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Daniel Alexandre Portoraro

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Time's "Person of the Year" Devalues Real Heroes

Posted: 12/15/11 10:31 AM ET

So maybe after work you go to another one of those coffeeshops, but the smaller, more free-trade type than the one you work in. The coffee is somehow more organic here and the cups bigger. Joining the row of people who look just like you, you'll pop open the Macbook Pro your mother bought you for Christmas last year. You wanted the Air, but eh, what do parents know?

As the iconic Apple logo glows its Saint Steve Jobs White, you begin to type out those weighted, heartfelt words you hope will appear in the New Yorker someday. Suddenly your iPhone with Everything Data from Sprint ($69.99/month, thanks, Dad) goes off and it's Jimmy calling to ask if you heard that Time Magazine called you, yes, you, Person of the Year.

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Of course, the woman on the cover is wearing a hijab because she's being burned at the stake for sorcery somewhere in the Middle East, but the vagueness of the term means you are just like her. You, the Brooklynite syncing his iPhone so he has Bambara Mystic Soul: the Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974 - 1979 (Pitchfork gave it a radiant 8.5 out of 10) to listen to so he can talk about it at his art collective's monthly gathering.

What happens with covers such as the one that's appeared on Time is the exact same thing which happens with college graduates, especially those involved in the fine arts: a devaluation of terms. How many times have you come across someone at a party, raggedly leaning against the wall, talking about the novel he's writing, while holding a Pabst Blue Ribbon in one hand, and a Newport cigarette in the other just so?

How many times have you heard a person like that make the statement, "I'm a writer," or "I'm a photographer," or "I'm a filmmaker"--and when you press him for his body of work, it typically takes on the form of a Tumblr or Livejournal. How many of these people you've met have actually been published, and by this, I mean, yes, in a reputable publication, not a handmade zine that sells in Williamsburg at the prestigious price of "pay what you can?"

We've all met these types of people, those whose biggest fans are their small circle of friends. Yet, they still call themselves artists, though not one certified reviewer or critic knows they exist. They appropriate a title before they've gone through the requisite work. This is the benefit of wanting to work in a field which is so supposedly rooted in subjectivity. When one confronts these types of people with the "insult" they are not artists, they often hide behind the bouclier of the question, "well then, what is art?". Yet, whatever the answer is, the fact remains these people cannot be considered artists, or at the most, artists lite.

I vividly remember a conversation I had with one such person. Like so many conversations with the liberally-artfully-minded it was held in a decrepit Chinese restaurant that serves you that tea that goes cold before you get your main course. Between bites of the White Man Special: Shanghai noodles and General Tao chicken on rice, we debated whether or not someone with no track record, no true accomplishments, could call himself an artist. She said yes, I said no. The argument went on well into lunch, but came to a grinding halt when I asked her who her favorite writer was. She responded with Margaret Atwood. So I told her, "Fine, go to Atwood and tell her 'Miss Atwood, I'm a writer, just like you. No I have not been published, but I write stories in my journal. See? I'm a writer too! Just like you.'" My friend's face fell and we moved on to a different subject.

A devaluation of terms such as "artist" inevitably leads to a devaluation in the artistic method. Assuming one is already an artist inevitably leads to shoddier work than the person who thinks he must work in order to achieve the title of "writer" or "painter." This sense of self-entitlement comes with the rise of social networking. All of a sudden, the online "circle jerk" one experiences on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Flickr--in fact, any form of social media platform-- inevitably leads to a sense that one is far better than he really is. With Facebook, we've seen the downfall of photography; the ease of use of digital cameras, coupled with the inevitable compliments one receives when one posts the album online, has led to everyone considering themselves artists just because they know how to use the black and white setting on their cameras, or at least on Photoshop. The approval of one's peers, the seemingly incessant support group that is social media, is in part leading to a decrease in quality.

The circle jerk has led to the fall of the Occupy Movement; any organization that champions itself more than it does anything else, any group that congratulates or supports itself and its members more than it actually does something, is destined to fail. And yes, despite what they say, we've seen this with the Occupy Movement.

Yet the protesters from art school are being grouped in with the protesters from Syria. One shows a scratch she received from a scuffle with a police officer. The other holds up a cell phone with a bullet hole in it, the only reason he's still alive. One is angry he can't find a job, the other is angry because in his country, his relatives are being imprisoned. In one, protests make headlines because an officer uses pepper spray on detained protestors. In the other, protests make headlines because tanks are storming villages, and the United Nations reports a death toll of 5,000 people over the course on nine months.

So you, who went to Columbia to study film, are "Person of the Year" because you're upset you can't find a job during a recession to cover your student loans? Face it, Time Warner only put you on the cover so you would buy the issue, then years down the line point to it with a false sense of accomplishment.

 

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