The Person of the Year


Time magazine enlivens readership by naming a Person of the Year. It does not make a moral judgment whether the choice is good or bad for the general population or the planet. Germany’s Adolf Hitler got the recognition in 1938, which led some to accuse the weekly of ideological Nazism.

I gave up on Time magazine after I lived in Chicago in the ’60s, for no reason other than I was pinching my pennies in spite of the magazine’s generous subscription rate for students but I kept up on their weekly coverage at the library as it remained one of the decent centrist rags that reflected contemporary American society. Its China-born-and-bred American founder and publisher, Henry Luce, of Presbyterian missionary parents, has Fortune, Life, and Sports Illustrated magazines to his credit. He was neither far off left nor right fields.

This year’s Person of the Year is the famed Aleman frau Angela Merkel who played the middle against the extreme ends this year and deserves the title. IMHO. Chancellor of Germany for a decade now, she led the Christian Democratic Union since the turn of the millennium and progressively gained international renown with opening up Germany’s borders to Syrian refugees, an affront to U.S.’ kneejerk and fearful response on the WH’s attempt to settle 10,000 refugees into the U.S. The refugee issue deftly handled by Merkel is domestically controversial.

The Time coverage generated mostly favorable responses in Germany. It introduced me to the word “panegyric” used by the media to describe the published text in praise of a person. We shan’t repeat Time’s account on Merkel’s persona so we will leave the awardee alone for readers to Google or read about in Time magazine.

It is on the award of “person of the year” that I comment on. The symbol system of the West since Hercules venerates the hero, and in the past, a champ gaining idol status was elevated to the top of Mt. Olympus as divine. Jesus of Nazareth is an example. Global society now appropriates the elitist virtue of a hero on athletes, movie stars, politicians, and even academic eggheads who gain notoriety in their fields, earning admirers from an adulating audience.

I asked female students on Saipan why they wear their hair long in the humid weather of the tropics when a short hair would be more appropriate, and, of course, they readily admit it has to do with fashion, the preferred style, not common sense. This is true as well for males wearing pants since physically they are better equipped to wear malongs/sarongs as the females can comfortably wear pants.

The award of the “person of the year” falls in the same vein, a fashionable statement but in today’s democratic space, what needs recognition is the effort of many that trumps the efforts of a few. This reminds us of the Donald rumored to be the runner-up on Time’s list, and of course, he proceeded to denigrate Angela Merkel as ruining Germany. Trump vowed not to allow any refugees into the country should he be assigned a watch at the White House.

It is really no longer just a person that moves history, as our school textbooks are wont to portray. Hero worship is hard to resist, and even the proletarian henchman of the Long March became an object of praise and his statue dominates downtown parks in China. In reality, however, ordinary workers and unsung unknowns literally laid their bodies on the barbwire of history that made deep revolutionary changes.

Still, it is true that movements in history need persons at the head of the line. Obummer is vilified for not being decisive enough to assert personality when promoting executive policies, thus considered weak in some quarters. 

In addition to the Donald and Merkel, the “Person of the Year” contenders included ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi who wants to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq, Black Lives Matter activists, the transgender Caitlyn Jenner, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, the last trying to get his country out of pariah status in the international community.

The list just begs the question of why Time zeroes in on persons, even when it included the Black Lives Matter activists.

While we do not see the fading of the practice of “hero worship” any time soon, it is well to begin looking at the broader picture of movements in history, temporary in nature but nonetheless leaving an indelible imprint on our lives. In my time, we had the civil rights movement before the media turned it into reverence of Martin the King. The Vietnam War movement made a devil of LBJ that caused him to pass up a second term but the folks who went beyond Vietnam to question the U.S.’ decision to police the world did not get the limelight. Meanwhile, Wall Street’s quiet pursuit of oil exploration on the ground raises no question.

My earthrise consciousness focuses on the planet more than the person. Angela Merkel nonetheless gets our nod. Prost!

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

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