Time’s Person of the Year, 2007: Ms. Rowling, in a Landslide?

This is a delight. Time Magazine, as a run-up to its annual selection of the Person of the Year, has posted a reader ballot on its website. Here’s how they explain the voting:

Now it’s your turn to tell us who is really the most important person of 2007. Should it be a Nobel Prize winning former Vice President or quite possibly the future first woman President? Is the rabble-rousing President of Iran a more deserving choice, or what about the man behind the iPhone? Vote for your choice, though the editors reserve the right to disagree. Their selection will be announced in the December 31st issue of TIME, on sale Dec. 21.

You’ll note they don’t mention “best selling novelist of our time, whose series finale held the imagination of the world captive for much of 2007 and a movie made from a previous book broke box office records.” They didn’t include Ms. Rowling in the lead paragraph, but they won’t be able to ignore her in the results. The voting as of 14 November put Ms. Rowling well out in front of the politicos and entrepreneur Time thought would head the list:

1. J. K. Rowling votes: 33,586 average ranking: 8
2. Al Gore 20,731 – 8
3. Barack Obama 15,317 – 6
4. Steve Jobs 14,444 – 6
5. Condeleeza Rice 14,402 – 6
6. General David Petraeus 13,458 – 6
7. Hillary Clinton 13,057 – 5
8. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 10,861 – 5
9. Hu Jintao 11,248 – 4
10. Vladimir Putin 10,991 – 4

You’ll note this is not supposed to be a “vote for your favorite candidate” sort of poll but a “rank the relative importance of these public figures” by assigning a number 1 to 10 for each. What seems to have happened is that the site was posted on major Harry Potter fan pages and the Fandom OmniBus voted en masse for Ms. Rowling with a “10” and didn’t bother to give anyone else a ranking. As the leaders of Iran, China, and the Russian Federation don’t have a fan base or political partisans pulling for them in the US, their low ranking seems understandable (if previous choices by Time suggest they must be considered favorites).

As the voting hasn’t even been set up to prevent people from voting again and again and again, leadership in this straw poll reflects nothing but the monster internet presence of Harry Potter Fandom and frenetic Al Gore supporters. HogPro is a subset of Harry Potter Fandom online, of course, so I suppose this sort of thing shouldn’t make me shudder.

But, if these results don’t suggest a real mandate for Ms. Rowling’s selection, as logically, they don’t mean that she shouldn’t be selected. On the contrary, I think she is in fact the Person of the Year, 2007, and Time Magazine should select her for this distinction.

“Huh? Ms. Rowling is more important than the Dobby look-alike leading the Russian Federation? He has oil and nuclear weapons, right?”

I heard that. Sure, these leaders may be more powerful than Ms. Rowling, but none of them are as influential and as great a force for the good.

Philip Nel of Kansas State University was asked at the Prophecy 2007 Friday luncheon about whether children’s books like Harry Potter deserve the attention they are getting in the Public Square and in the Academy. As a professor of Children’s Literature and a leading light in this field, I suppose his “yes” answer was a given, but his reasoning was cogent. Prof. Nel said that the reading done by a person whose identity was still in formation was more influential on the scope of that person’s vision and the range of that person’s views than any reading that they would do in their lives. If any literature is worthy of study, he concluded, it must be those works that most children read. Prof. Nel is the author of the only critical biography of Theodor Geisel (and I urge you to read American Icon, if you haven’t already), so I’d summarize his point by saying we need to know more about Geisel than almost any other author because Dr. Seuss shapes more hearts and minds than even Tolstoy or Shakespeare. And Harry Potter more than anything being written.

Writers have “reach” and “pull” on our interior lives and the future that politicians never will. And Harry’s reach dwarfs all other literary creations.’

Ms. Rowling, consequently, as the most influential writer of postmodernity, should seriously be considered for Time‘s Person of the Year, 2007, because her influence was most evident this past year. The publication of her book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was the publishing event of the decade and new millennium, and, with the release of Order of the Phoenix in theatres almost simultaneously, her work was making its strong impression on young souls and, perhaps less deeply, on all its adult readers for the better part of 2007. As I’ve argued at some length this week, this makes Ms. Rowling an architect of the future we will be living in very soon. The Millenial Generation can aptly be called the Harry Potter Generation, which nomenclature reflects her astounding achievement and artistic accomplishment and incalculable influence.

So go ahead and vote for her. Two or three times, if you like.


