A roller-coaster of a decade to be sure, but I think my late father, who survived the Depression, World War II, the riots and assassinations of the 1960s, plus the tumultuous societal transformations and economic near-collapse of the following decade would have laughed at Time magazine’s hyperbole regarding the naughts:
In 2002, after the relatively mild recession at the start of the decade had largely concluded, Virginia Postrel noted that old media journalists often have a skewed view of economic turbulence; their publications’ revenues are typically hard hit by the decline in advertising that occurs during any economic slowdown:
In today’s NYT, Dan Akst puts the current economic gloominess in perspective, reminding us that even in the current slump the economy looks more like an earlier era’s dream than the nightmare too often portrayed in media account. By historical standards, things are looking awfully good: “low interest rates, affordable energy, full employment without inflation and broad access to home ownership.” We’ve even learned to compete with the Japanese. Why the disconnect? One reason “may be the sharp advertising downturn that started in early 2001. The resulting media recession, including layoffs and other cutbacks, has produced a grimmer-than-usual attitude in the perennially gloomy fourth estate. The industry’s concentration in New York and Washington, both of which were struck by terrorists last year, has further darkened the industry’s outlook.” Dan is no outsider taking cheap shots at reporters. He’s a long-time journalist acknowledging a psychological truth: We all grant more salience to facts we experience directly. And journalists know lots and lots of people who’ve lost jobs in this recession.
If anyone should fear a Depression, it should be journalists, who are already the equivalent of 1980s steelworkers. But instead, they seem positively giddy with anticipation at the prospect of a return to ’30s-style hardship–without, of course, the real hardship of the 1930s. (We’re all yuppies now.) The Boston Globe‘s Drake Bennett asked a bunch of people, including me, what a 21st-century Depression might look like. The results sounded pretty damned good to some people–a sure sign of an affluent society, or at least affluent commentators.
Of course, as Steve Hayward noted in December of 2006, when Time named You! (Or was it Me!) as the Person of the Year, the magazine’s journalistic skills and confidence in its judgments had been eroding for quite some time:
Watching the long, slow decay of Henry Luce’s once-great Time magazine has been painful. The beginning of the end might be dated to the ridiculous 1967 cover story, “Is God Dead?,” which was followed up with a 1989 cover, “Is Government Dead?” that was essentially the same story, only Time didn’t know it (government being the secular liberal substitute for God). Now Time has lost its faith in its own editorial judgment entirely. The selection of “You” as their laureate for 2006 represents the apotheosis of the modernist view that impersonal forces and mass processes drive history more than individuals, combined with a politically correct fear of naming an odious person like Iran’s Ahmaninejad as it did the past with Hitler and Ayatollah Khomeini.
This has been a long time (so to speak) in coming. In 1999 Time explained that it did not name Winston Churchill its “Person of the Century” (he had been Time’s “Man of the Half-Century” in 1950) because “the passage of time can alter our perspective. . . . Churchill turned out to be a romantic refugee from a previous era who ended up on the wrong side of history.” Then, two years later, Time noted Rudy Giuliani’s affinity for Churchill when it selected him Person of the Year, noting “a bright magic at work when one great leader reaches into the past and finds another waiting to guide him,” which was practically an admission that it had shortchanged Churchill before.
If Time magazine had a shred of intellectual rigor left, they would now abolish their “Person of the Year” designation.
And if the now-totally politicized Time had any intellectual rigor left, they’d stop attempting to sum up a complex and multifaceted decade in one silly, sweeping cover headline.