Is Miley really the world's most influential person?
Hitler and Bono both received the controversial accolade.
Published 05/12/2013 | 02:30
She has outraged parents, scandalised former fans and single-handedly introduced the concept of 'twerking' to humanity. However, it's taken until now for Miley Cyrus to be spoken of in the same breath as Adolf Hitler. Seventy-five years after the German dictator was named TIME 'Person of the Year', Miley is in the running for the prestigious accolade. More than in the running in fact.
According to the news magazine, Cyrus has 29pc of the public vote, ahead of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad and the Egyptian Minister of Defence – each of whom is undoubtedly notorious/ impressive in their way but, in what seems set to be a crucial tie-breaker, has never dirty danced with Robin Thicke in front of millions.
Should trends continue and Cyrus be crowned 'Person of the Year', she will join a rarefied elite of leaders, visionaries and war criminals. Taking a step back, it might appear absurd that a mere pop star would be considered an appropriate member of this club. On the other hand Bangerz WAS a cracking album and – in a notable distinction from Hitler – Miley looked fantastic swinging back and forth on a giant wrecking ball.
Though 'Person of the Year' is often bestowed in acknowledgment of outstanding humanitarian behaviour, TIME has always been adamant that the award does not represent a stamp of approval. It is a measure of influence – nothing more or less. Hence the inclusion in the honour roll of such profoundly non-cuddly characters as Hitler (1938), Stalin (a two-time champion, 1939 and 1942), Nikita Khrushchev (1957) and Ayatollah Khomeini (1979).
This year, polling is in conjunction with Twitter and a disproportionate number of votes are from the Middle East, which explains the prominent placings of Egyptian defence minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (18.6pc) and Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (18.3pc).
With a groundswell behind Cyrus, however, and more and more fans going online to Tweet on her behalf, it is increasingly likely she will become one of only a handful of entertainment figures to be declared most influential personage of the 12 months just passed. We will have our answer on Friday, when the chosen individual is announced.
'Person of the Year' is regarded as one of the most esteemed decorations in journalism. But it is not immune to criticism. Writing in The Atlantic, David Graham last year dismissed it as, in essence, a big publicity wheeze intended to gin up exposure for TIME.
"The process is immaculately staged," he wrote, referring to TIME's yawn-some nomination of Barack Obama as 2012 'Person of the Year'. "First, there was the goofy, perpetually gamed online nomination poll. Then came the hours of buzz. Tuesday afternoon – artificially induced excitement propagated via Twitter hashtag. And today, there are the dozens of 'news' stories."
On the face of it, with so much strife in the world, naming a pop star 'Person of the Year' smacks of poor taste. Then, TIME has a track record of quirky choices in this regard.
Indeed, the 'Person of the Year' (Man of the Year until 1999) actually has its origins in a snafu: In 1927, the editors of the magazine, stuck for a front-page story, spotted an opportunity to remedy one of the greatest blunders in the history of the publication, the decision, in 1926, NOT to put Charles Lindbergh on the cover after his record-breaking flight across the Atlantic.
Thus, a photographer was dispatched to snap the airman, several hundred words of laudatory prose slapped together and a journalistic institution born.
Ever since, a certain playfulness has characterised the accolade. For their campaigning on behalf of poverty, Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates gained a group commendation in 2005; in 1969 'Middle America' received the award while in 2006, the year of YouTube, 'You' (ie tens of thousands of internet content creators toiling over their home computers) was recognised. The cover was a tacky mirror in which the reader was invited to bask in their reflection.
Unquestionably, there will be dismay, perhaps apoplexy, in the event of Cyrus topping the poll. Indeed, you suspect, the backlash will exceed that that which greeted Hitler's victory.
From another perspective however, Miley Cyrus, 'Person of the Year', makes absolute sense. Ours is an era in which celebrity, infamy and global influence feel like slightly different versions of the same thing.
Cyrus is an international figure, no less than a hodgepodge of semi-obscure nabobs from the Middle East. We can read into that what we will – but it's hardly TIME's fault that we find ourself in such a surreal position.