Jonathan Gruber should have been Time’s Person of the Year. The magazine gave it to the “Ebola Fighters” instead. Good for them; they’re doing God’s work. Still, Gruber would have been better.
Time’s Person of the Year designation has lost a lot of its stature over recent years. Part of its decline can probably be attributed to the fact that it’s come to be seen as an honorific. It was originally conceived to recognize the person who, “for better or for worse … has done the most to influence the events of the year.” So Adolf Hitler (1938) and Josef Stalin (1939 and again in 1942) qualified. In 2001, however, the editors couldn’t bring themselves to bestow the title on Osama bin Laden, even though he certainly deserved it. (New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani got it instead for his heroic response to the evil deeds of the person who influenced the events of the year most decidedly for the worse.)
The other conceit of the P.O.Y. is to capture some theme or trend that lends itself to end-of-the-year thumb-sucker columns (like this one). That’s why the computer was hailed as the “Machine of the Year” in 1982 and our “Endangered Earth” was dubbed “Planet of the Year” in 1988. In 2006, “You” won the contest because of all the wonderful work you do in creating Web content. (Congrats, by the way.) And in 2011, “the Protester” won in recognition of tea partiers and Wall Street occupiers alike.