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December 26, 2005

Persons of the Year: The Dark Side


The image TIME used to lead its "Persons of the Year" story has a lot going on.

Let’s start with that globe.  Unless there is some geophysical format I don’t know about, the vocabulary of this map is disturbing.  Africa, Europe and the Middle East are shown in black with a yellow border that only distinguishing overall land mass.  TIME had a clear opportunity to contradict the ignorant tendency to consider Africa in monolithic terms.  Instead, the image serves to reinforce a singular, homogeneous stereotype.

The "black Middle East" and "black Europe" also offer some weird associations.  One reference it pulls for involves migration or immigration.  One inference is that the dark masses, having filled up Africa, are filling up Europe as well.  This is a disturbing signifier in light of racial fear engendered in Europe as a result of the recent rioting in France, as well as bombings in London and Spain.  The fact that the Middle East, Africa and Europe are all the same dark color discourages one from distinguishing between shades/races/ethnicities of people, or where they come from.

The scale of the world is also curious.

If the globe was a normal size, it would be relatively innocuous.
The fact that it’s unusually large, however, makes its size an issue in
relation to the scale of the human figures.  As just one possible
reading, perhaps these larger than life personalities are supposed to
have Africa’s relatively large problems under control?

It seems a good thing to name a collective as "Persons of the Year."  But what about the gender factor?

Time Cover Persons Of The Y

In the shot above, why is the woman set back — and almost
obscured by the problem/globe?  Is Melinda back there because she lacks
star power?  If anything, the placement suggests that a woman is not
equal to a man if her prominence is somehow a factor of her mate’s
wealth and/or his last name.  Throw Bono in there with Microsoft’s rock
star, and Melinda’s weighting becomes tenuous.  In the top shot, she
could be the brains behind the Gates foundation; however, she could
also be Bill’s subordinate.  The cover raises similar questions.
Melinda is last in line, shortest in stature, and literally fighting
the shadows.

Finally, in spite of the tremendous amount of money Bill Gates
has given to charity, I wonder how much value he recoups from the
investment — not to mention, the publicity and recognition like this.

According to Wikipedia, Gates had committed about a third of
his lifetime income (about $29 billion) to charity. (Gates has a net
worth of approximately $51 billion.)  At the same time, his huge
philanthropic investment in Africa allows him to advocate for
international treaties upholding strict intellectual property rights.
Although the issue, in relation to Africa, primarily concerns respect
for drug patents, it also has application to the Gates foundation stock holdings in pharmaceutical companies, the sale of Microsoft technology in Africa, and the protection of Microsoft’s intellectual property in the global marketplace.

(What also bothers me about this shot is how it reinforces the idea
that investment in human welfare has somehow officially become an
extra-governmental responsibility.)

That is just what strikes me initially.  I’m sure there is a lot more to mine here.

(image 1 & 2: Gregory Heisler/Time.  ”TIME "Persons of the
Year" 2005 Special double issue. December 26, 2005/January 2, 2006 Vol.
166 No. 26. Cover and article lead)

  • tuffy

    >>Let’s start with that globe. Unless there is some geophysical format I don’t know about, the vocabulary of this map is disturbing
    It’s a military training globe from WWII. I don’t know specifically how they were used, but there was no information on them other than land masses and longitudinal markings around the equator.
    It was probably chosen as a prop because it’s huge, photogenically abstract, and starkly art deco. As a prop, I think it has a Dr. Strangelovian quality about it.

  • Bluegrass Poet

    Maybe Melinda is stark naked back there. For all you can see of her, in either photograph, she could be. Adds a bit of fun to a terribly earnest set of pictures anyway.
    Meanwhile Bill looks like a harmless nerd and Bono muy macho and a bit devilish. The latter may be true but the former very probably is not.

  • John Gillnitz

    The oddest thing about the cover is that Bono is in the middle. Why put a rock star in between a married couple? Bono looks like a third wheel even though he has the most photogenic charisma. Also, why do Bono and Melinda look pissed? Are they out to help the world WITH A VENGEANCE? I guess the whole idea is to encourage the viewer to feel motivated to take up causes personally, but the image is unnecessarily dark.

