1 // Zac Efron, Shia LaBoeuf, and the Disney Kids
Ages: 15 to 27
Which one was naked on the Internet? Is Hannah Montana still a virgin? Are those two really a couple? If you have kids under the age of 12—or even if you don’t—you’re probably aware that you’ve been thinking about people like Zac Efron and Miley Cyrus (the multiplatinum 15-year-old star of the Disney Channel show Hannah Montana) more than is healthy or productive for a man your age. Efron, Cyrus, Hilary Duff, and other Disney creations are infiltrating our adult headspace like an airborne superbug. The 17.2 million viewers High School Musical 2 drew last year made it the highest-rated show in basic-cable history, and Disney is fanning the flames with yet another chart-topping soundtrack, an HSM stage adaptation, serialized novels, a video game, and an ice show. If you think you can escape Disney’s mind-controlling power, think again. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Ryan Gosling, and Even Stevens’ Shia LaBoeuf—who stars in next summer’s installment of Indiana Jones—were grown in Disney’s hothouse. Like it or not, we’re all caught in the mouse’s trap.

2 // The Surge
Average Age: 27
What do you call 20,000 soldiers sent off to fight a war that’s long since been lost? In George W. Bush’s politics of denial, they get a clever name: The Surge. It conveys power, momentum, and impermanence—military need and domestic political necessity—all in one word. But strategists argue that any increase is doomed unless it’s permanent. “Our biggest challenge has been convincing Iraqis the United States will be around long enough to help protect them—something so clearly finite doesn’t help,” says Stephen Biddle, senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. And putting these soldiers in harm’s way has only made the war’s critics more rabid, meaning the administration can’t drown out the ever-louder cries to “Bring them home!”

3 // Mark Zuckerberg
Founder, Facebook; Age: 23
Nearly four years ago, Mark Zuckerberg registered the domain name thefacebook.com and soon thereafter dropped out of Harvard. Today, his social-networking website, known simply as Facebook, is arguably the hottest Internet property on the planet. In October, Microsoft beat out Google and Yahoo for the right to invest $240 million for a 1.6 percent stake in the site. The deal valued Facebook at $15 billion—more than 20 times what MySpace sold for in 2005—and Zuckerberg holds a 20 percent share of that. The site posted 34 billion page views in September to MySpace’s 50 billion, and rumors are circulating about an IPO in 2009. So how’d Zuckerberg do it? By opening Facebook to off-campus netizens, inviting outside companies to create applications for the site (and share ad revenues), and slicing deeply into MySpace territory with a cleanly designed alternative to the teen-and-spam-fest.

4 // The Bible Beaters
Age: Born Again Yesterday
The Jesus Freak has gotten crafty. Copping to the fact that bashing gays and menacing abortion clinics aren’t voter-friendly tactics, the Christian right has lately adopted a kinder, gentler strategy—one that’s frighteningly effective: insidious religious propaganda in pop-culture packaging. Two of the year’s bigger bands, Flyleaf and Switchfoot, look like average punks, but they rock for Christ; millions of Americans gobbled up gospel-lite self-help books by the likes of Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen; and the video-sharing site GodTube has attracted more than 3 million unique visitors a month since its launch in August, mixing innocuous sermon highlights with jaw-droppers like the now-pulled “Battle Cry,” a video call to arms for a Christian jihad that began with this quote: “‘I come not to bring peace but a sword.’ —Christ.” Maybe the Holy War has only just begun.

5 // The School Shooters
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold; Ages: 18 and 17
Eight years on, and the bodies are still piling up. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who murdered 12 of their Columbine High School classmates in 1999, remain the role models for the killers responsible for this year’s school shootings. Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 at Virginia Tech, was inspired by “martyrs like Eric and Dylan,” according to a letter he mailed to NBC News. A Wisconsin teen who allegedly marched into his high school and shot his principal dead had researched the Colorado massacre the day before his rampage. Add to this one student murdered in Tacoma, Washington, two (and two teachers) injured in Cleveland, two more shot at Delaware State University—and this year’s list of Columbine copycats reads like a Pentagon casualty report. It seems that Harris and Klebold have more friends than ever. And now every angst-ridden, jock-hating kid has not just the inspiration of the Trench Coat Mafia, but a growing pantheon of comrades in arms.

