Saturday, December 18, 2004

Man of the Year

Time Magazine's Person-of-the-year award just annoys the hell out of me. And for so many, many reasons. It's POTY season just about now, in fact I think the POTY is being announced in a day or two. But let us look back at the many failures of this botched enterprise, and see just what they're doing wrong.

Let me start by pointing out that the reason I'm able to get pissed about the many glaring failures in the history of Man of the Year is because Man of the Year is, genuinely, a really good idea. You don't see me getting worked up over the daytime Emmys or the People's Choice awards. What would be the point? Time's POTY, by contrast, is actually really cool. It's cool because it acknowledges the "Great Man" theory of history, which I strongly concur with - basically the idea that the tides of history can turn on the actions of individuals. That a charismatic, passionate individual of will and determination can really change the face of history. Maybe by being a head of state, or an artist, or a scientist, or a general, or even a poet - who knows. The individual can make a difference. I think that's just obviously true.

So bravo Time Magazine. I love the idea. But man, sometimes they just really make terrible choices!

First offense: whenever they choose a non-person. Like "The Personal Computer" or "The Endangered Earth"

Obviously I won't dispute that the personal computer has massive historical importace. And global warming too is an important issue. But, um, so is the rise of the internet... and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the disintigration of the USSR, and 9/11, and the end of South African apartheid, and genetically engineered food, and the transfer of Hong Kong to Chinese rule, and HUNDREDS OF OTHER THINGS. Time has over 50 other weeks during the year to do a big cover on global warming. This is the MAN of the year issue, not the PET CAUSE of the year issue.

There will always be big stories. But POTY should acknowledge a person.

Second Offense: choosing whole groups of people. Like "The American fighting man.", "Middle America", "The American Woman" and I even include "The Peacemakers" (concerning the Oslo Accords)

The American fighting Man was from the Korean War era I think. But just last year it was "The American Soldier". No no no no no. Nyet. I hate these the most, even more than the abstract choices like the personal computer, because they represent to me a denial of the Great Man Theory. A lot of people don't like the great man theory. They think there's a kind of arrogance or elitism in saying that this one person made more of a difference this year than everyone else. In their view, the common man and his culmulative actions are really in history's drivers seat.

Now I don't wholly disagree with that point. But I reject that naming one person the Person of the Year is an arrogant, elitist thing to do. It seems like everytime Time Magazine gives it up for "The American Soldier", they do it as kind of an apologetic concession to this alternate viewpoint. "Hey readers," Time seems to be saying, "Most years we give this thing to a CEO or a president, but our hearts just go out to the troops right now. They're the ones making it all happen. They're the people of the year!"

Well, except that it's just not true. In WWII, at various points, Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill were all men of the year. Why wasn't it "The British Soldier"? When the CEO of General Motors won it, how come it didn't go to "The Assembly Line Worker?"

Do you see my point? If the purpose of the award is to say "Here's one person who changed history this year", then give it to one person. If the purpose of the award is really just "The Big Thing of the Year", then give it to "The Iraq War". Either way, giving it to "The American Soldier" is not correct, and obviously just a concession to the Great Man Theory rejectionists.

Unless, I don't know, did the American Soldier really reinvent the wheel on soldiering in 2003? Were they an entirely new kind of soldier? I don't really think so.

Third Offense: The provincialism. Examples: every newly elected or newly reelected US president - also "The American Soldier" and the "American" anything.

Granted, the US is the lone superpower and all that. The things we do as a nation and a culture are worthy of a little extra scrutiny. Our trends can become global trends. But that's no excuse for the way-over-the-top America-centric worldview of POTY. I mean, if you want to add the disclaimer that the POTY award is meant to be by Americans, for Americans, about Americans, then yes, many of the choices are fine. But I don't think that's what Time has in mind. Time wants it to be global. Every single US president since POTY got started (hmm, except Ford) has been included. Is there no difference in importance between Carter and FDR?

A politician who I will not name, said (during the debate from 1999 about who should be named Person of the Century) that it should be "The American Soldier". Wow, I just find that so arrogant it makes me want to cringe and apologize to anyone reading abroad. Now if you wanted to name "America" the country of the century, then you have a case. But the "American Soldier?" Are we talking about the same American soldier who turned a blind eye to global atrocities in two world wars and only belatedly joined the struggle each time?

Now, I love my country and I love our soldiers, but how is the American Soldier any braver, nobler, smarter, stronger and more courageous than any other soldier of any other nation fighting the good fight? How about the British soldier in WWII, fighting on against Hitler after every other ally had given up and surrendered, fighting on for a year with no help when England's defeat seemed inevitable. The Brits alone in 1941 against the entire nazi war machine. But no, let's give it to the "American Soldier". Great suggestion Hillary. (whoops!)

Fourth offense: the whole gender thing with the name of the award.

Look, they found a great way to do it in the 80s and 90s. If it was a man, then that year it was the Man of the Year. If it was a woman, then it was the Woman of the Year. That's great. That works. Now, whoever wins it, it's the person of the year. That sucks. It's doesn't sound good. It's annoying in that unique way that only a politically correct phrase can be.

And how about that 1975 winner "U.S. Women"? It's the hat trick of bad. It commits offense two, offense three, and also this one. Just as "The American Soldier" is really just a concession and an apology to the "Great Man Theory" rejectionists, isn't "US Women" really just a way for Time Magazine to declare that the Man of the Year award is not sexist? Does it serve any purpose besides the rah-rah cheerleading of the "American Soldier" variety?

Now who could possibly agree with everything I've just said? Probably no one. Oh, one more: naming Gorbachev man of the decade for the 80s. Great choice comrades. Really, there's maybe half an argument for "Reagan & Gorbachev" as a men of the decade duo, but just choosing Gorbachev? Time could have just sent Reagan a private letter saying Fuck You and spared their readership the burden of actually having to read all that drivel.

There. Now definitely no one can agree with all that.

But I will give Time props for the eventual man of the century choice: Eintstein. That was the right choice. Though an equally opinionated friend of mine was insistent that it should be Churchill and we almost came to blows.

Here, for reference, is the full list.

1 comment:

p.alessio said...

This come way late but.... the man of hte century is Hitler. Really, i cant see how anyone can dispute it. Churchill was great, but it is still remembered because of the willpower he showed in hitler's war. Einstein was a genius, but his prominence is due to the H bomb which, again, got used because of hitler's war. Hitler is the embodiement of the nationalist theories, of eugenetics, and of the horrors modern war and modern technology can bring. His war shaped the world, giving way for the political asset of the next decades. He made space for a bipolar world split between nato and urss, removing europe's nations from the contest for at least 50years. And yet, the desire to avoid another franco-german war is athe source of the european union. His war also shaped china, as the communist were on the run in the beginning and only after the nationalist gor trashed by japan they had another shot at power. Really, at the core of the 20th century there is hitler, no way around it.