  • fotonique
  • zendoman

    Here’s Bono again with his trademark shades, and in these photos he is wearing distinctly “rose colored” ones. What do we make of that?

  • Redshift

    I think it makes them look like the villains from an upcoming Austin Powers sequel, but maybe that’s just because Melinda bears a vague resemblance to Martha Stewart.

  • Victor F

    i wonder why Bill is the only one smiling? Kind of a sheepish smile at that.
    I kind of think the photographer might have been intimidated by his subjects. Perhaps the amount of influence these people wield played a role in his composition, but in a way that made the photos a little too intimidating themselves. The key light comes from above and slightly behind the subjects, casting shadows over a large portion of their faces. Dark gray backdrop, drab globe, stoic faces, Bono leaning towards the camera. Philanthropy can be serious, but is it so serious we have to be kinda scared of it?
    Some phrases that come to mind: ruling the world; watching over the world; changing the world, etc. Of course, they’re Time’s Persons of the Year, a global influence is a criterion for the selection I’m sure. That’s where the photographer was going, but how these photos say “humanitarian,” I’m not too sure. Another word that comes to mind, esp. after tuffy’s post, is “strategic.”
    I’ve also always had a strange reaction to the M in TIME peeking out from behind peoples’ heads on their cover photos. When that happens it always draws an association to the demonic, for me anyway.

  • The Sinomaniac

    Given that the globe is in the (perhaps) final throws of a stupendous age of financial capitalism, it is hardly surprising that they chose three super-rich people who’ve made themselves into media heroes by sheltering their money into “philanthropic” missions. The pictures themselves are bland and boring just like their subjects. The truth behind them — all the mammon they managed to keep out of the hands of government tax collectors — can’t be spoken. Hence their tightly clamped smug mouths.

  • jt from BC

    After extensive research on Bill I am more cynical and suspicious than ever of his altruistic motives. My earlier comments about Bono ( conversation with Bush in the white House on BagnetNews) has not changed either.

  • Mad_nVT

    These do-gooders sure are grimly earnest. Hard work saving the world- too bad the western nations have shirked their duties and we have to rely on the good will of rich people wanting to make a good “show”.
    Seems to me that Bono does his world-saving for the right reasons.
    But Gates? Thanks BagMan for the heads-up on the benefits that Gates receives by being such a “philanthropist”. Does Bill Gates qualify as a Robber Baron? If not, what is the appropriate term?
    And finally, how often do the TIME Males of the Year appear on the cover without a tie? Are Bono and Gates starting a trend?

  • jt from BC

    Plutocrat has similar connotations in some economical and political circles to Robber Barron. Bill Gates qualifies in both categories.

  • SEAS

    I think it’s intended to flatter Melinda that she’s separated on the cover from hubby (so she’s not BillandMelindaGates) and is recognized as her own person. In the article’s lead photo, she’s ID’d as “Melinda & Bill Gates”, taking top billing over Bill. Does anyone actually think that TIME would care what she thought if she had not married well, though?
    Bono seems to understand what’s going on here better than the Gates: it’s an entertainment opportunity. He’s leaning into the frame in both images (implying aggressive engagement into whatever holds his attention), he projects a kind of scrappy look – goodness knows a rebel like him could never be bought off by the powers that be. He sees this as a chance to market his image.

  • mamayaga

    Melinda’s marginalization seems somehow apt to me, since her major claim to fame is having married Bill. I guess the story is that he wouldn’t have thought to give any of the lucre away if she hadn’t prodded him. Considering the dividends to him in power and prestige from high profile charity, however, the suggestion should have been a no-brainer. What was he going to do with that mountain of money anyway? Only so many Rolexes you can wear…

  • fotonique

    The BAG said:

    …the sale of Microsoft technology in Africa

    I heard there’s a new sequel to an old Hollywood classic coming out, but with a few casting changes:
    King Solomon’s Gold Mine

  • R. Dickson

    Bono gives from the heart; With Gates it’s a tip. Putting Gates in a photo with Bono is TIMES way of hoping Bono’s alturism will rub off on a turd.

