Randall McElroy III at The Distributed Republic beat me to it. “Other than Steve Jobs and Usain Bolt,” he writes, “the specific people on that list are all scumbags, and in a just society would be treated like crooks, not celebrated by an adoring press.”
“That list,” of course, is Time magazine’s “short list” for its Person of the Year Award.
The award is handed down each year to the person who, in the opinion of Time‘s editors, “for better or for worse … has done the most to influence the events of the year.” An interesting standard. If the Holy Roman Catholic Church adopted it, we could look forward with enthusiasm to the spectacle of Pope Benedict announcing the beatification and impending sainthood of Satan.
Not that Time actually follows the standard reliably — if they did, Osama bin Laden would have been a lock for “Person of the Year” in 2001. Instead, the award went to Rudy “a noun, a verb, and 9/11” Giuliani, whose influence had exacerbated the effects of, but by no means overshadowed, bin Laden’s.
Back in the day, Time does seem to have given the nod to the truly influential even if they were also overtly evil (Hitler in 1938 and Stalin in 1939, for example). These days, the award is pretty much a set-aside for second-raters — a publicity/propaganda model gravy train of “mainstream media” construction, upon which second-rate politicians of theoretically “good” orientation (Barack Obama in 2008; George W. Bush in 2000) take their victory laps around an artificial model of the political universe.
It’s hard to over-emphasize the role of the media in making politicians seem more important than they are — in giving them the “influence” which Time celebrates. Without Time and its ilk, who among us would take seriously the pretensions to “leadership” of a Connecticut Yankee trust-fund baby transplanted to Texas for the apparent purpose of bankrupting various oil ventures before finding his niche as welfare pimp for the local baseball franchise? Or the presidential aspirations of a small-time Chicago identity politics chiseler?
Any fast food fry cook who manages to serve up a decent burger at a reasonable price exercises more positive influence in the world than the most highly-posted politician. He’s creating value, exchanging it for value, making the world a better place for himself and for others. Politicians don’t create value. They merely consume it, at gunpoint … and all they return for it is aggression, coercion, death, carnage. By definition, any politician who makes Time‘s “short list” weighs in on the “for worse” side of the ledger.
Of the two non-politicians (excluding groups) on this year’s “short list,” I lean toward Steve Jobs. After all, if not for Jobs, the computer I’m writing this column on wouldn’t exist. Considering the amount of time I spend on the Internet, it’s safe to say he’s had a tremendous amount of influence on me personally, and on most of those reading this column (even if they’re not reading it on a Mac). He’s played a huge role in making the world better, more connected, more productive, more fun to live in.
The other non-politician, Usain Bolt, is an athlete of incredible ability who’s thrilled and inspired millions with his feats of speed and strength. While I personally don’t see that his overall influence even comes close to that of Jobs, at least it can be said of Bolt that his achievements are positive demonstrations of human potential instead of the coercive and aggressive “achievements” typical of those which politicians boast of.
Time is conducting an online poll for “Person of the Year.” It’s non-binding (the editors will pick the winner), but it would be nice to see the laurels go to a non-politician, and they currently look likely to. “Iran protesters” — politicians of a sort, but not the usual sort — are way out front, with Barack Obama a distant second and Jobs in third. Weigh in.