TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2011 is The Protester, that problematic individual who has brought down governments across North Africa and set up protest camps in the heart of America’s cities, but who has also rioted in the streets of London and hacked the website’s of some of the world’s biggest corporations.
TIME’s definition of the protester is very safe and conservative. So there’s much talk of the protests of people in Tunisia and Libya, for example, but less talk about protesters who have represented a more dangerous trend in 2011. The likes of Anders Behring Breivik and Julian Assange could be seen as protesters too, in their own ways. Are they included in TIME’s celebration of the protester.
The term ‘protester’ has arguably been sullied in 2011 as governments seek to force protest groups to conform to rules about how they can stage their demonstrations. The idea of a ‘permit to protest’ might seem like ludicrous Orwellian double-speak, yet protest groups in many parts of the world have been allowed to operate only when they can be conveniently shunted into certain areas.
By naming The Protester as its Person of the Year for 2011, TIME comes dangerously close to legitimising disruptive forces within our society. But the magazine does not quite go through with such a move. For many, The Protestor is still the kind of person who toppled Muammar Gaddafi or who camps out in Zuccotti Park. The rest – the people who rioted in London and Birmingham, for example – are just hooligans looking for free stuff. Aren’t they?