Time's Man of the Year

November 21st, 2011 

While skimming through the news this morning I came across a fluff piece that I thought might be interesting. It was a piece at Time Magazine’s website inviting readers to vote for people to be Time’s Man of the Year. These votes had zero significance in the actual choice of the Man of the Year; they serve only to reveal the proclivities of the readers. 

Time has long made it clear that the Man of the Year is not a popularity contest; it is a choice of that individual who, for better or worse, most influenced the news of that year. The readership’s votes revealed an appalling ignorance of world events. Here are the results of the voting:

2011 poy poll results

The biggest vote-getter was Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey. This is almost certainly due to some sort of organized campaign by Turkish citizens. 

Second place went to Lionel Messi, a soccer star. This guy hasn’t influenced the news at all! Yet he comes in second in the voting. Do people really think that soccer is that important?

Third place went to “The 99%”, American citizens who aren’t filthy rich. I can’t imagine what they did that had such a huge impact on the news. Anonymous, the hacker group that ruffled some feathers, got fourth place. Their impact on world events, though, is insignificant. Steve Jobs, at fifth place, is a plausible candidate if we consider his lifetime achievements, which surely did have a profound effect on society. Yet in 2011 he did little of import, other than dying. This is a sympathy vote, not a rational assessment of the man’s impact in 2011. 

Fifth place goes to the Arab protesters who brought down three oppressive regimes and nearly toppled two more. This is the only reasonable entry in the list. These people really did change the world in a profound way, and out of the list presented by Time, these people would get my vote.

Then we have some weak choices: the Fukushima 50, the brave workers who struggled to bring the crippled nuclear reactors under control. Yes, they are heroes -- but they didn’t do anything to affect the news for better or worse. The same thing goes for Seal Team 6, which bumped off Osama bin Laden. Sure, it felt good, but bin Laden had been reduced to insignificance by the time they killed him. They didn’t change much of anything. Gabrielle Giffords certainly deserves our admiration for her heroic struggle to recover from an assassination attempt, but she didn’t do anything to affect the news. Yes, she was a big news story, but she didn’t affect anything else.

Finally, there are the idiotic choices: Kate Middleton, who married a prince; Kim Kardashian, who didn’t do anything at all; and Charlie Sheen (same story).

So, who is MY choice for Man of the Year? None of the above; I think that the individual who most affected the news in 2011 was a street vendor in Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia: Mohamed Bouazizi He had not graduated from high school, and eked out a living selling produce from a wheelbarrow. The local police constantly hassled him, demanding bribes on the threat of confiscating his vegetables. His finances steadily spiraled downward, until he had to borrow money to buy his merchandise. At 10:30 AM on December 17th, 2010, the cops showed up, demanding a bribe. A municipal official, Faida Hamdi, slapped him in the face and spat on him; her goons beat him. They confiscated his electronic weighing scales and dumped his produce in the gutter. He ran to the local governor’s office to ask for his scales back. The governor refused to see him. He went to a gas station and bought a can of gasoline, then went to the boulevard in front of the governor’s office and shouted, “How do you expect me to make a living?” Then he doused himself and set himself on fire. Barely an hour had passed since the original confrontation. Bouazizi died on January 4th, 2011. 

His death triggered a wave of anger throughout Tunisia and Middle East. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back; protests started and spread. Other desperate youths immolated themselves, and the protests escalated into mass demonstrations. Ultimately, the regimes of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were overthrown, the governments of Algeria, Yemen, and Jordan were forced to make big concessions to maintain control, and the government of Syria is tottering on the brink of collapse.

All because one desperate man committed suicide in protest against the oppression he lived under. Mohamed Bouazizi affected the news and changed the world more than any other individual in 2011.