What Time’s 2023 Person of the Year reveals about the West

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Taylor Swift’s victory, and her mostly unimpressive competitors, is a PR disaster for the establishment

Each year, editors of the prestigious American news magazine, Time, choose a person, group, idea, or object which, for better or worse, made the most impact on the world. This year’s newly crowned winner is American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. The choice is totally valid, for reasons that speak volumes about the current state of the Western world. 

In a year marked by billions in Western taxpayer cash being shoveled out the door to Ukraine, Swift was the one person who made headlines for her singlehanded contributions to the US economy. At $93 million spent per show by fans, the Washington Post estimated that her Eras tour alone could add $5.7 billion to the US economy. That’s a lot of cash-to-tax potential for a country addicted to spending. It’s a wonder that last year’s winner, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, hasn’t yet asked for Swift to just hand the cash over to him directly – or at the very least demand that he be allowed to open for her on tour with his pantless, hands-free piano playing routine.  

US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell was shortlisted along with Swift, specifically for his attempts at a “soft landing” of the US economy amid inflation and spending, but that particular plane is still careening down the runway. So as far as efforts to pull the economy out of a tailspin, he’s apparently only really fit to be Swift’s co-pilot. Or Barbie’s. As in the doll. Because the Barbie movie managed to also rake in $1.4 billion worldwide for the US economy to help compensate for Washington’s screwups. Maybe the Pentagon can paint some of its bombs pink in honor of Barbie’s economic contributions before sending them off to Kiev. Or just have a giant inflatable Barbie ride them, in the style of Dr. Strangelove’s Slim Pickens. 

What’s most striking about this year’s shortlist and its ultimate winner is what it says about the weakening role of the traditional Western establishment.  

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Taylor Swift performs onstage during "Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour" at Estadio Olimpico Nilton Santos on November 17, 2023 in Rio de Janeiro Taylor Swift cancels concert after fan dies in extreme temperatures

Hollywood writers and actors made the list for their strike against movie studios, a move that barely made a dent for the viewing audience in this era of streaming services and globalization, where libraries of millions of films and shows, old and new, from all over the world in various languages already exist at people’s fingertips. There was a time when Hollywood represented the be-all and end-all of American soft power dominance. The collective audience shrug around the strike suggests that’s no longer the case. 

Prosecutors who laid 90 felony charges against former US President Donald Trump made the list of finalists. Arguably, they’re one of the very few things standing in the way of GOP frontrunner Trump’s reelection next November – other than Trump himself. But the fact that it takes a whole team of people to throw the book at a single anti-establishment loose cannon – and he’s still managing to trounce the Republican competition in the polls between court appearances – speaks volumes about the establishment’s weakness. The fact that Trump is currently neck-and-neck with incumbent President Joe Biden despite having a recent mugshot says even more. 

CEO of OpenAI, Sam Altman, made the list, amid the drama of him being fired and then rehired when employees rebelled en masse. I guess that’s supposed to make him some kind of anti-establishment hero. At the very least he’s not overtly pro-establishment. But he oversees technology which, incorporated into the ChatGPT app, has allowed C-level students to automatically generate D-level papers that they mistake for A+ grades. Not exactly a tool for the kind of critical thinking that the establishment fears. 

The one single Western establishment leader on the shortlist, King Charles III, made the cut just for existing, basically – and for the fact that his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, stopped doing so last year. “At a moment of change for the monarchy, he signified the power of tradition,” Time noted, referring to his “decades-long wait for the throne,” which sounds like a euphemism for an average Taylor Swift fan waiting in line for the washrooms at a concert.

Finally rounding out the list, there’s Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping – the only two heads of government on the list, and both spearheading a new multipolar world order. Apparently, Time had to go all the way over to the other side of the world to find leaders who could even raise eyebrows. 

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Ursula von der Leyen attends a press conference in Kiev, Ukraine, November 4, 2023 Forbes names ‘most powerful woman’ award winner

Putin being one step away from being named Person of the Year is the exact opposite of the anti-Russian cancel culture that Ukraine and its Western establishment enablers have been trying to propagate. Some might think that it doesn’t much matter because it’s only PR. But PR and narrative are all they care about. They treat PR victories in Western establishment media like they’re battlefield wins deep in enemy territory. And with things not going too great right now on the Ukraine counteroffensive front, PR and narrative is all they really have – and they’re increasingly hanging by a thread as reality emerges through the crumbling facade. 

We’re talking about people who invent awards to give to each other. As far as they’re concerned, a PR victory in a prestigious Western establishment publication for Putin is basically a war crime against Kiev. 

Putin and Xi weren’t the ultimate winners this time – although Putin did win in 2007 – but the fact that Putin made this list when last year it would have been unthinkably taboo suggests that the PR tide is turning. And the fact that the Western establishment is so glaringly unremarkable and feckless – as its near-absence from this year’s list proves – goes a long way to suggest why.

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