11 Times TIME's Person of the Year Wasn't Really a Person

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TIME has named Pope Francis the 2013 Person of the Year. But some years, they can't narrow it down to one person, or don't choose a person at all. Here's a look at the generic people, groups of people, and things that also have received this honor.

1. The Computer, 1982

One of the best parts about the article naming the computer the "Machine of the Year" is reading it now, 30 years later. One man, they said, figured out how he could use a computer to administer anesthesia during surgery; the band Earth, Wind and Fire even used one to explode smoke bombs during their shows. Behold, a computer convention in Las Vegas from 1982:

In the cavernous Las Vegas Convention Center a month ago, more than 1,000 computer companies large and small were showing off their wares, their floppy discs and disc drives, joy sticks and modems, to a mob of some 50,000 buyers, middlemen and assorted technology buffs.

Look! Here is Hewlett-Packard's HP9000, on which you can sketch a new airplane, say, and immediately see the results in 3-D through holograph imaging; here is how the Votan can answer and act on a telephone call in the middle of the night from a salesman on the other side of the country; here is the Olivetti M20 that entertains bystanders by drawing garishly colored pictures of Marilyn Monroe; here is a program designed by The Alien Group that enables an Atari computer to say aloud anything typed on its keyboard in any language. It also sings, in a buzzing humanoid voice, Amazing Grace and When I'm 64 or anything else that anyone wants to teach it.

2. The Middle Americans, 1969

Interestingly, TIME’s idea of Middle America includes one H. Ross Perot:

“The Middle Americans tend to be grouped in the nation's heartland more than on its coasts. But they live in Queens, N.Y., and Van Nuys, Calif., as well as in Skokie and Chillicothe. They tend toward the middle-aged and the middlebrow. They are defined as much by what they are not as by what they are. As a rule, they are not the poor or the rich. Still, many wealthy business executives are Middle Americans. H. Ross Perot, the Texas millionaire who organized a group called 'United We Stand Inc.' to support the President on the war, is an example.”

3. The Endangered Earth, 1988

TIME acknowledged their unorthodox “Man of the Year” post right here in the story’s headline: “What on EARTH are we doing?” After a year of hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts and floods, it was apparently time to ask – and to name the first “Planet of the Year.”

4. The American Fighting-Man, 1950

“He has been called soft and tough, resourceful and unskilled, unbelievably brave and unbelievably timid, thoroughly disciplined and scornful of discipline. One way or another, all of these generalizations are valid. He is a peculiar soldier, product of a peculiar country. His two outstanding characteristics seem to be contradictory. He is more of an individualist than soldiers of other nations, and at the same time he is far more conscious of, and dependent on, teamwork. He fights as he lives, a part of a vast, complicated machine—but a thinking, deciding part, not an inert cog.”

5. American Scientists, 1960

Unlike the ambiguous “American Fighting-Man,” this “Man” of the Year had names. Among those specifically mentioned in the article were chemist Linus Pauling, physicist Edward Teller, geneticist George Beadle and virologist John Enders.

“It has been said, almost 90% of all the scientists that the world has ever produced are alive today. By the very nature of that curve, 1960 was the richest of all scientific years, and the years ahead must be even more fruitful,” the magazine predicted.

6. Baby Boomers, or “The Inheritors,” 1966

Though the title was given to the generation overall, a few famous names were singled out as examples: 23-year-old chess genius Bobby Fischer, 19-year-old world record miler Jim Ryun, 24-year-old folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie, 20-year-old artist Jamie Wyeth, 25-year-old actress Julie Christie, among others.

7. American Women, 1975

Women of 1975 included Betty Ford, Billie Jean King, feminist Susan Brownmiller and Carol Sutton, the first female editor of a major daily newspaper (Louisville’s Courier-Journal).

8. The Peacemakers, 1993

Also known as Yasser Arafat, F.W. de Klerk, Nelson Mandela and Yitzhak Rabin, the Peacemakers had a busy ’93. Rabin and Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn as Bill Clinton looked on, while Mandela and de Klerk worked tirelessly toward a new South Africa. The latter pair won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 while Arafat and Rabin, along with Shimon Peres, won in 1994.

9. The Good Samaritans, 2005

You’re probably more familiar with the Good Samaritans as Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates. TIME recognized the unlikely trio for their efforts toward improving world health.

“These are not the people you expect to come to the rescue. Rock stars are designed to be shiny, shallow creatures, furloughed from reality for all time. Billionaires are even more removed, nestled atop fantastic wealth where they never again have to place their own calls or defrost dinner or fly commercial. So Bono spends several thousand dollars at a restaurant for a nice Pinot Noir, and Bill Gates, the great predator of the Internet age, has a trampoline room in his $100 million house. It makes you think that if these guys can decide to make it their mission to save the world, partner with people they would never otherwise meet, care about causes that are not sexy or dignified in the ways that celebrities normally require, then no one really has a good excuse anymore for just staying on the sidelines and watching.”

10. The Protester, 2011


"No one could have known that when a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire in a public square, it would incite protests that would topple dictators and start a global wave of dissent. In 2011, protesters didn't just voice their complaints; they changed the world.

11. You, 2006

Collective groan. The idea of making “You” the Person of the Year was roundly panned by the very people the concept was attempting to honor: creators of user-generated content on the Internet. Peter Sagal of NPR’s Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! commented that if “we” actually controlled the media, “we would have picked a much better choice for the Person of the Year issue."

This post originally appeared in 2011.

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December 11, 2013 - 8:11am
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