The latest Person of the Year award from Time Magazine is another one of those generic group deals where they salute a group or class of people, rather than a specific individual. Their rules have long allowed such citations, but it has always seemed like a betrayal of the concept to me. It’s supposed to be difficult to select the one person who seems to have influenced global events the most during a year, but it shouldn’t be impossible to choose such a person, especially since Time has always maintained POTY is not necessarily a seal of approval for the individual in question – it can be given to enormously influential bad people, too.
Choosing “Ebola fighters” isn’t nearly as much of a cop-out as the infamous 2006 Person of the Year award that was collectively awarded to everyone on Earth (“Person of the Year: You”) but it’s still weaksauce. That’s not to say that people risking their lives to battle Ebola are not deserving of praise and recognition, but Time has always defended its selection of rotten people as POTY by insisting that the award is not necessarily recognition for noble deeds – it’s supposed to be a measure of influence. I don’t see how even the most ardent admirer of the brave Ebola fighters can say they influenced the course of world events more than, say, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, chief scumbag of ISIS, who took his scrappy little “junior varsity team” and carved out an entire nation through violent conquest, something that wasn’t supposed to happen any more, ever. They brought back chattel slavery in a big way, too. What volume of global news from 2014 was shaped by his exploits, compared to the infinitely more benign efforts of the Ebola fighters?
Of course, awards like this follow no “laws” save the policies today’s editors choose to follow; Time can give its award to anyone it wishes, and as long as people discuss the selection (as I’m doing right now) it’s Mission Accomplished. One supposes they have some desire to avoid making a choice that would alienate and disgust their core readership, which is understandable from the standpoint of business strategy, but not from the coldly logical calculation of influence that POTY is supposed to represent.
I’ll say this much for choosing “Ebola fighters”: besides strongly supporting the work they’re doing, I also think they collectively represent a timely symbol of how dispassionate judgment and criticism are effectively impossible in modern culture. Throughout the fall, we were sternly lectured by our cultural elites that we could not object to the actions of an individual Ebola doctor or nurse without showing inexcusable disrespect, or even outright contempt, for “Ebola fighters” as a group. That’s another way of saying that ordinary people lack the moral and intellectual standing to criticize their betters. We hear a growing number of such assertions these days.
We had a high-strung elite screaming at us to stop panicking about Ebola every time we expressed reservations about the wisdom of allowing exposed individuals to ride on crowded commercial planes, or enjoy nights on the town. We eventually got an “Ebola czar” whose sole job was to squelch media coverage of Ebola, so people would stop talking about it; with his mission accomplished, he’s already leaving his newly-created office. If Ebola’s not a big deal, and anyone who expresses concern about potential contagion is a panicky dolt, then how can the people fighting Ebola be Person of the Year?