Would Time magazine choose a dead guy as its "Person of the Year"? Time hasn't bestowed the honor on a nonliving candidate in the past, but there are several reasons to believe it could happen in 2011.
"We've never actually chosen a dead person," Time managing editor Rick Stengel said at a luncheon in New York on Tuesday. "But we could and we'll discuss it."
Stengel led a panel discussion of potential contenders for Time's 85th annual "Person of the Year," one of the few glossy editorial franchises--outside of the Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit issue--that people actually seem to care about.
Brian Williams, anchor of NBC's "Nightly News" and an annual staple at Time's "POY" luncheon, said his choice would be Steve Jobs for the innovative "spirit he represents."
Celebrity chef Mario Batali, another panelist, also chose Jobs. "The smartphone has changed the world the way the Bible has," Batali said.
The actor Jesse Eisenberg, who portrayed Time's 2010 "Person of the Year"--Mark Zuckerberg--in "The Social Network," said the revolutionaries fueling the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and tea party should be considered. Choosing an individual "Person of the Year" could "undercut those movements."
Seth Meyers, head writer at "Saturday Night Live," agreed. "I think angry people are the person of the year," Meyers said. Meyers, though, was quick to hedge his bet. "As a comedy writer, I think that the GOP field could be person of the year," he said.
Batali said he wouldn't include Occupy Wall Street for the honor. "They're kind of sitting around, they're not breaking anything--it's like a part-time job," he said. "It's a very 2011 protest."
Time has traditionally chosen an individual rather than group as its "Person of the Year." In that case, Grover Norquist, president of the advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, said it should be Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit vendor who helped trigger the Arab Spring when he set himself on fire in December. (Bouazizi died in January, making him eligible for 2011, Norquist said.) If not for Bouazizi, Norquist said, "I'm not sure if [the Arab Spring] would've happened--at least in the way it did."
When asked for her nomination, Anita Hill chose two: Egypt's women, who helped fuel the revolution there; and Elizabeth Warren, the American consumer rights activist. ("As the decided minority here," Hill joked, "I think I should have two or three.")
Time has also been known to choose an evil figure--such as Adolf Hitler (1938), Josef Stalin (1939) or even Vladimir Putin (2007)--as its "Person of the Year," and 2011 could be ripe for one: Osama bin Laden.
Williams said bin Laden would be a no-brainer, since the choice would double as an honor bestowed on the Navy Seal team who killed the al Qaeda leader.
Batali, though, said banking industry is right up there with bin Laden, bad-guy-wise. "They're as good as Stalin or Hitler in terms of evil guys."
Time will unveil its "POY" issue in December.
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