  • ummabdulla

    I just happened to be reading these just before I came here, although these articles don’t specifically mention Bono or the Gates(es?):
    Celebrities ‘hijacked’ poverty campaign, say furious charities
    ‘Bracelets and pop concerts can’t solve our problems’

  • ummabdulla

    In the photo of the World Economic Forum, which fotonique linked to, the South African and Nigerian leaders seem to be props; they look like they don’t quite know how to react to the show that they’re a part of.
    (Nice one of King Solomon’s Mines, too.)

  • Cactus

    First thought: Why is she hiding behind the globe?
    Second thought: The bespoke earth.
    I don’t know why Melinda is there at all. She seems to be hiding behind something in both shots, as if she were an afterthought to the men and/or by the photographer. Not only shadowed, but hair falling over eye to hide part of her face. She looks uncomfortable being there, as if she knows she is an afterthought. Both photos would frame better with just the two men. And in news reports of Gates’ charitable donations, I don’t remember any mention of her at the time. Or maybe she showed up in a pastel color and didn’t fit the scheme of the photo.
    Which everything/one else does. The guys are in black (or very dark colors) and the backdrop is black, the globe is dark blue and black. They are all very somber persons this year. On the cover, however, the top background is bright blue, to show off the TIME logo head better. Can’t say they don’t know what they are doing to sell their product.
    As for Bono’s glasses…..a bit over the top for a multi-million dollar benefactor to the problems of the world. It’s almost like he’s winking at us…..he doesn’t really take all this promo that seriously. Or maybe he doesn’t want us to forget that he’s really a rock star and not a boring philanthropist/businessman like Gates.

  • readytoblowagasket

    TIME’s “Persons of the Year” cover is creepy and highly irritating. (BTW, do the editors think we might mistake their fabulous year-end issue for sister publication People magazine if they had called it “People of the Year” instead?) I see no *editorial* validity to choosing Bono (and Melinda) and Bill Gates other than showing faces that will sell as many newsstand copies as possible. That is why Melinda is marginalized — she’s not easily recognizable and therefore has no selling power. Everything is gray so that nothing will distract us from Bono’s and Bill’s big, bright mugs. I think we are giving TIME entirely too much credit.

  • Asta

    Menage a trois?

  • Chiaroscuro

    I do think the globe was chosen for its abstract quality and to make this point: Africa is rotated into view as the continent that is being overtaken by darkness (in the form of AIDS, civic unrest, grinding poverty, etc.) has enveloped the continent. I don’t think it’s a hidden racial comment, although the photographer and/or stylist seems to have forgotten the old stereotypes that are conjured up of “the Dark Continent.” The other land masses, i.e., Europe and Middle East, are blacked out–I believe–because it makes it a consistent image.
    Of course, it’s a totally simplistic conceit. The ravages of AIDS exist mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is hardly a monolithic land mass politically or culturally. So as a prop, that globe is a bust unless they wanted to remind everybody of Bill Gates’ miserable technological hegemony.
    The heirarchies of size and positioning in both photos is interesting. There’s no question that Gates is the most powerful person in the group. So why is Bono front and center, respectively? Because he’s the popular rock star who might sell magazines? He’s certainly more physically attractive. Perhaps Gates is compositionally subsidiary because he likes to assume a certain modesty in his practice of noblesse oblige.
    That would also explain the presence of Melinda Gates. I obviously have no idea of her power or influence within the Gates’ household, but Bill’s the guy who’s got the money. So while it is called the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he’s the one doing the bankrolling. Perhaps she chooses the charities. Who knows? The photographer, at any rate, understands the relative importance of the two.

  • Jeff

    If Bill is so concerned about the world, why does he help communist countries like China block internet traffic and spy on the populace?
    And, why the copies of windows sold in China were changed to help facilitate this.
    Just like the big lie that Satellite Transmissions would bring democracy around the world since the message could not be blocked.
    Subverting Democracy is big business to these people.
    Microsoft news division MSNBC has become nothing more than a cheerleader for the right has, and continues to spread misinformation and downright lies to the American people. Why is Bill helping to divide our country and playing stenographer to the biggest bunch of pro war psychopathic hate mongering bigots of our time?

