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The 80 Days That Changed the World
In Dissent, Number Ninety-Seven
by Brian S. Wise
28 March 2003

The author proudly presents a column not about war.

Time magazine is 80 years old – somehow.  That’s about 60 years too old by any rational standard, but anything done (if not consistently done well) deserves a certain consideration.  Time’s method is to list the 80 days that changed the world.  That is, the 80 days that changed the world within the magazine’s lifetime, because even if such pieces are somewhat educational, they must first be overtly egotistical, with a “Gee, aren’t we swell” feel unique only to media self-congratulation.
The validity of this and similar lists is always questionable.  You cannot help but include the Kennedy assassination, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, D-Day, Rosa Parks, Jesse Owens, the King assassination, et cetera, and you will include them because they are legitimately some of the most important moments modern history has managed.  The list’s introduction does thoughtfully suggest that some things carry an importance we can only appreciate from some historical distance.  “On the day in 1938 that oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia” – no small deal, the legitimate bane of America’s modern existence, these oil producing toilet regimes – “the king was unimpressed because he had been hoping to find water.”  A fair point well taken.

But one can only struggle to find the long term historical importance of the Simpson verdict (3 October 1995) on the world, except to verify for those two dozen people previously left unconvinced that, yes, money can buy you anything here and there, even if you’ve cut your ex-wife’s throat to her spinal column.  (And still, Ron Goldman is referred to as Nicole Brown’s friend … not even Time will admit they were lovers.)  Or even Diana Spencer’s death (31 August 1997), an incident whose impact on the world was limited to millions of white, WASP females crying their hearts out for reasons they couldn’t logically identify; an homage to a designer jean humanitarian, a former member of an illegitimate monarchy.  But a launching pad for what ended up becoming the largest selling single in world history, if that’s what they mean.
The second Watergate break-in is mentioned (17 June 1972), but Richard Nixon’s resignation (8 August 1974) is not.  Curious, because the break-in (we can finally admit it was third rate, can’t we?) was merely the clumsy, unnecessary catalyst for what became one of the century’s greatest stories, the resignation.  Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire speech (8 March 1983) is given roughly one quarter of a page; the fall of the Berlin Wall (9 November 1989) a full page, picture and text.  Margaret Thatcher’s ascension (3 May 1979) about one-third a page, same with Churchill (10 may 1940); the first attempt to rate movies (1 July 1934), two-thirds of a page.
What I am saying is that the list is, Heaven forfend, slanted.  Roe v. Wade (22 January 1973) is lovingly referenced and fronted with a picture of an old protest button: a coat hanger with a red slash through it.  (“A woman scheduled to leave Austin [Texas] on a 3pm plane for a California abortion was instead given one by her doctor that afternoon.”  Well, thank goodness; we hope she got a refund for on her ticket and could appropriately celebrate.)  The New Deal (4 March 1933) is given a full page with photos meant to convince you of its piety as an idea, but the unstoppable aspects of both the New Deal and the Great Society are ignored: welfare state-ism; feelings of entitlement from, and dependence on, the federal government; a lessening of the worth of the individual and his efforts; the idea of family, friends and community in times of need.  Joseph McCarthy’s first spoken line against Communism (9 February 1950) is referred to as “McCarthy’s First Slander,” but nowhere is it said that history has, in no small part, validated McCarthyism.
Pills: The birth control pill (9 May 1960) is mentioned.  (I have written for this entry one of the better one-liners of my career, but it is uniquely vulgar, and would be deleted by any sane editor.  E-mail me, I will send it to you, but you have been warned.)  Prozac is included (29 December 1987), blind and inaccurate diagnosis of depression in all its forms (thus allowing too many to escape the fact their lives are in their control by allowing them, what is now, a socially acceptable crutch) is not mentioned.  And Viagra (27 March 1998).  On this, Time gets the joke.  “And then the world celebrated: Cocoon was played out in every Florida retirement community, marriages moved on to deeper problems. The porn industry was democratized [Well, huzzah!] and talk-show hosts got a new way to tell Bill Clinton jokes.”  So did I.
Finally, the silliest thing on the list: Action Comics number one (15 April 1938) – the birth of Superman, needless to say, is not one of the 80 events that changed the world, no matter how you spin it.  The super hero genre born from Superman ended up leaning heavily on popular culture, but no more changed the world than I have.  This choice seems to convey Time’s conscious disconnect with reason.  You could have hoped Hitler’s eating a bullet or something comparable importance could have been chosen, but what do you expect from the magazine that made Hitler, and thought about making Osama bin Laden, Man of the Year?

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