The Faces of Time Magazine: The good, the bad, and the ugly

By Lexi Anderson

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2013 was Pope Francis, a choice that seemed to make the most sense when compared to other nominees: our turnt friend Miley Cyrus and the National Security Agency”s worst enemy Edward Snowden. However, despite the general conception that Time Magazine’s person of the year is always someone who has a positive influence on the world (such as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.), some of the winners have not been so peaceful. And others have just been plain wacky.

The Person of the Year for 1938 is definitely a name doused in infamy: Adolph Hitler. The Nazi party leader has his face forever memorialized on a Time Person of the Year cover. “Hitler became in 1938 the greatest threatening force that the democratic, freedom-loving world faces today,” Time responded as the reason for their controversial decision. Adolph Hitler is now among the ranks of People of the Year, alongside other leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul II.

Time continued with their “violent people of the year” streak when they chose Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. That year, Khomeini seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for over 444 days. He also started a war with Iraq in 1980 that lasted for eight years and cost over one million lives. Khomeini’s path of destruction led to his win for Person of the Year, showing once again that not every Most Influential Person has a positive impact on the world.

However, Person of the Year wasn’t limited to just people. In 1988 Time threw a curve ball when they announced the person of the year was Endangered Earth. The cover shows the planet wrapped up in twine and looking very fragile. Time wrote, “Spurred by poverty, population growth, ill-advised policies and simple greed, humanity is at war with the plants and animals that share its planet,” and concluded that Earth needed to be focused on just as much as the influential people in it. Time pulled another fast one when 1982’s person of the year was announced to be “The Computer.” “The Computer Moves In,” reads the issue title, which features a person contemplating a bulky, small-screened desktop computer that in 1982 was a revolutionary piece of technology. Besides making intimate objects or single people People of the Year, Time also has a list of less specific winners. “U.S. Scientists” was the person of 1960, “Twenty-Five and Under” won 1966, and “The Protestor” took the cover for 2011. Additionally, “You” became the person of the year in 2006, saying the power of the internet allowed you to have a voice and impact on the world.

Despite the assumption that Time’s most influential person of the year is generally a philanthropist or an inventor, Time has actually had a far greater spectrum of winners grace (or stain) their cover page. From Pope Francis to Hitler, from You to Planet Earth, Time continues to choose the men, women, and objects who have the most impact, for better or worse, on the world.