'Time' Person of the Year: Who Needs People?

Last week, one of your esteemed editors was asked to blab on a CNN panel of bloggers for the purpose of speculating who Time magazine might choose as the 2006 "Person of the Year." It probably would have been much better to mention this beforehand, in order to come to the chat forearmed with a read on the current sentiment on the Gawker street. Nevertheless, the actual choices tossed around — Nancy Pelosi, George Bush, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Donald Rumsfeld, Britney Spears — are less interesting than the process itself. Supposedly, POTY is given to whoever influenced world events the most during the past year. Trouble is, though various personalities had spikes of impact, it's hard to say any one person consistently drove events (or the news) throughout 2006. This sets up the first of two conflicts of POTY choice that Time editors and their advisory panels muddle with every year.

The first decision is figuring out, in the absence of a single big human candidate, whether or not to declare a nonhuman, a group, or an abstraction as the POTY. Examples of this in the past include "The American Fighting-Man" (1950), which became "The American Soldier" (2003); "The Middle Americans" (1969); and "The Computer" (1982). Many people dislike abstract picks just on principle, preferring that the POTY be an actual person. While we're hoping very, very strongly that this year they don't pick something like "The Blog" or "YouTube," we also have trouble picking a particular person who really drove events all year long. And if we did, it would probably be a villain. Which brings up the second POTY conflict.

Ever since 1979's Ayatollah Khomeini choice resulted in a shitstorm of bad publicity, Time has been notoriously unwilling to choose a "bad guy," even though they repeatedly point out that POTY is not supposed to be an honor, strictly speaking. This despite selections like Adolf Hitler (1938) and Joseph Stalin (1939 and 1942) in the past. They punked out in 2001, choosing Rudolph Giuliani over Osama bin Laden, which means it's highly unlikely that this year they'll choose, say, Kim Jong-Il. Despite all this, we're curious about who they'll eventually choose just because we're curious about the rationale for the choice. So, let's test the wisdom of crowds thing. Make your picks — not who you want to be POTY or who you think should be POTY, but who you guess will be POTY — in the comments below, or send them to gawkpoty@gmail.com. Defend and explain your choice if you can; and note that Tom DeLay is on the advisory board, for what that's worth. We'll collect the most perspicacious picks in a later roundup, and if you're really on your best behavior, we'll have a pre-game vote.

'Time Person of the Year' Likely to Be, Well, a Person [Ad Age]
Person of the Year [Wikipedia]