Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Though Selected, I Will Not Serve

'Tis the season for Of-the-Years—the sexiest, the most influential, and Time magazine's long-standing Person of the Year. This year, pickin's were slim, and if one were inclined to wonder about who would be chosen, one would have to wonder quite a bit—Bush and Blair seem most-accurately portrayed by Steve Bell, new conflicts in old wars spread across the globe like Britney Spears' up-skirt pictures, and Bono is busy touring. Hell, even Miss USA is acting like a stereotypical country girl dropped in the big city for the first time.

Yet as desperate as these times may be, I'm not sure I'm quite up to the job that Time has bestowed upon me (and you, too; you'd better check your OutlookTM calendar and clear some space!). See, calling you and me Person of the Year is just a confabulation of the Burger King marketing slogan, Have it Your Way. While Burger King serves up the same bland food as every other burger shop1, we are supposed to feel excited that BK allows us, the consumers, to actually order what we want to eat. Now, I'm no Zagat-toting gourmand2, but I consider "having it my way" to be an unalienable right at a restaurant, yet BK is able to turn what is a given into an example of unique democracy in action: At Burger King, your voices are heard! One wonders, What kind of a kingdom is this if the peasants are in charge3? Time, in an attempt to invert our expectations, is masking the real issues ("real " meaning "pressing" and "of great importance") that result in a year after which no recognizable world leader can be given Time's ultimate honorific.

By selecting me (and you) as Person of the Year, Time is passing out sugar pills at medication time. What better way to assuage the collective anger at the utter leaderlessness of the past year than to stroke egos, make "you" master of your own destiny when evidence increasingly points to the contrary? As a newly-crowned Person of the Year, I wonder how my accomplishments outstripped every govermental/religious/business leader that makes a large and tangible impact on a culture (big or small). Frankly, if I'm as good as it gets, it is time to riot4.

One does respect the decision to avoid conflating the case for any of the marginal figures with whom we are already familiar—no one looked forward to grinding his or her teeth through an article extolling the qualities of W or Steve Jobs. But "we" did not really earn the title; we received it by default. Consider the opening of Time's Person of the Year article:

The "Great Man" theory of history is usually attributed to the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle, who wrote that "the history of the world is but the biography of great men." He believed that it is the few, the powerful and the famous who shape our collective destiny as a species. That theory took a serious beating this year.

To be sure, there are individuals we could blame for the many painful and disturbing things that happened in 2006. The conflict in Iraq only got bloodier and more entrenched. A vicious skirmish erupted between Israel and Lebanon. A war dragged on in Sudan. A tin-pot dictator in North Korea got the Bomb, and the President of Iran wants to go nuclear too. Meanwhile nobody fixed global warming, and Sony didn't make enough PlayStation3s.

Here, Time has tipped its hand. "We" have been let down5. However, instead of addressing this fact, Time acts like the parent who insures that every child wins a prize in musical chairs: Time has crowned us the winner to presumably stave off what would otherwise be a bummer.

A more appropriate solution to this mass failure on a leadership level would have been to pull a Yale Younger maneuver, circa 19976not award a Person of the Year. Imagine the all-black cover, a huge headline that reads: "Person of the Year, No One." Imagine the article that would continue where this year's article diverts from indictment to candy floss.

Now, this hoodwink becomes even more perverse when one learns the criteria behind his or her selection as Person of the Year:
It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. [...] It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.
Sounds good so far (you have to be pretty jaded no to get behind "wresting power from the few"), but watch out for the change in direction:
The tool that makes this possible is the World Wide Web. [...] Silicon Valley consultants call it Web 2.0, as if it were a new version of some old software. But it's really a revolution.
A rhetorician is easily pleased at discovering that all of "us" (or "you") are Internet users, as well as new-media auters:
You can learn more about how Americans live just by looking at the backgrounds of YouTube videos—those rumpled bedrooms and toy-strewn basement rec rooms—than you could from 1,000 hours of network television. And we didn't just watch, we also worked. Like crazy. We made Facebook profiles and Second Life avatars and reviewed books at Amazon and recorded podcasts. We blogged about our candidates losing and wrote songs about getting dumped. We camcordered bombing runs and built open-source software7.
Read the whole article here.

Now, it is perhaps ironic to register this complaint via a blog entry, but "you" did not win Person of the Year if you were on the wrong side of the Internet Gap. Let's try to remember a major causal factor that creates the Internet Gap (Ludditism and technophobia notwithstanding): socio-economic status. If one has the resources for a home computer, if one has the resources for connecting that computer to the internet, if one has the education to understand how to operate the computer and GUI-browsers, if one has the leisure time to spend blogging/video-editing/Amazon-list-making, and if one is so inclined to "work" on projects of this sort, one is a winner.

If you fall short of this normative "you," (which let's say unscientifically a massive amount of human beings do) you are not a winner, and we all know what a non-winner is here in America8.

Well, this winner declines his ascendancy to the throne. When my books and poems are quoted by stateswomen and -men, when the President includes me on the weekly conference call, when I do more than teach my classes and shake my head at the morass our government creates throughout the world, maybe then I'll say thanks, Time, for the nod. For now, as a veritable Person of the Nominee once sang, "I decline," and I respectfully request that Time (and other major media outlets) stop making the news and get back to really reporting it.

1Yes, I know they technically taste different from McDonald's and Sonic, etc., but if I had unlimited resources and could go get a good burger, I wouldn't become a vassal in the kingdom.

2This is an outright lie used as an ethical appeal—it seems fitting w/r/t context, no?

3Cue Monthy Python and the Holy Grail.

4And this is without even mentioning your own contributions that earned you such a title.

5Because 537 of those in contention for the title are U.S. elected officials, one might argue that we have not only been let down, but outright betrayed.

6In 1997, the Yale Younger Poets prize, the nation's oldest literary prize dating to 1919, was not given because the judge deemed no entry to be worthy of the prize. While this is a bit of a double-cross (Yale Series of Younger Poets pockets reading fees from all its entrants), it speaks to and puts faith in a standard.

7And we are operating on the assumption that is both good news and a valid comparison. I haven't watched many lip-sync videos on YouTube, but if these are the objects by which we measure American culture I would assume quite a bit of extrapolation is taking place. Also, in material excised from this passage for this specific quotation, Time takes a shot at major media sources in what is one of the most dizzying, head-asploding criticisms you're likely to read today.

8At least I beat out CNN's Larry King, that non-Person of the Year, whose knowledge of the internet amounts to this: "What do you do? Punch little buttons and things?" [According to Wired magazine.]

[Author's Note: In defiance of all evidence that this blog is utterly unread, I will adopt an authorative, my-opinion-matters tone in this post, for which I truly apologize.]


  1. 1st, let me thank you for adding me to the "we" that one. By responding to this blog, I'm now in. My question is this: Would "W" be considered one of "us" since he uses "the internets" to go to "the google"? If so, I will delete this post and resume my life as an outcast.

  2. Unfortunately, one could not answer the question, as the President was sound asleep at the time of your asking. He did, however, prepare a statement--dramatically and daringly composed in the past tense--prior to beddy-bye.