OPINION - Clown, edgelord, showman: could Elon Musk be Time’s worst ever Person of the Year?

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 (Sarfraz Manzoor)
(Sarfraz Manzoor)

There are few things in these deeply divided times that we can all agree on but I would hope that we can concur that Elon Musk is a truly terrible choice to have been selected as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. The selection is made by the editors of the magazine based on who “for better or worse, has most influenced events in the preceding year”.

In reality that tends to mean politicians and political leaders — Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, Gandhi and numerous US Presidents have all been given the accolade. Regardless of your political affiliation one can understand the rationale behind their inclusion. Similarly for some of the non-politicians who have been named; who could dispute that Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos have hugely influenced our lives?

I am not convinced Musk belongs in the same category. Time has described him as a “clown, genius, edgelord, visionary, industrialist, showman”, which is at least one-sixth true. The magazine cited Musk’s role in creating Tesla, the most valuable car company in the world, and founding SpaceX. But my suspicion is that by giving him this honour, Time is merely rewarding Musk for being an obscenely wealthy attention seeker. There are numerous reasons why someone who is worth more than £200 billion but only pays 3.27 per cent in tax, who has been accused of spreading misinformation about the pandemic and whose companies have faced allegations of sexual harassment and poor working conditions, all denied, might not be the ideal candidate to lionise.

I have a larger problem with the whole notion of the Person of the Year which is that it plays into the narrative of the Great Man — and the people of the year have historically been overwhelmingly men. The implication is that these individuals have achieved their influence and success due to their singular talents alone and it overlooks all who might have shaped, influenced, enabled and supported them on their journey.

So if Musk is the wrong choice for 2021’s Person of the Year, who should it have gone to? Few would have argued with Professor Sarah Gilbert, who helped develop the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, or Dr Anthony Fauci. Sometimes the Person of the Year goes to a group; in 2017 it went to the silence breakers who launched the #MeToo movement and in 2014 it was given to the ebola fighters who fought to contain the outbreak. Giving the award in 2021 to the vaccine fighters would have been a safe choice.

But if it had to be a group I would argue it should have gone to the deniers — those who deny facts and prefer to believe what they read on random posts online, who deny the reality of the pandemic, who deny the benefits of having the vaccine, who deny that a gathering involving cheese and wine constitutes a party.

If that feels too dark then my choice for Person of the Year 2021 would be Dolly Parton. While Musk spouts guff about how we all need to have more children so we can eventually bring life to Mars, Parton has, through her Imagination Library, given more than 160 million books to children in need. Musk spends his fortune pointlessly hurtling himself into space while Parton spent her money funding research that led to the Moderna vaccine. Parton deserved to be Person of the Year because while Musk dreams ridiculous dreams about future human settlements on other planets, Parton has been busy spreading joy and trying to improve life here on Earth.

What do you think of Elon Musk as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year? Let us know in the comments below.

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