Thursday, December 6, 2012

Who Should Be Time’s Person of the Year?

When major media outlets publish rankings, like Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year,” they do so in a not so subtle way to create buzz, which in turn generates increased readership.  In recent years, Time has learned that it can get more mileage out of the issue by publicizing the process for selecting a person of the year. 

The publication first named a “Man of the Year” in 1927.  The distinction based on a simple criteria – “for better or worse” the individual has to have “done the most to influence events of the year.”  It must be noted that while the name of the honor was changed from “man” to “person” the actual recipient is not always a person.

Charles Lindbergh was the first “Man of the Year,” after he made the first trans-Atlantic flight.  I could go through a long list of individuals who’ve been named “man” or “person” of the year, but here are some examples:

·         Adolph Hitler
·         Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini
·         The Computer
·         Planet Earth
·         Every serving president made the cover at least once during his term with one exception (Calvin Coolidge)

Last year’s “Person of the Year” wasn’t actually an individual but a composite called, “The Protester,” in a nod to the occupiers of Wall Street and hot spots in the Middle East.

Other recent honorees included: Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, The Good Samaritans, The American Soldier, and The Whistleblowers.

As is becoming more obvious, the “Person of the Year” is just as likely not to be a single person as an idea, so the notion of naming a “Person of the Year” is now a misnomer.

Here are some of the candidates (there are about 40 in all) for the Person of the Year 2012:

·         Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei
·         Syrian President Bashar Assad
·         Vice Presidential candidates Joe Biden (incumbent) and Paul Ryan
·         New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg
·         Both Bill and Hillary Clinton
·         Comedians Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart
·         U.S. Olympians Gabrielle Douglas and Michael Phelps
·         Activist Sandra Fluke
·         NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell
·         Author Erika Leonard
·         Rapper Jay-Z
·         North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un
·         The Mars Rover
·         Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer
·         Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi
·         Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
·         U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts
·         Presidential Candidates Barack Obama (incumbent) and Mitt Romney
·         Undocumented Immigrants

And then there is one, one that I think should be the Person of the Year. 

She is Malala Yousafzai, a teenage Pakistani girl who had blogged about her hopes to go to school in a region where the Taliban controlled the populous through Sharia Law.  In Time's account, Malala first blogged with anonymity, but then her father, who himself is a devout Muslim, encouraged Malala to come forward and disclose her true identity.  She then blogged under her own name.  She became a symbol of hope for young women and all around the world. 

And then on October 9th, as Time magazine describes, “a Taliban gunmen boarded her school bus, sought her out and shot her in the head. Eventually airlifted to a hospital in Britain, she survived her severe wounds. In the meantime, Malala, now 15, has become an inspiration not only in her native Pakistan — where the culture wars over women's rights and religious diversity have taken many violent turns — but all around the globe.”

When I read stories of courage and principle like Malala’s it’s difficult to understand that someone like her would be up for the same honor as a rapper, a couple of comedians, or any number of people who found their way into public life through politics.  Her path to the public consciousness is less contrived, less driven by ambition, and more rooted in pure courage.

Again, Time’s criteria for Person of the Year is “for better or worse” the individual has to have “done the most to influence events of the year.”  I think the operative word in Malala’s case is “individual.”  All by herself, she drew the world’s attention to an issue that thanks to her can no longer be ignored.

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