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If Martha Stewart relies on people's actually doing what she suggests, as opposed to just watching her do it, she would be very poor indeed, instead of a multimillionaire empress of elegance. The real secret to Martha is that the perfection she is pursuing is so out of reach of anyone without a staff, or who sleeps more than Martha's four hours a night, that there is no obligation to actually do it. Being in Martha's thrall is like buying a treadmill and instantly feeling fit even though it serves mainly as a coat rack; acquiring the Martha oeuvre makes you think you will conduct a beautiful domestic symphony one of these days--when the kids grow up, when you lose your day job and perhaps the lunkhead you've married who likes meat loaf and ketchup. The magazine and television show bearing her name and developed with Time Inc. (she and the company are talking about restructuring the relationship) have a Merchant-Ivory movie-set glow. Actual people, as opposed to imported guests, would really mess it up.
So why is Martha, 54, so much more influential than, say, Alice Waters, the Chez Panisse chef who transformed restaurant cooking? It's because Marthaland is a one-stop shop, for everything from bed to kitchen to garden, where one thing stylishly builds on another. She pulls all this off with total earnestness (except when she is paid to be ironic by American Express, lining her swimming pool with a mosaic of cut-up credit cards). Otherwise, she stays in character: that of a demanding schoolmistress who will be coming around to test for trace elements of bottled dressing in your salade nicoise. When Bryant Gumbel tries to poke a bit of fun at her during her segments on the Today show, she blithely ignores him. If she doesn't take cake decorating seriously, who will? Dominique Browning, editor in chief of the relaunched House & Garden, due to debut this fall, says Martha's dominance derives from the fact that "she's bossy, she knows what's good for us." It's come to pass that the universal zinger for a household shortfall is, "That's not how Martha would do it."
Which is another element of her success: rather than bring the subject matter down to the audience, she is bringing the audience up to the subject matter, making it worthy of the effort it requires. Sure it's easier to identify with Gloria Steinem, who admits she once lived in an apartment for four years before realizing the oven didn't work. By making the impossible purchasable--at least in magazine and catalog form--Stewart is now simply Martha: cooking, sewing, gilding, planting, wallpapering and painting her way into every corner of your house--and your life. And Christmas? You'd better watch out.
WILLIAM BENNETT Advocate of Traditional Values
Bill Bennett can scarcely walk into an airport or restaurant these days without an admirer's stopping to scold him about his refusal to run for President. He sometimes responds, only half jokingly, that he would have to give up too much influence. As Education Secretary for President Reagan and drug czar for President Bush, Bennett spent eight years around the White House. "And I can't imagine," he says, "how being President could be more interesting than all the things I'm doing now."