TIME names "The Protester" 2011 Person of the Year

In TIME magazine's 2011 Person of the Year issue, this cover by artist Shepard Fairey, portraits of more than 50 protestors from around the world, and an essay by Kurt Andersen:

Massive and effective street protest' was a global oxymoron until-suddenly, shockingly-starting exactly a year ago, it became the defining trope of our times. And the protester, once again, became a maker of history....The stakes are very different in different places. In North America and Europe, there are no dictators, and dissidents don't get tortured. Any day that Tunisians, Egyptians or Syrians occupy streets and squares, they know that some of them might be beaten or shot, not just pepper-sprayed or flex-cuffed. The protesters in the Middle East and North Africa are literally dying to get political systems that roughly resemble the ones that seem intolerably undemocratic to protesters in Madrid, Athens, London and New York City.

"Protester" is an interesting choice of language. "Activist," or "Occupier" if the focus is on America, would have also been apt.

The related "Runner-up" interview with Ai Weiwei is a great read, too. I was surprised not to see Julian Assange or Steve Jobs mentioned in this annual foo-fah; their lives and work certainly had an impact (though neither is a simple hero in my book). The former Apple CEO, who died this year after a long battle with cancer, isn't mentioned at all.

What do you think?


  1. Don’t like Jobs, but his omission seems odd.

    Julian I almost see as part of the “protestor” ideal.  He’s spreading information, and raising awareness in a similar fashion, and tweaking those in power.

  2. Time once again takes the meaningless “person of the year” award and makes it even more meaningless by not giving it to an actual person.  Next year they should just give it to The Human Race Except for the Bad Ones, The Ephemeral Sense of Self-Worth, or Kermit the Frog.

    1. Protestors are Actual People. Or as Jon Stewart said in response to Officer Pike, “those are human persons.”

      And yes, I realize you probably meant individual person but the subtle de-humanization of protestors in your comment should be pointed out.
      I wonder if Time was doing the same thing by using a drawing of a protestor rather than a photo for the cover.  I would think a photo would get a more emotional response and highlight the human aspect of the risks and sacrifices made by the protestors.

      1. I would, however, have given Time a thousand internet dubloons if  instead they gave the award to “Corporations (They’re People Too, My Friends)”.

  3. Re why Ai WeiWei, perhaps it’s because he is a man who a) is actively and boldly protesting an incredibly powerful and monolithic government and b) therefore needs more spotlight shone on him to insure he does not “disappear” again. He just needs it more than Assange or Jobs (obvs).

    1. Yes! This “award” could have a big impact if it encouraged and protected someone who was making a difference AND actually needs protection and encouragement.

      1. describe that big impact. Is that the same “big impact” that headed off WWII by fluffing european dictators? Because we see how that went. I’m glad TIME is trying to be on the right side of history.

        (the subsequent strawman about who JohnBerry would see does not speak to my point)

        1. Keeping the spotlight on people like Ai WeiWei, people who are in real danger from oppressive governments, is in not anything like “fluffing european dictators”. It is recognizing the sacrifice made by an individual in the face of real threats to life and liberty. Are the “protesters” undeserving of recognition? Of course not. But awarding this to them makes no difference. The protests will continue or they will stop. They will not be enhanced by this award. That the award has been given to some questionable people does not negate its usefulness. How Ai Weiwei can be lumped with dictators is a mystery to me.

  4. I think Steve Jobs has been pretty well covered over the last couple of months, and it seems like it’s more about someone who has defined the last year in an unexpected fashion, rather than someone with a more long-term impact.

  5. Time is kind of playing it safe again. Even though the protests themselves are naturally political, the choice of an anonymous mass as “person of the year” is not.
    Then again, after their choice of that prick Zuckerberg over Assange last year, ignoring a very clear popular vote, who cares anymore?

      1. You can’t always get what you want
        But if you try sometimes well you just might find
        You get what you need

    1. It may not be a big deal to us commie-loving Boing Boingers but it might be to main stream America (whatever that is). This might help legitimize protests and protestors to those put off by rabble rousing movements outside the system.

