November 29, 2007

These Things Matter: Have No Fear: Rethinking Person of the Year

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Does the selection of TIME’s Person of the Year matter anymore? To borrow a phrase from Springfield’s own Reverend Lovejoy, “Short answer: ‘yes’ with an ‘if’… long answer: ‘no’ with a ‘but’ …”
The short answer: IF you like politics, world news, pop culture, print media or even simply arguing, then yes, the Person of the Year matters.
The long answer: no, the selection doesn’t really matter that much. BUT there is no denying that the title carries a certain weight. It is national news when the selection is made, even though a news magazine is the organization actually making the pick. (In other words, the act of making news makes the news.) When one of the preeminent publications in the United States places a face on its cover with the phrase “Person of the Year,” that person without question has made an impact.
In recent years, however, it is getting harder even for me to have much respect for the title. TIME has more and more been going for a “unique” selection, to the point where it may permanently damage the title’s (if not the publication’s) credibility. Two years ago, they named Bono as one of the People of the Year. I know his charitable work is important, but Bono? Last year, they named “you” as the Person of the Year, arguing that the rise of YouTube and MySpace has given the Average Joe more of an influence. Fair argument — but really, you? Person of the Year? That’s the best they can do?!
Forget about trying to “think outside of the box.” What happened to simply making the right choice? In 1998, the Clinton impeachment dominated the headlines, so they chose Bill Clinton and Kenneth Starr. In 1996, landmark discoveries were made about retroviruses, (enabling many current AIDS treatments) so they chose the chief scientist on the project, David Ho. In 1995, the Republican Party reshaped Congress, so they chose House Speaker Newt Gingrich. These are the types of selections expected by the title.
There are many suitable candidates this year. Here are three for you to consider, none of whom would be as absurd as going for Bono or You again.
3. Liu Qi: If the 2008 Beijing Olympics go as well as I think they are going to go, his name might be at the top of my list next year. For now, Liu has been assigned the job of completely reshaping Beijing into being ready for the world community to invade it in a year. As head of Beijing’s Olympic Organizing Committee, his task is profound. He not only has to lead the charge to change long-held city behavior such as line-cutting and spitting in public, but he also has to spearhead the effort to find ways to reduce the city’s pollution, which is thought to be among the world’s worst.
Tickets and hotel rooms are already sold out, and the opening ceremony is rapidly approaching; many fear that Liu will run out of time, but his progress has been overwhelmingly ahead of schedule. The work being done by Liu may set a global standard for what preparedness, organization and ingenuity can achieve.
2. Burmese monks: Conflict in Burma has been going on for decades, but over the past year it made world headlines, with the monks leading an anti-government protest and becoming the face of the “Saffron revolution.”
As the leaders of the nonviolent protest, the monks have captured the attention of the global community, but it is so far questionable whether they can achieve more than that. They are operating in a region that has periodically been completely cut off from the outside world: no internet, no television, no foreign media.
While the situation has somewhat stabilized since September and October, we have no way of knowing in great detail what is happening within the Burmese borders, nor how many have been killed or remain arrested.
What we do know is that the monks are putting their own lives at stake, armed with nothing but their words and robes, to fight injustices in their homeland.
It is nearly impossible for someone like me to be able to comprehend first-hand this kind of sacrifice; I can only watch in awe at their altruism and selflessness.
1. Al Gore: I’m sure this choice will anger the token conservative Sun columnists. I understand that to some people, Gore is seen as more controversial than influential. I also know that most of his influence was in 2006. Despite all this, to me Gore is Person of the Year for 2007.
Say whatever you want about Gore’s message, politics or motivations, but I choose him for more abstract reasoning than his specific accomplishments. For years Gore was ridiculed as a square, described as a boring robot, and the nature of his defeat in 2000 without a doubt must have been emotionally devastating. In the time since, Gore has been able to reform his image such that he can be accepted in the entertainment community of all places (his projects won 2007 Oscars and Emmys).
He has permanently put his crushing defeat behind him by winning one of the most prestigious awards in the world, the Nobel Peace Prize.
Gore can be seen as a model around the world for how to overcome a monumental personal failure, and for that I choose him as 2007’s Person of the Year.