For years, Sports Illustrated has collected and featured bizarre, zany or just plain disappointing weekly reports from the world of sports entitled, “This week’s sign the apocalypse is upon us.” I haven’t read Sports Illustrated recently, but I fondly recall the unique section of the magazine and consciously apply its title in my mind to peculiar or disturbing news that I consume today.
One of the recent news reports that I found disturbing along these lines focused on the Reader’s Digest “100 Most Trusted People in America” list issued earlier this month. Apparently the fabled publication and a polling company surveyed more than 1,000 Americans who voted four actors as the most trusted public figures, crowning Tom Hanks as the most trusted person in our great nation.
Hanks was followed by actors Sandra Bullock, Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep in order on the list before author Maya Angelou rounded out the top five. Even Jeopardy game show host Alex Trebek topped the top 10 at No. 8. Guess the viewers believe he really does know the questions to most of the show’s answers?
Seven Supreme Court Justices (Stephen Breyer is the top-ranked justice at No. 43) made the list of 100, but not one of them ranked higher than a TV judge (Joe Brown at No. 39). Several athletes also made the list including the Manning brothers (Peyton, No. 27) and Eli (No. 58), along with Tim Tebow (No. 40) — all of whom ranked higher than President Obama (No. 65).
The list of curiosities goes on and on; you can view in its entirety online. While the list shouldn’t really surprise anyone, given American culture, it is disturbing nonetheless because it coldly confirms our nation worships fame and fortune above all else. Our fellow Americans selected four actors who largely play the role of other people for a job as someone they publicly trust above anyone else!
Granted, the survey was focused on public figures, so responders couldn’t indicate they trusted their principal, police chief or pastor more than people in the public eye like Steven Spielberg (No. 6 on the list for inquiring minds). But to call Tom Hanks America’s most trusted public figure is, frankly, embarrassing. I like a Tom Hanks movie as much as the next guy, but come on people, the guy plays someone else for a living. We act like we know these celebrities personally.
Maybe the actors scored so high on the list and politicians scored considerably lower because we as Americans are increasingly only interested in living in the fairy tale world of make-believe. Most of us certainly don’t put our trust in political leaders who prove time and again to be ineffective, inept or corrupt.
Maybe believing in actors and athletes who are selling image versus substance is a welcome escape from the avalanche of negative news we face daily. And let’s not forget a handful of actors have gone on to be effective leaders in areas from elected office to social causes.
Yet I suspect many of you would rather live in the real world where we have a better handle on whom and what we’re putting our trust in. Call it a hunch, but I’m holding out hope.
Dan Francisco is an El Dorado Hills-based public relations consultant to the high-tech industry.