Time Magazine has a history of choosing volatile candidates to grace their covers as “Person of the Year,” and this year is no exception. The 2019 honoree is teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg. The response to the announcement was immediate.
Fans of Thunberg and of her message cheered the teen’s continued high profile. Meanwhile, those who dislike the girl or her message took the opportunity to criticize the move as empty politicking by a publication struggling to remain relevant. And what did the honoree herself have to say? Thunberg was humble, surprised, and quick to point out she is far from alone in this movement.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Thunberg said: “I could never have imagined anything like that happening. I’m very grateful, very honored… It should be everyone in the Fridays for Future movement because what we have done, we have done together.”
Meanwhile, Time was very specific as to why the publication chose to honor Greta, saying: “For sounding the alarm about humanity’s predatory relationship with the only home we have, for bringing to a fragmented world a voice that transcends backgrounds and borders, for showing us all that it might look like when a new generation leads, Greta Thunberg, is Time’s 2019 Person of the Year.”
Reading through that statement, it’s clear there are several levels of meaning being conveyed. It’s crafted to honor Thunberg, but it’s also crafted to tweak those who think Greta is a “pawn” or a “tool” of greater political or economic powers. Language choices such as “predatory relationship” and “transcends borders” are certain to trigger red flags in those for whom Greta is nothing more than a marketing ploy.
For Time, this means greater attention to their choice and on the brand. People who might never consider picking up a copy of the publication will be talking about it for weeks. And that debate has already begun in earnest… going all the way up to the leader of the free world. President Trump weighed in quickly, and, as expected, he was not complimentary of the choice.
That, in turn, led opponents of the President to scold and deride him for “mocking” a teenage girl. Which, of course, led to even more rounds of arguing over the topic.
In the end, pretty much everyone gets something out of this decision. Time gets eyes on the publication and people talking about the magazine. People who support Greta and her cause get to have another reason to cheer their champion, and people who don’t like Greta and her cause have another reason to feel like she’s being propped up more for what she is than what her message is. That means this announcement is really an opportunity for any partisan to take advantage of… if they are properly prepared.
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