The Man of the Year Award: Insult or Accolade?


By: Warner Todd Huston

What is it that you first think of when someone tells you that a celebrity or famous person has been named the man of the year? That first thing you think of is that the celebrated person had done something great to be named the man of the year, is it not? And isn’t it the general expectation that the “great” thing equates to a great and good thing? After all, why celebrate someone who did something bad as a man of the year?

Good question and one we should ask Time Magazine for Time seems not to grasp that celebrating the good is, well, a good idea.

The man of the year for 2008 is Vladimr Putin, the man who has nearly single handedly has sent Russia back into the arms of a totalitarian government. A man who is responsible for killing the nascent democracy budding in Russia and sent it back into oppression. A man who stands n the precipice of an internal war that could easily turn violent as the various powerful factions in Russia begin to confront a post Putin era, this is the man that Time celebrates on their cover for 2007.

In fact, Time has been making the mistake of celebrating the non-celebratory actions of the infamous for quite some time. First, though, we need to clear up what infamous means as, apparently, some seem to have forgotten the definition of the word.

Infamous – 1: having a reputation of the worst kind: notoriously evil (an infamous traitor)

This definition certainly describes at least seven of the choices for Time Magazine’s man of the year since they started the list in 1927.

1938 – Adolf Hitler
1939 and 1942 – Joseph Stalin
1978 – Teng Hsiao-P’ing (Deng Xiaoping)
1979 – Ayatullah Khomeini
1983 – Yuri Andropov
1985 – Deng Xiaoping
1989 – Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev

These are people who don’t deserve to be called a man of the year because the actions these men undertook should have more properly made them infamous, net celebrated.

Of course, Time will say that they are merely reporting on the person who did the most of consequence in any particular year but, what good does it do society to hold up such a person to public notice? Is the evil in man something we should celebrate with magazine covers?

I think not. Time obviously disagrees.

Not only has Time celebrated the evil in man, they have also made their list silly including choices that are simply foolish, the magazine again not giving us something to look up to but giving us mere kitch, instead.

Choices such as 1950’s the American Fighting-Man, the Hungarian Freedom Fighter from ’56, U.S. Scientists in ’60, Twenty-Five and Under in ’66, The Middle Americans in ’69, American Women in ’75, The Computer in ’82, The Whistleblowers in 2002 The American Soldier in ’03, and the ridiculous “You” in 2006.

Now, many of those choices are fine things. Who could be against the U.S. solder, scientists or the entire of “middle America”? But, these are somewhat amorphous categories that do not really lend us an avenue to find an example by which to live or an example of the best that might give the public a set of goals to emulate.

And that is just the thing. A man of the year should be a person who gives people the finest example to live up to, something that might inspire and spur us all to improve ourselves. Not someone responsible for the deaths of millions or one who advocate oppression and totalitarianism.

Again, Time obviously disagrees.

On the other hand, The Telegraph named General David Petraeus their person of the year for 2007. Of General Petraeus, The Telegraph says in part:

But the reason for picking Petraeus is simple. Iraq, whatever the current crises in Afghanistan and Pakistan, remains the West’s biggest foreign policy challenge of this decade, and if he can halt its slide into all-out anarchy, Gen Petraeus may save more than Iraqi lives… he has given another last chance to a country that had long since ceased to expect one. And for that, Gen Petraeus is Person of the Year.

A man who has helped set the basis for the freedom of hundreds of thousands of people is a man who we can all look up to.

Like I said, Time sadly disagrees. Would that they didn’t.

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