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The wussification of the TIME ‘Person of the Year’

mail (at) stevesafran dot com.

Well, TIME has really gone out on a limb for its Person of the Year for 2006. They gave it to you. And me. All of us. Everyone who contributed to the web. Nice sentiment, but pretty wussy. And totally in keeping with their disturbing recent trend of making safe, largely uninspired choices that are no longer in line with the original mission of the honorific “Person of the Year.” Seriously — what could be safer than giving it to all of us? Talk about the “Me Generation.” The “Person of the Year” is supposed to be someone who for better or worse, has most influenced events in the preceding year. Sure, they’ve given it to groups in the past and often rightly so. But you? I mean, I like you and all, but did you really most influence the events in the preceding year? Did we? And if so, where is our beer?

The wussification of the Person of the Year choices started in earnest in 2001. There is absolutely no question who the person of 2001 is. Who had the most influence on the events of that year? Osama bin Laden. Instead, TIME chose Rudy Giuliani. They knew if they gave it to the right guy that nobody would buy the magazine and advertisers would flee. So they cooked up a halfhearted excuse for why they chose Rudy. He reacted magnificently to the events of 9/11, no doubt. But he didn’t start them. And we didn’t change our foreign policy because of him.

2002 saw another wussy choice: “The Whistleblowers.” They had an impact on Enron, Worldcom, the FBI and American business, no doubt. But did they most influence the events of 2002? Again, it should have been bin Laden or Bush. Both men had an impact on millions of lives. bin Laden’s attacks meant we saw a massive shift in our way of life starting in ’02. All of a sudden, everything was a security scare. In essence, though TIME was afraid to admit it, terrorism worked. For his part, President Bush began a war.

2003: “The American Soldier.” For a second time. In 1950, the soldiers were the first abstract group to be chosen. Good sentiment. But they are tools of war. They cannot have an impact without the command to go to war. This one’s easy: Bush and Saddam. Bush, because he started the first pre-emptive war in American history. Saddam, because he couldn’t seem to get out of his own way. I salute the soldiers. But they were a safe choice.

2004: George W. Bush. Well, now we’re starting to think about the right guy. It’s just the wrong year. By this time, Bush has already launched everything that is going to be his legacy. In 2004, he got re-elected and the choice just looks like cheerleading. The Person of the Year should be Pvt. Lynndie England. She summarizes everything wrong with the Abu Ghraib scandal, with US foreign policy, and with how we somehow started to be perceived as the bad guys. Abu Ghraib helps U.S. lose what’s left of international goodwill following 9/11. Eerie picture of detainee in black hood and blanket standing on a box with wires attached to his outspread arms makes us all question ourselves and what the hell we’re doing.

2005: “The Good Samaritans”: Bono, Bill Gates and Melinda Gates. Seriously? We’re starting to shift to Peace Prize territory here, as Frank Catalano pointed out in the comments on the original LR posting about the Person of the Year.. Bono did not most influence the events of 2005, regardless of how successful the “Elevation” tour went. And Bill Gates has been influential for at least 20 years to this point — but way more so because of his company, not his donations. This was the “Year of Two Popes,” whose passing and anointing affected the millions of Catholics around the world and non-Catholics who remain fascinated by the Church. Mark Felt came out as “Deep Throat.” The terrorists attacked London. And — oh, yeah — Katrina destroyed New Orleans. (Give it to “Brownie!” Between Katrina, the record number of hurricanes, the Kashmir earthquake that killed 2005 people, the Tsunami (technically in 2004, but the aftermath went right into the New Year), the Evansville Tornado that killed 22, and the UN Climate Change Conference, Mother Nature had a big year. According to Wikipedia, “2005 was also the costliest year for natural disasters, with world wide damages estimated at over 200 billion dollars.” So if you want an abstract, Mother N is the way to go. Or at least “The Terrorists,” who had another gangbuster year. Bono, Bill and Melinda? Nice people of the year, perhaps. Mother Nature? Total Bitch who screwed up millions of lives. She gets it.

2006: “You” win. Wussification complete. Call Mom. Now, there’s no question online media had a big year. Jeff Jarvis at one point nominated the inventors of Blogger for a Nobel Peace Prize. Good choice, that. But if you want to pick the YouTubers, you have to go with the YouTube guys, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen. The definitely changed the world. YouTube influenced the outcome of the midterm election (hello, “macacca”), the way networks approach distributed media, and the way we consume and contribute to our own entertainment and education. Still, Chad and Steve made it possible. Imagine a world without lonelygirl15. I shudder. Chad and Steve also sold the thing for $1.65 billion, giving them the Best Year Ever, too.

2007: Well, we’ve run out of everyone on the planet, except for the kids born this year. Maybe there’s a baby gaining serious power in a chaotic nation right now… or, at least, giving away a lot of money or writing a neat bit of software.

Footnote: Wikipedia consulted liberally for this article. Those dudes totally deserve an award, too.

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