  1. Warner Brothers own Time Magazine. They have their own agenda and therefore their own reasons for naming JK Person of the Year. Of course Gore’s global warming and Putin’s bombs may in the end be the real architects of the future. CHIRON

  2. Even given the Warner Brothers connection, maybe especially because of the Warner Brothers connection, I think I could get very good odds if I said I was willing to bet real money that Ms. Rowling is named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. Last year, they went off the tracks to select “you” and were dismissed as ridiculous for it. Look for a pick that is about the 2008 Presidential election or the perceived threat to American interests abroad (leader of China, Iran, Russian Federation, etc.).

    Which is not to say that Ms. Rowling is not the person most deserving, only that it’s a losing bet.

  3. Absolutely! But how scary is that? What ancient historian said “You know a civilization is at an end when entertainers and athletes make more money than the working man.” Have we lost touch with the world? How will we survive war, recession and global warming if we hide behind the covers of a book? Worse yet, if JK is the architect of the future and the house of Slytherin was unredeemable, that what unity can we hope for in the world?

  4. I will take a bet, if I haven’t the cash to back it up, that Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy, and Tacitus didn’t say that (if only because “working man” wouldn’t mean anything but “slave” or “tradesman” to them, and of course athletes and entertainers had more honor than these others — and who said anything about paying money?).

    Thucydides did talk about words changing their meaning being a sign of the corruption of conventions in a time of sedition and partisan politics (see below, from his History of the Peloponnesan Wars, III, 81. trans. Hobbes). But I don’t know if you’re joking or serious with this post that sounds like a histrionic Christian version of Cicero’s “O, Tempora! O, Mores!”

    Here’s the Thucydides for anyone thinking of how things change and people with them when countries are governed by partisan groups and a winner-take-all political polarity. Think of how the word “wicked” now means “really good” in the vernacular of millenials:

    And many and heinous things happened in the cities through this sedition, which though they have been before, and shall be ever as long as human nature is the same, yet2 they are more calm, and of different kinds, according to the several conjunctures. For in peace and prosperity, as well cities as private men are better minded, because they be not plunged into necessity of doing any thing against their will. But war, taking away the affluence of daily necessaries, is a most violent master, and conformeth most men’s passions to the present occasion. The cities therefore being3 now in sedition, and those that fell into it later having heard what had been done in the former, they far exceeded the same in newness of conceit, both for the art of assailing and for the strangeness of their revenges. The received value of names imposed for signification of things, was changed into arbitrary4 . For inconsiderate boldness, was counted true–hearted5 manliness: provident deliberation, a handsome fear: modesty, the cloak of cowardice: to be wise in every thing, to be lazy in every thing. A furious suddenness was reputed a point of valour. To re–advise for the better security, was held for a fair pretext of tergiversation. He that was1 fierce, was always trusty; and he that contraried such a one, was suspected. He that did insidiate, if it took, was a wise man; but he that could smell out a trap laid, a more dangerous2 man than he. But he that had been so provident as not to need to do the one or the other, was said to be a dissolver of society3 , and one that stood in fear of his adversary. In brief, he that could outstrip another in the doing of an evil act, or that could persuade another thereto that never meant it, was commended. To be kin to another, was not to be so near as to be of his society: because these were ready to undertake any thing, and not to dispute it. For these societies were not made upon prescribed laws of profit, but for rapine4 , contrary to the laws established. And as for mutual trust amongst them, it was confirmed not so much by divine law, as by the communication of guilt. And what was well advised of their adversaries, they received with an eye to their actions, to see whether they were too strong for them or not, and not ingenuously5 . To be revenged was in more request than never to have received injury. And for oaths (when any were) of reconcilement, being administered in the present for necessity, were of force to such as had otherwise no power; but upon opportunity, he that first durst6 thought his revenge sweeter by the trust, than if he had taken the open way. For they did not only put to account the safeness of that course, but having circumvented their adversary by fraud, assumed to themselves withal a mastery in point of wit. And dishonest men for the most part are sooner called able, than simple men honest1 : and men are ashamed of this title, but take a pride in the other.

    The cause of all this is2desire of rule, out of avarice and ambition; and the zeal of contention from those two proceeding. For such as were of authority in the cities, both of the one and the other faction, preferring under decent titles, one the political equality of the multitude, the other the moderate aristocracy; though in words they seemed to be servants of the public, they made it in effect but the prize of their contention: and striving by whatsoever means to overcome, both ventured on most horrible outrages, and3 prosecuted their revenges still farther, without any regard of justice or the public good, but limiting them, each faction, by their own appetite: and stood ready, whether by unjust sentence, or with their own hands, when they should get power, to satisfy their present spite. So that neither side made account to have any thing the sooner done for religion [of an oath], but he was most commended, that could pass a business against the hair with a fair oration4 . The neutrals of the city were destroyed by both factions; partly because they would not side with them, and partly for envy that they should so escape.