  • acm

    (What also bothers me about this shot is how it reinforces the idea that investment in human welfare has somehow officially become an extra-governmental responsibility.)
    well, tragically, things like developing disease cures have been gradually shifting from government interest to corporate/pharmaceutical motivation for a while, with more research funded by private means and with goals set by where the sales are likely to be highest. that’s part of what makes the Gates investments really striking (and possibly transformative), because they’re investing in a place where the government(s) have little or no resources, that’s outside the (meaningful) concern of our own government, and where the citizens suffering most are extremely unlikely to be able to buy any pharmaceutical product. thus malaria research was almost nonexistant before they got involved, and now it’s a busy area of progress with some top minds jumping in. it could make a difference like few other interventions since vaccines first came into use…
    Melinda’s marginalization seems somehow apt to me, since her major claim to fame is having married Bill. I guess the story is that he wouldn’t have thought to give any of the lucre away if she hadn’t prodded him.
    actually, she’s the business head, who essentially runs the foundation. so she’s not only a key motivater but a key enabler/director of the entire thing. (grants are largely awarded by peer-review-style boards of experts, so they don’t micromanage at that level, but just choose areas of concentration.)
    Bono gives from the heart; With Gates it’s a tip.
    you may dislike Microsoft or corporate heads generally, but ad hominems help nobody. The New Yorker had a great in-depth article about the Gates’ efforts, and while their investments in research and other interventions may or may not pay off as hoped, they are certainly motivated by a very real concern for (and kind of personal visceral shock about) critical problems that are falling through the cracks…
    it seems reasonable to comment on what the photographs evoke, but if you honestly don’t know the story — in essence, why Time felt that all three were equal recipients of this honor — then perhaps you shouldn’t bring strong (but baseless) opinions to bear on your analysis.
    as an afterthought, I gotta say I love the contrast of geeky button-down Gates and over-the-top (and over the hill?) rocker Bono in leather jacket and constant self-conscious pose. what’s with that, Bono, worried about coolness even in this context? tee hee.

  • nocasa

    I was trying to figure out why the photos bothered me. They remind me of maybe promo shots for the mod squad. Other than being completely staged in their hard boiled savior fantasy image, there was another thing that bothered me. Your observation that this endorsed the extra-governmental aspect – that we cannot look to governments to solve the problems of the poor countries of Africa and the rest world.
    One more aspect of the photos makes me think of the trinity. God father is Gates (i.e. MONEY). God the son is Bono – bringing the WORD to the poor and suffering of the world (and the pharisees among us) and then their is the Holy Ghost – A WOMAN – what better stereotype. More than any other personage in the trinity the Holy Ghost is the conscience of the the trinity.

  • Fleur de Merde

    Or maybe they picked the globe because it was the only globe they could find that matched Bono’s wardrobe?
    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  • readytoblowagasket

    Re “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
    I think we’ve all seen enough cartoons to know that sometimes a cigar is an exploding cigar.

  • fotonique

    …which is just one more reason why smoking is hazardous to one’s health.

  • Steve Talbert

    I just thought, how creepy. The colors seem depressed and dated, like wardrobe and backdrop from an old Calvin Klein runway show about 10 years ago. They don’t look like they are all in the same room, as their lighting seems weird as if they were photoshopped together because they couldn’t in real life. It looks that way to me in the cover as well as the one with the globe.You would think the magazine would want to communicate something positive, uplifting and like rolemodels instead of a subconscious weight of the world on the edge of disaster message – however probably unintended.
    But all I really see in the pics is how old Bill Gates looks. What has been happening to his skin?

  • Ryan

    If Bono got rid of the sunglasses, shaved, and cut the hair, he would look like Robin Williams.

  • Zekiye Selvili

    You guys are way too funny. Especially these 2 comments made me giggle:
    1) …why do Bono and Melinda look pissed? Are they out to help the world WITH A VENGEANCE?
    2) If Bono got rid of the sunglasses, shaved, and cut the hair, he would look like Robin Williams.

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