In an age of such dependence on the internet and the smart phones with which we connect to it, a cynical person could say that the combined influence of the other four individuals on this list pales in comparison to Google’s influence over almost every aspect of our lives. If Google controls what we see when we search the internet, then it essentially controls the internet. And Sergey Brin and Larry Page control Google.
Ten years ago Google consisted of an idea and these two men. Now, it employs 20,000 people, had a revenue of almost $60bn in 2013, and was recently named the ‘Most Influential Brand in America’ by the market research company Ipsos. Although the ongoing NSA scandal has forced the world’s online population to realise its vulnerability, Google’s dominance only continues to grow.