Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Time to Hail 2011’s “Person of the Year”

So Time Magazine’s 2011 “Person of the Year” is not an individual but an aggregate. Time is honoring “The Protester” for making waves from Cairo to Athens to Moscow to Wall Street. In fact, I’m told that the generalized young female protester staring out from Time’s cover derives from a photograph taken right here in Southern California, during an Occupy L.A. event.

It makes me think back forty-five years to January 1967, when Time’s annual “Man of the Year” issue hit newsstands nationwide. This “Man of the Year” was not a “he” but a “they,” representing the generation Time called “Twenty-five and Under.” The cover image, a soft-edged illustration, featured the head and shoulders of a stalwart young man, his green eyes looking directly at the reader. His hair was short; his face clean-shaven; he was wearing a jacket and tie, much in the spirit of The Graduate’s Benjamin Braddock newly home from college. Behind him we could glimpse others of his generation, including a dark-haired young Caucasian woman, a clean-cut young black man, and an amused-looking Asian youth. Collectively they stood for the Baby Boomers then coming into their own, with the white male (predictably) in the lead.

The 1967 Man of the Year, affluent and idealistic, had what Time called a unique sense of control over his own destiny. Said Time, “He is the man who will land on the moon, cure cancer and the common cold, lay out blight-proof, smog-free cities, enrich the underdeveloped world, and, no doubt, write finis to poverty and war.” Similarly starry rhetoric concluded the cover story: “With his skeptical yet humanistic outlook, his disdain for fanaticism and his scorn for the spurious, the Man of the Year suggests that he will infuse the future with a new sense of morality, a transcendent and contemporary ethic that could infinitely enrich ‘the empty society.’” Time floridly predicted that this Man of the Year may well succeed in his mission, and have fun along the way.

The well-scrubbed faces on Time’s January cover gave no hint that by the end of 1967 some of this “twenty-five and younger” generation would morph into spaced-out hippies and angry war protesters. Obviously, part of the change sprang from the big events of the day: the escalation of the Vietnam-era military draft; the violent turn taken by the civil rights movement; the widening of the generation gap. The popular movies of the time mirrored the tensions within the country, and sometimes helped to compound them. In fact, before 1967 was out, Time used stills from Bonnie and Clyde on its cover, along with the caption, “The New Cinema: Violence . . . Sex . . . Art.”

The Graduate, one of the last movies to debut in 1967, could not be considered violent, but its message to young people about the need to disrupt established norms was unmistakable. The Graduate, a modestly-budged comedy starring the unknown Dustin Hoffman, became a sleeper hit, especially among America’s youth. Time itself recognized the changes afoot when, the following June, it put out an issue simply titled—with an obvious nod to the film—“The Graduate 1968.” The cover photograph was of a newly-minted college graduate, UCLA’s Brian Weiss, clad in graduation robe, beard, and peace symbol. A caption added a variation on a by-then familiar phrase, asking, “Can You Trust Anyone Under 30?”

What happened to the young renegades of 1968? They grew up, of course. Many went corporate, but their children—some of them—are busy trying to create a better world. Happy New Year to them, and to us all.


  1. I wonder how 2012 has been working out - it's been a pretty good year around my homestead - which was not built by anyone who's done much protesting (neither my wife nor I). The late 60's really took us through some changes - I think a great representation of those changes can be seen in the photographs of the Beatles that adorn their early red Best of album and the later blue Best of album - both taken from the same position looking up at the lads looking down from an interior courtyard style balcony - but worlds apart in the picture it shows of those young men from Liverpool a few years apart.

  2. Great analogy, Mr. Craig. Thanks for sending me down Memory Lane. (As for 2012, so far so good -- at least for me and mine.)