TIME's 25 Most Influential Americans

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    The Babyface sound is all over the radio. At any given time there are usually about half a dozen songs on the charts that are either written by him, produced by him, performed by him or all three. His record label, LaFace, features such multiplatinum acts as Toni Braxton and the singing trio TLC. Edmonds' music, typically, is pop R&B, soft focused, unassuming, with the kind of shamelessly affable melodies that win you over but make you feel a bit guilty for loving them so much.

    A little Babyface does go a long way. His songs are like speeches at a political convention: designed to offend no one. So critics ask, Where's the soul in his soul? He knows the rules: soft sells, and bland is big, but risk taking wins real respect. Edmonds says he is intent on deepening his musical work, looking to innovators and consciousness raisers like Stevie Wonder for inspiration. (Edmonds' last album, The Day , featured a song about domestic violence; it was a duet with Wonder.) Could true Wonderdom be in his future? Says Edmonds: "I'm young, and I've still got a ways to go before I get there, and I want to get there."

    Dilbert, working-class hero
    It's a bird. It's a plane. It's ... well, it's not Superman. It's Dilbert, tie awry, hapless and victimized, soaring just as high in the popular imagination as the Man of Steel. Not only does Dilbert appear in 1,550 papers in 17 languages and 39 countries, with a daily readership of 150 million, he is also the diffident star of six best sellers (sharing one, though, with his Machiavellian sidekick Dogbert), and his pathetic, cubicle-bound existence may soon become a live-action series on the Fox Network this fall. Asked whether he has been surprised by the strip's success, Dilbert's creator, Scott Adams, 39, calmly replies, "No." And then he breaks out in manic laughter. After regaining his composure, he says, "I am as surprised as anybody that it succeeded in the exact way that it has succeeded. But still, the irrationally optimistic answer is that I always expect everything I do to change the world, not just because there's something special about me but because everything in the world was changed by one person, if you think about it. You'd be hard pressed to think of an example of anything that didn't start with one person."

    And that may just be the secret to Dilbert's influence. In that surreal purgatory where he wages a guerrilla war for survival against stapler misfirings and all-powerful, learning-impaired managers, Dilbert somehow believes he might just be able to start changing things — even if he doesn't really alter his work situation in the strip. Nevertheless, we are rooting for him because he is our mouthpiece for the lessons we have accumulated — but are too afraid to express — in our effort to avoid cubicular homicide. With backhanded assistance from his Dogbert, Dilbert has accumulated aphorisms that liberate simply because they capture the existing irrationality. For example, "The purpose of analysis is to avoid making hard decisions. Therefore, there can never be too much analysis"; "All rumors are true — especially if your boss denies them"; and, of course, "Your boss reached his/her position by being politically astute. Don't turn your back."

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