The 1968 Exhibit: TIME "Men of the Year" 1968: Apollo Astronauts

time-man-of-year-1968MAN OF THE YEAR

TIME magazine's "Man of the Year" issue, begun in 1927 with its cover story on aviator Charles A. Lindbergh, has long since become an American institution, and is still the best-known feature of the magazine, now struggling for survival, like all general interest news magazines.  The annual announcement of the TIME editors' choice was always a front-page news event in itself, though I wonder how many people were paying attention last week when this year's choice--the Fed's Ben Bernanke-- was announced.

MEN AND WOMEN AND PEOPLE (and non-people) OF THE YEAR

Browsing the whole 82-year list is, however, an instructive way to pass the time.  (You can do it, of course, online at http://bit.ly/6PSngy).  The chosen one is supposed to be the "person who has affected our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year."  (About that "good or ill" phrase:  Bad guys are rarely chosen--Hitler in 1938; Iran's Ayatollah in 1980; and that's about it.)  The list is a good source for trivia buffs:  the first "Woman of the Year"? Wallis Warfield Simpson, 1936; the first "Man and Wife [that's what it says] of the Year"?  Mr. and Mrs. Chiang Kai-shek,  1937; the first "collective" Man of the Year?  The American Fighting Man, 1950.  (There were other collective choices in the 1960s: "Young People," 1966; and "Middle Americans," 1969).  The first (and so far only) non-human?  "The Machine of the Year," about personal computers in 1982.   When did the feature change to "Person of the Year"?  1999, with Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com.

1968'S CHOICE:  A TOUGH DECISION

It cannot have been an easy task for the TIME editors to choose the magazine's 1968 Man of the Year, and clearly the decision was made at the last minute--since the Apollo VIII astronauts were still in outer space during the last week of the year.  My guess is that there were many other candidates who ended up on the cutting room floor:  Martin Luther King?  (He had been the choice in 1963).  Robert Kennedy?  Richard Nixon?  (He would be named twice in the coming years). George Wallace?  The Protesters at the Democratic National Convention?  The Czech Resistance, or Alexander Dubcek?  (the "Hungarian Freedom Fighter" had been named in 1956).

Not surprisingly, given the multiple "candidates," all of them with some potential controversial baggage, the editors made a "feel-good," forward-looking choice with the Apollo VIII crew.  Of course, the editors were also paying homage to the American space program, heretofore absent from the "Man of the Year" rolls.  (The 1968 choice also trumped, in advance, the men who actually landed on the Moon in 1969, as well as the crew of the Challenger who died in 1986.)  As they entered their orbit of the Moon on Christmas Eve 1968, the crew, William Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman, read a passage from the book of Genesis ("In the beginning . . . ") in what became the most watched television broadcast of its time.

A NEW AGE

With its characteristically florid prose, TIME honored this 1968 crew:  "In the closing days of 1968, all mankind could exult in the vision of a new universe. For all its upheavals and frustrations, the year would be remembered to the end of time for the dazzling skills and Promethean daring that sent mortals around the moon. It would be celebrated as the year in which men saw at first hand their little earth entire, a remote, blue-brown sphere hovering like a migrant bird in the hostile night of space.

"The year's transcendent legacy may well be that in Christmas week 1968, the human race glimpsed not a new continent or a new colony, but a new age, one that will inevitably reshape man's view of himself and his destiny."