Last year, to be person of the year, you had to invent Facebook. This year, all you had to do was complain.
Time magazine on Wednesday named "The Protester" as its "2011 Person of the Year." If you happened to have ragged about anything in the past 12 months, take a bow.
I, for one, have been recognized for this honor twice before: In 2006, when the person of the year was "You" (which I understood to mean "Me"), and in 1966, when it was "Baby Boomers" (and to think I was only 5 at the time).
I am not bragging because Time also has given this prize to nefarious characters like Hitler, Stalin and the Ayatollah Khomeini. Or to something that isn't really a person, like "The Computer."
This year, Time is merely continuing an established trend.
In 2010, the person of the year was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who gave us an ingenious new way to complain about everything to thousands of our "friends."
This year's generic choice of "The Protester" is a clear sign nobody in America really accomplished anything in 2011, beyond just whining.
Time said the runner up was Wisconsin's Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan--and mostly all he did was complain about the nation's skyrocketing debt, which is still skyrocketing, if you don't mind me complaining about it some more.
No new technology. No cure for cancer. No treaty for world peace. Not even a solution for the debt-bloated global economy as Europe begins to tear at its seams.
And to top it off, most of Time's narrative this year is devoted to "The Protester" in other countries, beginning with a Tunisian merchant who set himself on fire to call attention to his harassment from local police. See, now that's protesting. Time's 2011 Person of the Year is a celebration of youthful Arabs defying tyrants with their very lives. It is not an impressive tribute to Occupy Wall Street or even the tea party that now more or less now runs the GOP. (I did, however, appreciate a line from the piece that warned how protesters can sometimes become "useful idiots to new oppressors.")
"In North America and most of Europe, there are no dictators, and dissidents don't get tortured," Time says. "Any day that Tunisians, Egyptians or Syrians occupy streets and squares, they know that some of them might be beaten or shot, not just pepper-sprayed or flex-cuffed."
Time then goes on to quote a cement truck driver, saying protesters in other parts of the world "have more balls than we do," attacking America's manhood, if not insulting its kinder, gentler, more inclusive, and more feminine, "personhood."
The "...tanked economy, systemic financial recklessness, gigantic public debt--along with ongoing revelations of double dealing by banks, new state laws making certain public-employee-union demands illegal and the refusal of Congress to consider even slightly higher taxes on the very highest incomes' are the things that American protesters are upset about, according to Time.
Most of these issues would not seem so important if more Americans could just find a job, get their houses back or maybe just discover something decent to watch on cable TV.
The rich have been getting richer, giant corporations have been un-leveling the playing field in Washington, and the national debt has been rising since the Internet bubble popped in 2001, if not long before that. Most Americans didn't care until years after 2008, when the economy stopped delivering them the goods they felt they were due.
Still, it's never too late to step up and be "person of the year." Congratulations, person. You deserve it.
(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. Contact Al at firstname.lastname@example.org or tellittoal.com)