6 // The Subprime Sucker
Mortgage Defaulter; Age: 34
It just didn’t seem right. That college buddy of yours was making around 60K a year, and all of a sudden the guy was moving into a killer bungalow in the Hollywood Hills. Had he struck gold in Silicon Valley? Come into family money? Nope. Your dorm-room chum was riding one of the biggest waves of the Bush years: a flood of P.T. Barnum-style “subprime” loans approved without any concern that maybe the borrowers couldn’t actually afford them. And guess what? Your buddy couldn’t. Now he’s a no-down-payment deadbeat. And we’re all facing the consequences of the subprime defaulter’s binge: an epidemic of foreclosures, a gruesome cratering of the real-estate market, and the early inklings of a recession. It turns out the Subprime Sucker is a pretty damn powerful guy—which is weird, because these days he’s crashing on your couch.

7 // The Good Fathers
Kevin Federline and Larry Birkhead; Ages: 29 and 34
Meet America’s new parental role models. We all expected Kevin Federline and Larry Birkhead to crash and burn as fathers. Instead, by being more visible presences in their children’s lives than many Hollywood A-listers, they emerged as unlikely candidates for Dad of Year. “To be a father is . . . everything,” says Federline, who was awarded sole custody of Sean Preston and Jayden James in October. “I mean, to me, it’s the best thing in my life.” The New Dad, as represented by K Fed and Birkhead, is involved. He trucks the kids to the supermarket, decorates their bedrooms, and even lets them dictate the direction of his career. “I’d actually like to play somebody other than a bad guy or an ass,” says Federline, who’s made some forays into acting recently. “My TVs are pretty much G-rated right now. Anything from SpongeBob to Finding Nemo, and you know, I’m still trying to decide which one I like more.” For his part, Birkhead may have proved even more definitively than Federline that being the guy the judge calls Daddy has become this decade’s most efficient method of scuzz removal. US Weekly now runs photo montages of Daddy Birkhead helping Dannielynn blow out the candles on her first birthday cake. “It keeps you on your toes,” Federline says of fatherhood. “It shows me how little I am.” Wisdom from the backup dancer who was once ball-and-chained to Britney Spears? Father used to know best, but maybe now he knows even better.

8 // Muqtada al-Sadr
Shiite Cleric; Age: 34
As the major players begin to plan for a post-U.S. Iraq, Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr has already burnished his statesman credentials, ordering a cease-fire for his Mahdi army (while still unofficially siccing them on his enemies). He’s also strengthened his grip on parliament and the government, including the Interior Ministry. Now, formerly warring Shiite and Sunni factions are uniting, apparently in the hopes of countering Sadr’s dominance. “This year his influence has been at least as high as it’s ever been,” says Austin Long, a political scientist at the RAND Corporation. “It’s very rare that someone has so much extralegal power—in the form of an armed militia—yet has so much influence within the government.” But Sadr’s real base of power is the street, where among nationalists and Shiite fundamentalists alike, his name is synonymous with resistance to the occupation. “It’s a name to conjure by these days,” Long says. “You saw that at Saddam’s hanging.” And you’ll see it when the last U.S. chopper leaves Baghdad.

9 // The Other F-word
Age: Forever young
If you take a look back, it appears that 2007 was the year of the F-word—but not the one you’re thinking of. America’s rent-a-quote harridan of hatred, Ann Coulter, used the word to slag presidential candidate John Edwards. Presidential candidate Bill Richardson used the Spanish version (maricón) to slam a guy on the Don Imus radio show. Controversy exploded after Isaiah Washington allegedly dropped the F-bomb on a fellow cast member of Grey’s Anatomy. It’s a word that anyone who ever spent time in an American school yard is familiar with: faggot. But some bullies grow up, get famous, and keep on using it. “I hate gay people,” blurted former basketball star Tim Hardaway. Tucker Carlson bragged about having given a dude who tried to tap toes with him in a men’s room a taste of his bow-tied brutality (“I . . . hit him against the stall with his head, actually”). Hmmm. The word faggot, it seems, is on the tips of a lot of men’s tongues. They can’t stop thinking about it. Without it they’d be lost, and that makes you wonder who really has the power.

10 // Howard Wolfson
Political Consultant for Hillary Clinton; Age: 40 (Last Year’s Rank: 47)
The former First Lady’s march to the White House seems so unstoppable it’s hard to remember that a year ago her viability as a candidate was in question. Hillary’s ascendancy has less to do with Bill than with the vintage-Rove-style deftness of her top strategist, Howard Wolfson, who has steered her through every controversy she’s faced over the past eight years. The biggest came in August, when a reporter from the Wall Street Journal called Wolfson to say the paper was running a story on one of Clinton’s biggest campaign contributors, Norman Hsu, who turned out to be a fugitive in a fraud case. The contributions were immediately returned, and Clinton’s name was cleared. Fire contained. Now if only Wolfson could make her seem a little less . . . scary.