As a former Time magazine “Person of the Year” myself (2006—look it up), I was intrigued by the editors’ choice of my latest successor: As you may have heard by now, POY for 2011 is “The Protester,” an amalgam of Occupy Wall Street and people being gunned down in the Middle East.
Since the visage on the magazine’s cover is half concealed behind a mask, I am going to hazard a wild and crazy guess that it belongs to somebody risking something more lethal than the warm embrace of President Obama or kind words from Nancy Pelosi, scary though those might be.
The essay that accompanies the award is a gem. Penned by former New York Magazine editor Kurt Andersen, it utterly fails to distinguish between spoiled brats, heroes, and dangerous radicals. They’re all part of the same phenomenon. As Andersen puts it, "Everywhere, it seems, people said they'd had enough."
I guess the Occupy crowd had had enough of sitting around the student center debating gender theory or taking courses in the epistemology of Lady Gaga, while racking up enormous college loan debts and then finding to their consternation that debts don’t pay themselves (they want us to pay them, and, given President Obama’s propensities, I fear that we may).
Some of us might find it difficult to lump the Occupy Wall Street protestors, featured in a New York Observer fashion spread ("Hottest People at Occupy Wall Street") with the poor Tunisian vegetable vendor—his dream was to own a truck—who set himself on fire because he wanted liberty.
From Andersen's vantage point, however, it’s all the same—and it’s, like, wow:
It's remarkable how much the protest vanguards share. Everywhere they are disproportionately young, middle class and educated.
That Andersen, well into middle age, is still enamored of the hip is quite obvious and not at all attractive. The New York Observer should do another protest fashion shoot, this one on the protestors Andersen describes: filmmakers, a jobless philosophy major at Occupy, and a Muslim Brotherhood member with a Tigger Notebook–oh, my! The problem with TIMEs' take of the protests of 2011 is that it is unserious.
Although Andersen’s essay is presented as deep thinking and peppered with erudition, the lead-in to the protestor photo spread gives the game away—this is really about fashion. For TIME, the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street are a trend story. Here is the lead in:
We’re in the business of making icons. From immortal covers to probing profiles to our annual Person of the Year, TIME has always shaped the first draft of history with the personalities and moments that mattered most. We get iconic.
What we don’t get is any meaningful discussion of these protestors. The Athens protestors (rioters is a better word) are demanding endless government subsidies, pursuing policies that could bankrupt Greece and spread to Europe and the U.S. The Syrian protestors, by contrast, are risking their lives to topple a ruthless regime. These are very different endeavors, thrown together in one big, superficial cocktail party.
Protestors have long enticed Americans' imagination, because we celebrate those who risk everything to stand up for their cause. Individuals fighting corrupt systems have helped reshape our country, and the world, and bring about greater justice. Yet the issues behind the protests matter. The act of protesting—sitting around with placards and turning parks into encampments—isn't particularly noble. It's the cause itself that gives the protest its power, not the protestors for their own sake.
Yet what is Occupy's cause and what are they doing to advance it? Andersen avoids such details, but hopes they will have lasting impact:
The wisest Occupiers understand that these are very early days. But as long as government in Washington — like government in Europe — remains paralyzed, I don't see the Occupiers and Indignados giving up or losing traction or protest ceasing to be the defining political mode.
Are the “wisest Occupiers”(a high concept) the thugs who shoved a grandmother to the ground in Washington, D.C.? The ones who cost members of the 99 percent wages by shutting down neighborhood businesses or busy ports? The one who defecated on a police car? The working class heroes who filled 75 Wal-Mart carts with merchandise and fled, leaving the mess for hardworking clerks? Or the exemplary citizens who kept people awake all night with their incessant drumming?
What are they fighting for? Apparently among their highest aims is to have taxpayers foot the bill for them to attend thought-provoking university's courses, like the one that will be offered by New York University on the Occupy protest itself next year. As Fox News reports:
The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are catching on across the United states, linking to popular discontent with economic inequality and financial greed and malfeasance around the globe," says a flyer for the course distributed by its professor, Lisa Duggan. "This course is designed to provide a background for these momentous events.
So here is a movement driven by college debt and joblessness. And here is a course that will contribute to both.
Occupy has become a Rorschach test. You can pretty much tell where someone stands on most political issues, matters of personal responsibility, and view of the free market by where they stand on Occupy Wall Street. Time's glorification of Occupy Wall Street reveals little about the nature of protest but everything about the mentality of an increasingly out of touch media and liberal elite.