A politician, an ex-soccer player, a businessman and a pope -- all Germans -- walk into a bar. The barman looks at them and asks: "What is this? Unsexiest People Alive?" "No," they respond. "We rock the world."
Paparazzi love her: Chancellor Merkel, color-coordinated with her husband
Sex appeal may be seriously overrated, after all.
Take German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example. What does a frowny-faced physicist who grew up in the communist East have in common with US actress, sex bomb, video game impersonator and general goody-goody Angelina Jolie -- other than the similar first name? Is it those soft, kissable, honey-colored lips of pure delicious lush? Or is it, perhaps, the sizzling hot passion for the eternally tanned bundle of metrosexual appeal, a.k.a. Brad Pitt? Or is it the fact that paparazzi all over the world are desperately offering their children for sale in exchange for a compromising shot of one of the two Angies, in or out of the bathing suit?
The other Angie: Actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador Jolie
None of the above. Both Angies, however, along with luminaries ranging from legally blond Reese Witherspoon to almost illegally ineloquent George W. Bush, have made the latest list of 100 people who -- for better or worse -- shaped our world in 2005, according to US Time magazine.
A strange world
A world which is shaped, at the same time, albeit in different categories, by cocky standup comedian Ellen DeGeneres and Iran's whacko president and nuclear power buff Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a strange, dislocated kind of the world in which the borders between politics, big business and entertainment are often blurred for the sake of generating media excitement as a kind of postmodern Gesamtkunstwerk.
Which is exactly why it is so remarkable that German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- whose all work and no play attitude makes her a perfect, if less entertaining, antipode to her cigar-smoking predecessor Gerhard Schröder -- is rising to such celebrity status.
They move in high circles: Merkel and Pope Benedict XVI
Mekel still gets lampooned on German TV on a regular basis. In one comedy show, she is portrayed by a bearded actor wearing Merkel's favorite peach-colored power suite, while being dubbed by a radio anchor famous for imitating both the eerie monotony and the subtle fluctuations of Merkel's high-pitched, guttural voice.
Yet this "dull" and "unexciting" politician is enjoying unprecedented approval ratings. The economy seems to be picking up, while the morose German landscape has been transformed into what the German magazine Der Spiegel has called a "land of smiles."
Unsexy, but influential
The latest list of those who make the world go around confirms the clichéd view of Germany as a nation of serious, unsexy people. German top models Heidi Klum, Claudia Schiffer and Nadia Auermann are nowhere on the list. Neither are young German soccer jocks Michael Ballack and Bastian Schweinsteiger. This should make Germans proud, because their country can also offer brains, not just brawn.
German soccer legend Franz Beckenbauer
The other Germans who made it big on the international scene, according to Time, are Prada wearing Pope Benedict XVI, 79; German soccer legend and president of the organizing committee of the World Cup Franz Beckenbauer, 60; and -- the young gun, so to speak -- DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche, soon to turn 54.
Influence on the world stage is, of course, a nebulous concept. You cannot measure it in either absolute or relative terms, and lists like these are ultimately exercises in often unfathomable editorial policies.
Dieter Zetsche -- making the walrus moustache fashionable again?
And while in terms of their looks, Benedict XVI, Beckenbauer and Zetsche can hardly measure up to George Clooney -- their fellow world-shaping giant, according to Time -- Germans, in general, seem to be doing better and better in the eyes of the world.
When the white smoke coming out of the most watched chimney in the entire world indicated that German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope last spring, Germany collectively fell into papal hysteria. "We are the Pope," read a headline in one of Germany's most widely circulated tabloids.
Now, with their first female chancellor listed as one of the big movers and shakers, the new -- slightly exaggerated -- headline could read: "Angie Rules the World."
Who would have thought?