People seem summarily upset that Time decided to go with another catch-all Person of the Year -- it's "The Protester" this year in case you haven't heard -- but that's the point. This also happened with last year's Person of the Year choice and, well, practically every other choice before it, especially the vague ones. To be sure, Time maintains that the designation is "not an honor" but rather a way to recognize "the most powerful individuals and forces shaping the world." As such, some of the less durable choices from decades ago continue to be debated even today, like Ayatollah Khomeini, the religious leader who helped orchestrate the Iran's revolution in 1979. Since the award's been going on since the controversy-free choice of Charles Lindbergh in 1927, we could go on and on about Person of the Year backlash and pontificate about why Time would keep ruffling its readers feathers (pro-tip: controversy sells magazines.) Instead, we made a list of the most recent divisive winners.
2010: Mark Zuckerberg - Just last year when Mark Zuckerberg trumped Julian Assange and won the title, despite the WikiLeaks founder having been the readers' choice? Again, people were pissed. Blogger Richi Jennings (who actually rants for a living) sums up the reaction, "Dear TIME Magazine, what's the point of asking for votes, if you're going to go ahead and choose an unpopular choice? It's a simply juvenile defense to say, 'TIME's editors who choose the actual Person of the Year reserve the right to disagree.' … this year's choice is simply ludicrous."
2009: Ben Bernacke - This cover came out just a few days before the Senate Banking Committee voted to renominate Bernacke as chairman of the Federal Reserve, and yes, because of the recession that many think Bernacke helped to create, people weren't happy. As The Atlantic's Chris Good soberly explained, "One of the main complaints is that Bernanke has been too friendly to banks under the government's bailout regime." MarketWatch, who actually liked the choice, looked at the choice from Time's point of view. "What does it matter that a group of insulated New York, self-satisfied, out-of-touch journalists chose Ben Bernanke, anyway? It does matter, though. The fact that the media have reacted this morning shows that Time still has some vitality left."
2008: Barack Obama - It was no surprise when then President-elect Obama won. In fact, every single president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has been named (except Gerald Ford) as Time's Person of the Year, an honor that was actually called "Man of the Year" until 1999. We included this one not so much because it was controversial. It's just unoriginal.
2006: You - Believe it or not, everybody actually hated being named Person of the Year, despite the neat mirror-like cover. Time based the decision on the idea that 2006 represented a watershed moment for the Internet, pointing to the burgeoning field of social media and threw around the term "web 2.0" and "revolution". Some of the actual tech types that were responsible for the innovations pushed back the hardest. "This isn't a 'revolution'. It's an evolution of the Web" wrote Richard McManus at ReadWriteWeb. New media sage Jeff Jarvis wrote similarly, "I suppose I should give Time some credit for recognizing the power of the people. Only thing is, there’s no news here. This is nothing new. We have always been in charge."
2000 and 2004: George W. Bush - Again, it's pretty boring to name every president as Person of the Year. But did George W. Bush really need two covers? Turns out, most presidents have earned two Person of the Year covers, including: Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson and Harry S. Truman.
1938: Adolf Hilter - This is a big jump backwards, but it serves as a good punctuation mark for the point we've been trying to make. Like Time itself insists, earning a Person of the Year cover is "not an honor." Stalin was named Man of the Year in 1939 (and again in 1942), and of course in 1945, Time gave Hitler the now famous X treatment. Quoting Time again, the qualifications for earning the distinction is simple. The Men/Persons of the Year are simply "the most powerful individuals and forces shaping the world." And now protesters worldwide can count themselves members of the magazine's eery club.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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