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YouTuber? I don’t even know her!

Joey Falco | Monday, January 22, 2007

Apparently nothing becomes a certified big deal in this country until Time magazine names it Person of the Year. Just look at 1994 winner Pope John Paul II – had anyone even heard of this so-called pontiff until his mug graced the front of America’s most popular news weekly? And what about 1975 winner American women – talk about going from zero to hero thanks to a single magazine cover!

Well, this phenomenon has happened once again with Time’s recent announcement that the 2006 Person of the Year is a blurry mirror hastily slapped onto the magazine’s front cover with a glue stick. (Apparently the average American was supposed to infer that this meant that they were personally chosen to be Person of the Year, but this slipped right past me.) In any case, you, me, and I suppose even that strange person covered in aluminum foil who lurks around the bar at Finnegan’s have all been named Person of the Year for “changing the nature of the information age” through such tools as YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and blogs.

At first glance, this certainly seems to be a justifiable selection on the part of Time magazine. After all, in 2006 alone, a YouTube video was responsible for ending the political career of Virginia Senator George “Macaca – I’m Taking It Back” Allen, and blogs were the first news sources to publish the illicit emails of Florida Representative Mark “Hot For Little Boys” Foley. This election season also marked the culmination of the ability of political blogs like The Daily Kos to rally support behind certain candidates and ideas that may have otherwise become political footnotes … like that George Allen guy.

On second glance, though, one has to wonder exactly what Time magazine was thinking. After all, previous Persons of the Year have included Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., two Popes, Gandhi, Queen Elizabeth II, Hitler, Stalin, the computer, and every U.S. president since 1932 who did not play football at the University of Michigan.

Despite that impressive pedigree, this year’s Person of the Year includes the kid who taped himself frantically swinging a light saber in his garage and the hot Asian girl who sings and dances in a bikini for her 1.5 million MySpace friends (dubbed “the Madonna of MySpace” by Time). The most popular video in the history of YouTube is titled “The Evolution of Dance,” and features a comedian dancing his way through the songs of Elvis Presley, Chubby Checker, the Bangles, Los Del Rio and Outkast, to name a few. While certainly clever, is a guy doing the Chicken Dance truly worthy of the same award given to the guy who helped end apartheid?

Damn right, he is.

Without even delving into the truly positive social aspects of this so-called “Web 2.0” revolution, such as the Trent Lott and Dan Rather downfalls of a few years back, the increase in civic duty and rise of democratic citizen journalism, and the new communitarian spirit of the Web world, I feel that Time magazine should be commended for finally giving recognition to the true genius – and idiocy – of the American people.

What other nation could design a community where true friendship requires a formal technological request and can be ended with a mere click of the pointer finger? What other society would take the time to watch a video of two high school girls lip-syncing a Pixies song more than 12 million times? And what other people in the history of the world possess enough self importance to believe that others care at all about the daily happenings of their often pathetic personal lives?

Of course, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. According to Time’s overly optimistic managing editor Richard Stengel, “Thomas Paine was in effect the first blogger, and Ben Franklin was essentially loading his persona into the MySpace of the 18th century, Poor Richard’s Almanac.” What Stengel forgets, though, is that every day, nearly 20,000 new blogs are created, more than 200,000 people join the MySpace community, and more than 100 million videos are served on YouTube.

If this had been the case in the colonial era, Paine’s “Common Sense” would have been lost amidst an online sea of other titles, ranging from “The Boston Wet Tea Shirt Party” to “The Battle of Kinky Sexington and Concord.” And poor Franklin. In today’s world, his harnessing of electricity would have been ridiculed by a headline in The Onion that read, “Man Catches Lightning with a Kite; Steps up Efforts to Catch Thunder in a Jar.”

But that is precisely why 2006 was the year of You (and me, and the aluminum foil person from Finnegan’s). 2006 will go down in history as the year America found its sense of humor – and was rewarded for it. We laugh at each other’s personal interests and photos on Facebook, we laugh at each other’s bizarre talents on YouTube, and we laugh at the pathetic foibles of inept politicians who can’t keep their bigotry under wraps on citizen journalism sites and blogs. Hell, we even laugh directly at ourselves when a fake Kazakhstani journalist exposes us for the utter idiots that we are in a popular film.

Congratulations, People of the Year. Now go get hammered and post a YouTube video of yourself doing something stupid so that we can start defending our title in 2007.

Joey Falco is a senior American Studies major and Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy minor. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.