HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- Seventy-five years ago, Henry Luce, founder of Time Magazine, initiated its Man Of The Year feature honoring the individual who most influenced the world.
Time made its selection of Man of the Year -- later Person of the Year -- an annual event. For decades individuals so honored were seen on the magazine's cover every New Year with a penciled portrait that became something of a classic.
Usually the distinguished individual was a politician (frequently presidents of the United States), occasionally foreign heads of state, tyrants, military heroes and the like.
And there were rare flukes, such as Mohammad Mosaddeq, the eccentric weeping Iranian premiere of the early '50s.
Now Time may find it necessary to return to the Middle East again for the 2001 Person of the Year who most influenced the world.
That might well be the infamous Osama bin Laden who contrived to change the world Sept. 11, the man responsible for the atrocities that befell New York City and Washington.
Time's cover ostensibly recognizes the person -- evil or benign -- who most influenced any given year. And who in 2001 created a greater international disaster than this Saudi-born and leader of the murderous al Qaida organization of terrorists? That unspeakable attack has forever changed the lives of all people on the planet, now and in the future.
Few other men, perhaps with the exception of Hitler or Stalin, have created as much international havoc and inflamed so much passion -- both negative and positive in the minds of humankind.
So it would seem this hate-spewing criminal would be Time's cover-boy come Jan. 1, 2002, as obnoxious as it may be to Americans and others of the free world.
Thanks to Time Inc., Person of the Year has become a popular December/January feature of other organizations to promote circulation, viewership or merely to make some corporate hotshot feel hotter.
NBC and People magazine (a Time/Life publication) have combined for a "People's 25 Most Intriguing People of 2001" to be broadcast Dec. 18 (8-9 p.m. E.T.). The conspicuous element in such a feature is who determines the 25 most "intriguing" individuals.
Everyone certainly has an opinion on supplying such a roster that might include Harry Potter, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Shrek, Shaquille O'Neal, Tom Cruise, Rudy Giuliani, Andy Rooney, the Miami football team, Julia Roberts, Barry Bonds, Yasser Arafat.
In a press release NBC wrote:
"The special takes a look back at some of the people who captured the interest of the American public -- for better or worse -- over the landmark year.
"Figures from the worlds of politics, current affairs, and sports join popular entertainers from film and TV on this year's list.
"Five of the most intriguing people will be profiled in depth, and People's list of 'breakthrough' performers of 2001 will also be revealed during the hour."
If nothing else, this list of individuals and their impact on the public quickly separates the wheat from the chaff.
Americans are unique in the world because of their astonishingly high standard of living -- luxuries from indoor plumbing to TV, automobiles and bounteous diets, free time and quality of life.
Compared to the residents of Afghanistan -- where our servicemen are bombing terrorists -- we are a breed apart, hermetically impervious to the miserable consequences of universal poverty and privation. We have time and money to indulge ourselves in entertainment, sports, fashion and other frivolities that make heroes of actors, athletes and musicians.
In the real world, all of them pale into insignificance. They are the product of a pampered culture of extravagance, indulgence and relative ease.
These People of the Year games are just another distraction from reality, part of the non-reality of movies and television, concert halls and sports arenas. Unquestionably, the United States has its admirers in every part of the world, along with its critics.
But there has been revealed an unsuspected, massive envy and hatred for who and what this country represents to hungry, poor, forgotten millions in Third World countries.
A one-man symbol of that international rage is Osama bin Laden, who represents one single individual who has wreaked havoc with the placid, self-assurance and conviction of superiority held in this country.
All the world has been made to see America's vulnerability to attack and, more importantly, the mirror that has been held up for Americans to behold.
If nothing else, bin Laden has compelled Americans to look at themselves though the eyes of less fortunate men, women and children in other parts of the world.
He says (untruthfully) we are a deleterious minority unconscious of the suffering of the world's peoples. That conviction may qualify this insufferable killer as the most intriguing person of 2001.