  5. I don’t have Thucydides to come to my assistance, but I’d venture to guess that entertainers and athletes have ALWAYS been paid more than the “working man” who, in the ancient world, whether slave or free would have probably been working in subsistence agriculture. Entertainment and athletic spectacle are luxury goods, and the elite of society can pretty much always manage to pay for their luxuries.

    I may think it’s silly how much entertainers and athletes are paid (except for the entertainers I personally enjoy, of course– I wish them well of their incomes), but the difference in a mass-media world is that people who aren’t amazingly wealthy are the ones who subsidize those ridiculous income figures. It’s just that a much higher percentage of people today (at least in the “first world” and “second”) have some disposable income than ancient people had. And maybe we should be using that extra money to buy Aquinas or Luther or Calvin or Shakespeare or Thucidydes, but I can think of worse things to spend it on than Harry Potter, too.

  6. Arabella Figg says

    Oh, let Time just make it a triumverate of Paris, Lindsey and Brit. After all, they’ve used up more news space than anyone and kept a nation breathless. I mean, really, without them we’d actually have to pay attention to real people. That’s so not hot.

    It’s all Greek to kitties…

  7. colorless.blue.ideas says

    My oh my, what a varied crew. By my own tally of “important” in the long run, I think that only three of the ten deserve to be listed at all. In alphabetical order:

    Hu Jintao
    David Petraeus
    J.K. Rowling

    Although he’s not listed, I would include George W. Bush as someone whose important influence is way up there, and really should lead the list. That’s pretty obvious. Ms. Rowling is probably the best choice for reasons already discussed. GEN Petraeus deserves to be ranked highly for modernizing classic counterinsurgency strategy and putting it into place in Iraq. If fully successful—and things are looking good—Iraq is poised to become a model for other Arab nations (and a danger to their dictators). Ambitious and daring. Mr. Hu has let communist China to become more powerful militarily and economically, and has devloped some significant “soft weapons” to use against the West, especially the U.S.


    Vladimir Putin
    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

    Both are scary, but methinks Mr. Putin’s influence within Russia is on a more solid base and longer lasting. Mr. Ahmadinejad serves basically at the tolerance of the Supreme Leader and the Council of Guardians. Putin (and Hu) technically may answer to others, but they are pretty much boss in their own right.

    The others just aren’t that important.

    Sen. Clinton just hasn’t done much. Should she be nominated and elected, then she’ll have her chance at the title.
    Mr. Obama has done even less than Sen. Clinton, but, again, if nominated and elected president, then he’ll have his chance.
    Mr. Jobs. A neat business idea, but evolutionary and arguably derivative. Nothing to see here; move along.
    Mr. Gore. Kind of an embarrassment to even see him on the list. A second-rate politician who is good at marketing and doomsday scares, but not much of substance. Does anyone really think that he’s more than a blowhard?
    Dr. Rice. Just not very important in her own right. The Times talked a bit about the Mid-east talks, but her current tack follows the ‘Realist’ school, which has never been very successful. Conditions aren’t ripe for a difference, and she’s unlikely to make one. (BTW, it’s spelled “Condoleezza”; I had to look it up, too. 🙂 ) So . . . I can’t see her as someone who’ll make much difference.

    I’m trying to think of others. Some who come to mind:

    Nicolas Sarkozy. Major changes in one of the more important nations on the planet. How he handles the economic problem and the upcoming strikes (which broke his predecessor) will really make or break him. If he succeeds, Europe again may rise in importance. If not, well, it will be nice as it fades away. Defer to next year.
    Jospeh Ratzinger (Pope Benedict 16). I’m not Roman Catholic, but he has held the lead in the intellectual considerations of the West vs. its opponents, including (or especially) militant (jihadist) Islam. A bit of a sleeper candidate, but worth mentioning.
    Usama bin-Laden. Really more of a figurehead and an icon nowadays, but as such remains quite influential as an inspiration for the spread of radical (jihadist) Islam. Arguably the most significant threat to Western (i.e., classically liberal) ideas.
    Ayman Zawahri. The “brains” behind al-Qaeda, so arguably more influential than Mr. bin-Laden.
    Norman Borlaug. The “father of the Green Revolution”. Arguably no one has had a greater influence on the planet than this gent.

    No doubt there are others, but these leap to mind immediately. As others chime in, I’ll probably slap my forehead with a hearty, “why didn’t I think of that!” 🙂

  8. I don’t know if JKR should be person of the year per se, but I wish voting against a nominee were possible– Putin is awful.


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