Who Should Be TIME’s Person of the Year? TIME’s London Panelists Debate

A group of panelists convened in London discuss who should be 2012's Person of the Year with TIME's editors.

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Anthony Webb for TIME

image: From left to right, Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, Shami Chakrabarti, Omid Djalili, Ruth Rogers, Hugh Quarshie, Kate Mosse and TIME International Editor Jim Frederick at TIME's Person of the Year debate in London, Thursday December 13, 2012

On Thursday night in the tony central London district of Mayfair, a crowd gathered for an international perspective on a weighty question: who should be TIME’s 2012 Person of the Year?

Hugh Quarshie, a Ghanaian-born British actor whose work spans a galaxy that includes the greatest Shakespearean roles and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, opened the debate by proposing Goldman Sachs “as a representative for bankers.” Noting that the world is still embroiled in a financial and banking crisis, Quarshie said that while banks do good in generating “vast taxable profits,” they as institutions have “fetishized the bottom line” and are “potentially a menace to society.” Omid Djalili, who once joked that he was the world’s only Iranian comedian–”and that’s three more than Germany,” agreed, noting that bankers have “gambled with our money, lost our money and we bailed them out. This genius needs to be recognized.”

Quarshie and Djalili were joined on the panel by British human rights activist and Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, FTI Consulting chairman and former Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch-Brown, bestselling British author Kate Mosse, and the American founder of London’s influential River Cafe Ruth Rogers.

(WATCH: New York’s Person of the Year 2012 Discussion)

The designation of Person of the Year, as TIME Europe editor Catherine Mayer noted in her introduction to the event, at Bourdon House, the home of Alfred Dunhill, “has never been an accolade pure and simple, but a measure of impact.” As debate moderator and TIME International editor Jim Frederick pointed out, Adolph Hitler (1938), Joseph Stalin (1939, 1942) and Ayatollah Khomeini (1979) have all appeared on the TIME ‘Person of the Year’ cover, as well as figures like Nelson Mandela (‘The Peacemakers’ 1993), Winston Churchill (1949) and John F. Kennedy (1961).

In that spirit, Rogers suggested Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, saying that “we can’t ignore” the effect of his protracted battle with Syrian rebels.

The 2012 U.S. Presidential election was another event the panelists felt could not be ignored. Malloch-Brown said that while the 2012 presidential campaign had been “tawdry, defensive and highly negative,” it was “hugely important.” He felt that President Obama shouldn’t appear on the cover because of his “snippy” campaign, but that the Person of the Year award should go to ‘the American Democratic Party worker,’ particularly Obama’s data crunchers, for an “astonishing technological performance” in analyzing and turning out the electorate.

(RESULTS: And the Winner of TIME’s Person of the Year Reader Poll Is…)

Other suggestions from the panelists included Ghana President John Dramani Mahama, who leads a country Quarshie argued “epitomizes Africa” with its booming economy. Rogers nominated Nick Davies and Alan Rusbridger of the Guardian newspaper, whom she said should be honored for breaking the News of the World phone hacking story. Djalili described Twitter as “the thing that’s really bringing the world together.” Such an outcome wouldn’t be the first time computer technology and social media have featured as the Person of the Year: ‘The Computer’ (1982), ‘You’ (2006) and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (2010) have all made appearances on the cover.

The idea that generated the most enthusiasm, however, was a celebration of women in some form. Women have graced the Person of the Year cover just four times since the tradition started: Wallis Simpson in 1936, Elizabeth II in 1952, American Women (including American feminist and author Susan Brownmiller, First Lady Betty Ford and tennis star Billie Jean King) in 1975 and Corazon Aquino, the first woman president of the Philippines, in 1986. The panel agreed that the time seemed right to applaud women again (Quarshie suggested that honoring women for being women was patronizing, and that the focus should be on their achievements). The question was how to do it. Ideas included ‘mothers and daughters’ and ‘women athletes of the Olympics.’

Others argued for individuals. Mosse nominated Hillary Clinton, who as a lawyer, first lady, senator and now as secretary of state, has “in rooms across the world…made the point that women’s rights are human rights.” In a slightly more lighthearted vein, Djalili suggested Queen Elizabeth II, for sticking to her pledge to serve the people. A straw poll at the end of the debate revealed that the Queen was also the audience’s first choice. The individual whose name came up the most, however, was 15-year-old Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by Taliban in October 2012 for speaking out on behalf of girls’ education. Most members of the panel concurred with Chakrabarti, who said Yousafzai is the ideal Person of the Year, because she personifies many important causes: education, gender inequality, internet activism (through her BBC blog) and the rights of the world’s growing youth population. Yousafzai also is a symbol of optimism, said Chakrabarti, that serves as a counterpoint to the “hard power” wielded by many of the candidates on the list.

Frederick closed the debate by touching on the responsibility felt by TIME editors at the idea of putting Yousafzai on the cover. “Her life would never be the same,” he said. The panelists agreed, but it seemed that in their opinion, that was no bad thing.

READ: Everything You Wanted to Know About TIME’s Person of the Year

6 comments
RebeccaLimback
RebeccaLimback

My vote goes to all the amazing people who stood in lines for hours and hours to vote in the 2012 election!  My heroes.

tm502010
tm502010

You heard it here first: the person of the year should be the issue of the year: the American gun owner.

Trayvon Martin, gang violence, Gabby Giffords, temple shootings, the use of guns as the exclusive means of marshaling even the poorest Americans to radical Right Wing (rich men's) causes, shootings in universities, schools, temples, malls, movie houses, and now in kindergarten class rooms - all without the *slightest* ability to have a partially rational debate on the topic! For good or bad, this is the huge elephant in the living room of America!

It's time!

cart235
cart235

I think that, after today's events in Connecticut, the "Gunman" should be considered as the Person of the Year. This year has seen a number of high profile mass shootings. The Person of the Year is someone who has influenced the world and our lives in some way or another. These people who carry out these terrible acts have undoubtedly affected our nation in many ways, from issues of gun control to the fear of such a random act occurring in your town to people you know. I believe that these gunmen and the shootings which have occurred highlight a deep problem that the United States has with gun violence. While I understand that gun control is a highly politicized issue in the country, these types of events cannot happen nearly as often or as violently without the use of firearms which these mentally unstable people are more often than not able to procure legally. I think that, more than anything, these shootings that have occurred over the past year have affected how we think about the year 2012 and have been influential on shaping our political, ethical, and psychological thought processes this year.

JPalto
JPalto

@cart235 We need to let the investigation continue and finish until we can conclude that more gun control is needed. Right now it sounds like just a crazy person with his hands on a weapon. How did he get the weapon? Could be his parents. Again we need to let the investigation finish before we reach any conclusions.