What I find most surprising about Time’s choice of “The Protester” as “Person of the Year” is not that Steve Jobs didn’t win it. Yes, the consumer technology wizard who changed the way we listen to music, watch movies and get online should have earned this title at some point in his life (apparently he’s never won it).
But it’s hard to argue that the protests in the Middle East and the way they’ve reshaped global politics—not to mention the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party groups—haven’t had more of an impact on the world in 2011 than the man who made the iPad. “Leadership,” writes Time editor Rick Stengel in his introduction, “has come from the bottom of the pyramid, not the top” this year.
What shocks me most is that of all the women who’ve made a difference—good or bad—in 2011, the only one who made the runners-up tier is the one who’s famous for whom she married rather than what she did. Kate Middleton may have given us all a nice distraction amid the depressing news of 2011, and she’s certainly a global force, but recognizing someone as a person of the year for being “sensible and levelheaded,” and a “true revolutionary” for (hopefully) “making a royal marriage work” strikes me as not exactly, um, all that outstanding.
What about Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in January by a crazed gunman, sparked a national conversation about the polarization of our politics, and has been one of the world’s few true inspirations for her remarkable recovery? Or Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State whose popularity far exceeds most leaders in Washington and who made a historic trip to Burma this year to help reopen diplomatic ties? Or what about Angela Merkel, the German chancellor whose role in the European debt crisis is so pivotal that it prompted one economics writer to note that it’s “only a slight exaggeration to say that the fate of the world is in one woman’s hands?”
These women were recognized, but were relegated to being “People Who Mattered,” a distinction also bestowed on Kim Kardashian and Casey Anthony. I get that Time’s ranking is a way to look back at the year—its heroes and its villains—and to force us to examine the role that our culture, our politics and global trends played in our lives. But a little more perspective on who’s deserving of being the person (or, at any rate, the woman) who made the most impact on our year seems in order.
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