Who will it be this year? It could be anyone who has made the news or was in the news during the year that has less than five weeks to finish. We shall know on 14 December the name of the Time Person of the Year for 2012. Going by past trends it could even be a non-person to be given the coveted title.
The hugely popular Time news magazine may not have started this tradition had its editors not committed a grave oversight in 1927. They forgot to put Charles Lindbergh on their cover for conducting the first trans-Atlantic flight. To cover up the lapse the editors introduced him to the world as the Man of the Year. And thus was born the tradition of nominating a person, place or thing every year for its news worthiness.
Some of the Time editors' choices may read like entries from Ripley's Believe It or Not. For instance in 1982 the magazine chose the ubiquitous computer as the Machine of the Year. And in 1988 it was the Planet Earth or rather the "Endangered Planet" which ran away with the title. Of course, it was called the Planet of the Year award.
Pray, were there any other planets in contention for the title? The answer from the editors of Time would be a loud "Yes". Space explorers may indeed help man set foot on another, yet distant, planet in the near future. And that would be more than a giant leap for mankind. The dictionary may have to invent a new word to record such a momentous event if and when it happens.
Perhaps the most unique recognition was given to "You" in 2006. It was a tribute to those millions of faceless people "who anonymously contribute user-generated content to wikis (including Wikipedia), YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, the GNU/Linux operating system and the multitudes of other websites featuring user contribution."
As part of the annual process Time asked its bureaux to suggest names. "You," or "the YouTube guys," was floated in November. Readers' opinions were canvassed online. Taking a number of unspecified factors into account "You" was given the title.
But how do you design the cover of a news magazine showing a faceless "You"? The 1982 winner, the "Computer", showed the way. The cover featured an iMac computer monitor. The image was embellished with images to reflect the coolest "You". The time indicated in the image mirrored a total duration of "20:06," a permanent, yet indirect reminder of the year in which this unique decision was made.
The choice was criticized by self-proclaimed pundits for being a short-sighted gimmick which ignored other Newsmakers of the year.
What began as "Man of the Year" nomination in 1927 was made gender neutral in 1999, just before the beginning of the new millennium. It was never meant to be an award, and it isn't one. It is just recognition of an act, event or a person's news worthiness which did not involve an acceptance speech by the recipient or even a token amount as cash "for being in the news". And it is just as well. Otherwise Time magazine would have had a huge problem making the Planet Earth or the Computer deliver an acceptance speech before collecting their check!
Although the recognition is now given to the "Person of Year", few women have been nominated for the title since it became gender-correct. In the era of "Man of the Year" Time recognized at least four women for their news value. The first was Wallis Simpson, a commoner whose love made King Edward VIII abdicate the throne of England, in 1936. Next year it went to Soong May-ling (Madame Chiang Kai-shek). Queen Elizabeth II was recognized as the Woman of the Year on becoming the Queen of England in 1952. The most worthy woman to be nominated was Corazon Aquino in 1986, when she became President of the Philippines, following her husband's assassination a few years earlier. She helped usher in democracy in the country.
Since the change of the title no woman has ever won the recognition individually. "The Whistleblowers" (Cynthia Cooper, Coleen Rowley, and Sherron Watkins) won the title collectively in 2002. In 2005 Melinda Gates was tagged with her husband Bill Gates and Bono.
Time magazine has recognized Adolf Hitler and Mahatma Gandhi as people who changed the course of history. But when it gave the recognition to Ayatollah Khomeini for overthrowing the Shah and ushering the Islamic Revolution inIran, the magazine was roundly criticized by observers and readers alike.
Since then it has adopted a play safe policy. Therefore, after the September 11 attack on the twin trade towers in New Yorkit did not name Osama bin Laden as the Person of the Year in 2001. Instead it recognized the services of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He was hailed as the American response to the dastardly act of terror unleashed from the sky by indoctrinated Fidayeens.
Earlier this year, Time readers were asked to vote for their favorite person of the year. Voting for the Poll is over and North Korea's Kim Jong Un has won 'Time Person of the Year 2012' Readers Poll. This does not mean he has won 'Time Person of the Year' title. Time Person of the Year will be announced December 19, 2012.
Follow Preetam Kaushik on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@kaushikpreetam