    2. If they named a specific protest then that’d open them up for criticism.  For example, how has the Arab Spring been going lately? Not so well in Egypt last I heard. Or Syria especially.

  6. I like this choice. You know what, screw Jobs. “People of the year” include the smelly Occupy guy who selflessly cooks and serves breakfast to the occupiers/homeless in my city. Kinda neat.

  7. Ugh. Has “Commodify Your Dissent!” already been thoroughly chiasmused and co-opted into “Dissent Commodified”?

  8. If it were left to corporate media to cover, the protest movements in all those places would have failed. Without having yet read the Time piece, I wonder if they address the exquisite irony that what they are really celebrating is the overthrow of their own position as gatekeeper of public attention.

    Several times in the past year when news in Egypt, New York, or Oakland, and even in Japan and Chile outraced the largest media outlets, it was Xeni’s posts and twitter feed which pointed to obscure information sources streaming live from the epicenter of historic events. 

  9. Yeah, Steve Jobs death was a major event in 2011, but not exactly an achievement or something you would celebrate with a person of the year nomination. That would be weird.

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  11. “The protesters in the Middle East and North Africa are literally dying to get political systems that roughly resemble the ones that seem intolerably undemocratic to protesters in Madrid, Athens, London and New York City.”

    Two things about that. One, yes people in those countries are dying to attain a form of government that respects them. (Not so sure that they really really want what we have but something similar sure.) The only reason people in developed places are merely cuffed instead of shot is because the powers that be in those places, haven’t figured out how to get away with it, YET.

    And two, I wonder which regime was getting some pretty sizable military aid for a very long time from none other than the US. Was it Egypt? Yeah, I think it was (Second or third in the region, behind Israel and on a level with Turkey, Iraq doesn’t count since Iraq started as a convenient fiction and is now more or less just a weapons testing facility for the US anyway). So really we are all fighting the same monster it’s just that in the states the monster has to be a little more careful and methodical in it’s plans to destroy all the little people(watch out though, it has been getting bigger and more brazen for a long time). And ultimately it’s not so much the form of government it’s the ability of the people to participate. If government is run by the rich for the rich then obviously the poor are going to lose more.

  12. “they know that some of them might be beaten or shot, not just pepper-sprayed or flex-cuffed.” Seems like that bit applies to a lot of the Occupy protesters, too.

  13. I wonder, is this the international cover, or the US cover….  will a kitten hanging on a branch beat out the person of the year?

    1. I’m not seeing that. I’m seeing someone dressed for cold weather, and to protect his or her anonymity, and to protect against tear gas, pepper spray, etc.

    2. I’m not thrilled of the depiction of “The Protester” as a terrorist.

      You’re confusing ‘depiction’ with ‘definition’.

  14. Three thoughts, all of them probably nonsense:

    (1) Given that Steve Jobs is not mentioned, it’s weird to see “jobs” in the upper right corner.  It’s still about (j)obs, no matter what.

    (2) “From Washington to Wisconsin…”

    (3) Give that Fairey’s last iconic image broadcast “HOPE,” what single word does this one project?  The same thing, perhaps?

  15. Well, it’s the review of the year. Did jobs actually do anything innovative this year? Then I totally understand not including him. 

  16. All I know is that I love the US protestors for making our conservatives pivot from “Where are the Jobs, Obama!” to “Get a job, Hippie!”, without any apparent twang of self-consciousness.

    1. By conservatives I do hope you are including that neocon, Obama, who has repeated and falsely claimed in public:

      “The bank(st)ers broke no laws.”

      (I am Obama of Wall Street, and I approve this message.)

      Also, as anyone paying attention realizes, former Bush administration types, and Arnold Schwarzenegger staff types don’t worry about employment, they simply moved on to appointments with the Obama Administration.

      You do realize that, don’t you?????

  17. I don’t really care who Time magazine chooses as “Person of the Year” but I would quibble with the cover graphic. I grant that it is nicely androgynous and cross cultural (both a wooly cap (toque) and a keffiyah). Perhaps a Guy Fawkes mask wearing a wooly cap and a keffiyeh might have covered all the bases.

