Given the controversy surrounding Rudy Giuliani’s 9/11 commemoration activities, as well as shifting thoughts about what profile the day merits six years out, TIME’s “Person Of The Year” cover for 2001 seems to grow that much more audacious.
Three months after the attack, TIME helped to cement “the Rudy myth” by equating (and confusing) the expression of strong mindedness during and immediately after the attacks with a demonstration of moral virtue. But how, exactly, does the photo-illustration pull off the idea that Giuliani is bigger than the buildings and that he rises above the attacks? How that works is by playing off a metaphor that resonates as equally and cleverly well on both a visual and a moral plane. In other words, the offer here is of a man who, through the most shattering national tragedy (one immediately framed, you’ll recall, in term of good versus evil) could somehow remain so personally “tall” — in the sense of “upright” and “upstanding.”
So, what does the cover suggest today?
One thing it indicates is that Rudy rises or falls with that monumental pridefulness and self-righteousness associated with the disaster. To the extent 9/11 grows more complex, more distant and less the simple straw man to symbolize America’s absolute (moral, as well as — thanks to BushCo. — military) strength versus weakness, well … it’s a long way down.
(image: Gregory Heisler. TIME Magazine. December 31, 2001 – January 7, 2002. Cover)