Watching a “year in review” news program, I was surprised to hear the comment that both Stalin and Hitler had once been named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. No, I thought, they are making that up.
It turns out that they weren’t. What’s more, Stalin actually got the title twice (in 1939 and 1942). My problem was that, like a lot of people, I thought that being named “Man of the Year” was an honor. It isn’t, and these newscasters went on to have a serious conversation about how Donald Trump should probably have won for 2015. They had a point. You see, Time Magazine is clear that this designation is not an indication of merit or of contribution to the human race. Rather, it is bestowed on the person believed to have most affected the news of the past year.
Don’t believe me? This year’s list of eight contenders included Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIS, and Vladimir Putin, who already got to be person of the year back in 2007. Other past winners who raised my eyebrows included Nikita Khrushchev (1957), US commander in Vietnam William Westmoreland (1965) and Ayatollah Khomeini (1979).
And about that “Man of the Year” thing. In spite of the fact that it was called “Man of the Year” all the way up until 1999, three and half women received the designation including the woman who King Edward VIII abdicated his throne to marry (1936), Queen Elizabeth (1952), president of the Philippines Corazon Aquino (1986), and Soong Mei-ling who shared the honor in 1937 with her husband Chiang Kai-shek.
But not only didn’t you have to be a man to attain the designation, you didn’t even have to be a person. The first group to be selected was “The American Fighting Man” in 1950, referring to our men in uniform in Korea. Since then, Hungarian Freedom Fighters (1956), U.S. scientists (1960), Middle Americans (1969) and, interestingly enough, American Women (1975) have all been named “Man of the Year”. Recent years have seen a lot of groups selected, including protesters (2011), American soldiers (this time in Iraq in 2003), and whistle blowers (2002).
The oddest winners were certainly “You” (2006), “The Computer” (1982) and The Endangered Earth which was designated planet of the year in 1988. (Not a lot of good competition for that title.)
Time Magazine began this exercise in 1927 by dubbing Charles Lindbergh as the Man the Year. It surprised me that Franklin Roosevelt and every president after him (except for Gerald Ford) was named such at least once and most of them got the designation twice. (Roosevelt got it three times). Whether you think they deserved the recognition for their contributions, as opposed to just their influence on the news, depends of course on your politics.
On the other hand, winners such as Mahatma Gandhi (1930), Martin Luther King, Jr. (1963), The Apollo 8 astronauts (1968), Ebola fighters (2014) and possibly all three popes named for the title, seem worthy of the sort of honor I originally thought this was, as do the groups designated “The Peacemakers” (1993) and “The Good Samaritans” (2005).
Now it is called Person of the year, and in 2015 Angela Merkel became the first female to gain the title after it was given non-gender specific wording. She not only beat out the head of ISIS (who came in second) and Putin (who came in last), she bested Black Lives Matter activists, transgender woman Caitlyn Jenner, the president of Iran and the CEO of Uber, all of whom were either gracious or silent about the outcome.
She also beat out Donald Trump, who took third place, and responded with a childish tweet that read “I told you @TIME Magazine would never pick me as person of the year despite being the big favorite. They picked person who is ruining Germany.”
Sounds like The Donald was also under the mistaken impression that the title Person of the Year is some sort of measure of worth. Then again, maybe not. Perhaps Donald Trump knows exactly what the honor is about. It is about who has gotten the most attention in the past year, and he might have been miffed that someone thought it wasn’t him. So he tweeted something nasty to get even more attention.
Do we really want a president who craves being noticed that much? I personally resolve to do my part to see that he receives even less attention in 2016.