    Or, as has been pointed out in other comments, a photo of a real person could have been used: a human face to represent all those people in the streets and parks around the world.

  18. “”Protester” is an interesting choice of language. “Activist,” or “Occupier” if the focus is on America, would have also been apt.”

    Since the focus is on protesters and not squatters, leaving out the Occupiers was probably intentional.

  19. I would have to criticize the moron at Time who did the cover — looks more like a Taliban or former Mujahehedeen.

    I look forward to the day when that sleazoid rag runs as Person of the Year:

    The Wall Stree Bomber

    (Oh that will be a delight to behold!)

  20. Dislike the image – most ‘protesters’ do not hide their faces, this image makes the ‘person’ vague, even threatening.  ‘The People’ might be a better title – with real faces, not this manipulative and dramatic piece of ‘art.’  

    1. You have a point. When I protest, I make it a point to keep my face uncovered. The punks who cover their faces at demonstrations I’ve been to tend to be the World Workers Party type of morons looking to cause trouble. That’s double true for the Anarchists who just want to break Starbucks windows.

      1. Let me guess, you don’t actually know any anarchists do you?

        Anarchists are not rotten vandals out to smash the worthless windows of a over-hyped over-priced coffee slinging chain. Even if you repeat this uneducated drivel non-stop for the rest of your life it still would not make it true. Quit trying to equate anarchists with thugs, vandals and jackasses. If not for the fact that it makes you look dumb, then for the fact that it makes ‘capitalists’ in general look dumb.

        1. Well then let ME guess, you’ve never seen what anarchists do at G8 and G20 protests, have you?

          You’re speaking to someone who knows more about and cares more about anarchy then he lets on. So I know that anarchism isn’t associated with vandalism. and I too hate the association.

          What I’m referring to are those jackasses at protests wearing bandannas to cover their faces who are obsessed with destroying property rights by destroying any corporate property they can see on the city streets.

          1. So, if I’m reading this right you agree with me and further also do not like the association???

            So why in the hell would you continue to perpetuate a false equivalence? You would do better to just call out bandanna’d idiots for doing idiotic things and just leave anarchists and anarchism out of it altogether, right?

            Also, yes, I have seen what anarchists do at protests. We chant, sing, pass out fliers, make signs, talk to people, all while trying to make sure that morons with bricks don’t ruin everything by doing dumb shit. Also, there is always the distinct possibility that those dumb shits with the bricks are not morons at all but agents provocateurs with a whole other agenda of their own which is usually something along the lines of defaming real protesters and anarchists in order to give the police a reason to bust out the batons and pepper spray.

  21. Hey, I made the cover of Time again! That’s twice that I know of. The first time was 1951 — exactly 60 years ago.

    1. Time’s Person of the Year — less credibility or more credibility than Nobel Peace Prizes or Oscars? Discuss.

      At this point, I think that the Oscars have more integrity and credibility. Giving Obama that Nobel Peace Prize just for….existing and not being Bush(?) really marginalized them.

      1. The Nobel Peace Prizes to Arafat and Kissinger are other standouts, but Obama’s a pretty good example of where they’ve gone wrong. Especially his speech, “Thank you for this peace prize. Let me spend the rest of this speech explaining why my continuation and escalation of illegal, immoral wars is consistent with getting a peace prize…”

  22. Wait, I thought it was going to be Kanye West, Bon Iver, and Animal Collective. Wait, no, that’s pitchfork.

  23. “The stakes are very different in different places. In North America and Europe . . . dissidents don’t get tortured.”

    This line made me laugh.

    . . . and then I cried.

  24. Why did the Times choose a very deliberately Soviet style image? As others have said, a photo would’ve had more impact and been less obvious of a nod to the Soviet propaganda machine that the Left seems to love so much. Am I wrong?

    As someone who’s family suffered brutally from the Soviets, I find the increasing usage of their propaganda’s visual style disturbing. Liberals need to find their own style and distance themselves from this. If the Left loves Communism so much, then so be it then. To me it’s gross.

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