When I heard earlier this week that Time magazine had picked "The Protester" as its Person of the Year, two other classic fails across the American pop landscape came to mind: When the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded a Grammy to Jethro Tull over Metallica for the "Heavy Metal" category in 1989 and when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave Tommy Lee Jones an Oscar in 1993 for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in "The Fugitive" over Ralph Fiennes' amazing portrayal of Amon Goeth in "Schindler's List."
How history has treated those picks supports the fact that both of them were off. Jethro Tull -- a band whose career was over well before they won the Grammy -- isn't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for any genre, never mind heavy metal; Metallica is -- for dominating the heavy metal scene across their entire career. And subsequent watchings of "The Fugitive" reveal a monotone Tommy Lee Jones -- seemingly boring himself with his monotone performance -- while that of Fiennes in "Schindler's List" grows more complex and intense -- a nuanced study of a psychopath in a position of power, the very personification of evil during the Holocaust.
In choosing "The Protester" -- the Occupy Wall Street protester, more specifically -- as the Person of the Year, Time has joined those other two organizations in the crime of making a selection that is basically dead on arrival. Never mind years from now; even at this writing the Occupy Wall Street movement has moved out of the headlines and the public eye. What was a loose collection of frustrations and angst is gone for now and maybe for good. Because the effort was so diffused there is no lasting legacy that might inform the American political landscape going forward. With Occupy Wall Street's moribund state goes the hope of a counterweight to the Tea Party. Too bad, really. America badly needs something to that effect.
Now Time willed Occupy Wall Street to have a shelf life with its POTY pick, and that's understandable as Boomers and Gen-Xers gather around conference room tables at editorial meetings hoping for the next coming of Abbie Hoffman or the Weathermen. What cultural elitist wouldn't want their time to be now? We're all sick of our parents and grandparents stories about how they were at Angela Davis' elbow back in the day. But absent the draft cranking up again and forcing otherwise socially disengaged students to stop staring at their smart phones for awhile, desire alone won't make it so.
No, there was only one right pick in 2011, one centered on the singularly most significant event of the year. If Time had really wanted to nail it, the selection would have been "The SEAL Who Killed Osama bin Laden."
The OBL takedown was punctuation -- a period, or at least a semi-colon -- in the story that has unfolded since 9-11 -- a story that badly needed the end of an act -- structure that would resonate with the American psyche (unlike the esoterica of counterinsurgencies and surges, etc.).
To be fair, Time didn't totally ignore Operation Geronimo, as the takedown mission was called. The magazine made Vice Admiral William McRaven -- the head of the Joint Special Operations Command, the organization that ordered the operation -- the POTY runner-up this year. In fact, the McRaven article is very well-written, nicely capturing the man and the modern accomplishments of America's special operations teams. But the admiral is joined in runner-up status by Ai WeiWei (yeah, me neither), Paul Ryan (because he solved the federal budget crisis... um, no, that's not it), and Kate Middleton (for showing the courage to accept Prince Charles as a father-in-law), which further dilutes the already watered down recognition.
But time (the science not the magazine) isn't kind to those who come in second. Who did St. Louis play in the World Series this year? See? That's where the good admiral will live in a few months.
But even giving McRaven the first place nod would have been off. He didn't kill Bin Laden. A member of SEAL Team Six did. We'll never know who it was, and it doesn't matter. It could have been any one of those military professionals who've honed their skills since they first rode into Afghanistan on horseback a decade ago. And their skills have underwritten the dreams of those who desire peace and freedom. With the definitive triumph of good over evil comes hope. And with hope comes the possibility for change.
Never mind the blurred lines of counterinsurgencies and the messiness of nation building. The one unqualified military success since we started the current wars has been the capture or killing of bad actors -- one-by-one, with impunity and cold resolve. The efforts of these men who come in the night have made the world safer.
And this year one of them killed Osama bin Laden. That guy should have been Time magazine's Person of the Year.