It's coming up on the end of the year (believe it or not) and I thought it might be some good, lighthearted holiday discussion to think about who or what might be Time Magazine's Person of the Year for 2009.
There are no real requirements for what a Person of the Year can be. It could be anything from a single person (Barack Obama, 2008), a group of people (Bono, Bill and Melinda Gates, 2005), or an abstraction (The Endangered Earth, 1988; You, 2006). The only criterion, since the establishment of the yearly issue in 1927 is that the nominee has “for better or for worse, …has done the most to influence the events of the year.”
That said, here are, in my opinion, the ten most likely contenders (in no particular order).
1. The Economy
Why: A recent public brainstorming session of celebrities and influential figures (including Barbara Walters, Rudy Giuliani and Dr. Oz) recently split 3-3 on their recommendation for the person of the year nod, after a six-hour debate. Three of the panelists chose “The Economy” as their choice. It's not hard to see why. The Great Recession dominated the headlines and the mindset of most people around the world this year.
Why not: Even in the depths of the Great Depression, Time chose not to award “The Economy” the prize. In fact, no economic downturn yet has been awarded the Person of the Year prize—instead, the magazine generally chooses to recognize the people attempting to combat the bad economy (FDR, 1932; George W. Bush, 2000).
Why: At the other side of that 3-3 tie, lies Twitter. Twitter started out the year as something of a techie/celebrity dalliance. It was (and still is) widely mocked as a place where people get together to share trivial things like what they ate for breakfast. But as the year went on, it morphed into something more. Twitter became a crucial resource for and a way to show solidarity with the protesters in Iran. And it was an emergency communication tool for soldiers under lockdown during the tragedy at Ft. Hood. Most tweets may be vapid, but this year—some were vital.
Why not: Time likes their Person of the Year picks to be able to stand the test of time. Should Twitter turn out to be a fad, Time is going to look pretty silly. Plus, Time may not be so eager to jump back on the tech bandwagon after getting widely panned for their social-networking choice “You” in 2007.
3. Hu Jintao/China
Why: In 2008, there were two big events that, above all others defined the year: the election of Barack Obama and the 2008 Beijng Olympics. Last year, Time chose to honor Obama. This year, it may choose to recognize the other—just a year behind. China's rise this decade has been nothing short of meteoric. Even in the greatest global recession of the last 70 years, China continues to grow, and the mysterious Hu, a Person of the Year runner-up in 2007, has led the charge.
Why not: Time has honored world leaders for two years in a row (Vladmir Putin, 2007; Barack Obama, 2008) and may feel that it's time to go in a different direction.
4. The Iranian Protesters
Why: The story of summer 2009 was the story of the Iranian protesters. No story, with the exception of the economy, so gripped the world's attention. While the “Green Revolution” may have been a bust, it taught the world to look at Iran and the Middle East in a new way, and reminded us that there is a sizable segment of the Middle East that wants to be modern, secular, and free.
Why not: The Iranian protests might not be considered enough of a global event to recieve the award. In addition, Time's goal is ultimately to sell magazines. The Iranian Protesters might not be a flashy enough choice to move copies.
5. The Angry Americans
Why: No other group has held sway over American politics in 2009 in quite the same way as the “tea partiers”. They've shaped our national discourse on health care, economic stimulus and deficits. They forced America to do some soul-searching and consider just exactly the role of government in this country is, and where we are headed as a nation. Call them crazy, call them un-informed if you will, but don't underestimate the influence they had over everything political in 2009.
Why not: This choice would be seen as highly political, and wouldn't translate well on the world stage. Time might not be kind to a year that gave the honors to Glenn Beck and his ilk.
6. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
Why: During his term as President of Brazil, Lula (as he is commonly known) has led his country confidently onto the world stage. Between infrastructure and social program improvements for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, the face of Brazil is changing. Combine that with Brazil's ambitious foreign policy maneuvers, and you have the makings of a southern-hemisphere superpower.
Why not: President Lula isn't quite a well-known figure in all parts of the world, and Brazil is still a developing country.
Why: In the future, 2009 may be considered the first year of the Era of Globalization. The worldwide recession reminded us all just how interconnected our planet has become and the election of the most internationally humble American President in recent memory drove that point home. From finance to trade to politics to communications, this was the year that the world started to feel a lot smaller—and shrinking fast.
Why not: Globalization is a big, abstract concept. It's hard to talk about without sounding academic. Also, Time has had bad luck with such abstractions in the past.
8. Sec. of State Hillary Clinton
Why: While President Obama has been mired in problems stateside (health care, the economy), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been the point-woman for his foreign-policy agenda (for which Pres. Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize). While Obama may be face of America abroad, Clinton's the one in the trenches.
Why not: Sec. Clinton is still a polarizing figure in American politics. Time may want to go with a less controversial, less American-centric choice.
9. Generation Y
Why: In 2008, they propelled Barack Obama from a freshman senator to President. In 2009, they bore the brunt of the recession's burden. Across the world, Generation Y marched for freedom in Tehran, for equality in Los Angeles, and organized for causes around the world. They tweeted, Facebooked, Skyped and iPhoned their way onto the world stage for real in 2009.
Why not: In 1966, Time chose “The Young Americans” as their People of the Year. Kinda set the bar a little high, don't you think?