Is winning TIME's Person of the Year a sign of bad things to come?
German Environment Minister Angela Merkel smiles prior to a environmental ministers conference at Albrechtsburg castle in Dresden, March 23. Ministers from 21 countries will attend the annual conference to discuss environmental issues.
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Christian Democratic German Defence Minister Volker Ruehe (R) and Environment Minister Angela Merkel smile prior a cabinet meeting at the chancellery in Bonn, August 11. The cabinet is expected to discuss Merkels report about the security of nuclear power plants in Germany.
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Angela MERKEL , CDU , Minister for the Environment , during a cabinet meeting in April 1994
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Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a news conference at the end of a European Union leaders summit in Brussels March 15, 2013. European leaders met in Brussels for a second day of summit talks on Friday, to discuss relations with Russia and the situation in Syria, as well as economic policies.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel poses for photographs after the recording of her annual New Year's speech at the Chancellery in Berlin December 30, 2013.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a reception with carols singers (Sternsinger) at the Chancellery in Berlin, January 7, 2014. Merkel has fractured her pelvis in a cross-country skiing accident in Switzerland over the Christmas holidays and is walking with the help of crutches, forcing her to call off some foreign visits and official appointments her spokesman said on Monday.
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, December 18, 2015.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernandez shake hands after a joint press conference following talks at the Chancellery in Berlin on October 27, 2015. The two leaders are meeting for conversations about the bilateral relations, developmental cooperation and the situation in the region.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel wears Google Glass eyewear as she visits a booth of Nokia where students developed an interactive communication software to repair mobile communications equipment abroad during a Girls Day career event at the Chancellery in Berlin April 27, 2016. Girls Day seeks to attract female pupils to careers in IT, technological and natural science sectors of the German industry.
Merkel, Angela - Politician, CDU, Germany, Federal Minister for the Environment, Germany - ironing wrapping paper - 1994
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Angela Merkel, German chancellor, is seen arriving at a G-8 meeting in St-Petersburg, Russia, Sunday, July 16, 2006. Italy and the U.K. sent warships to the Eastern Mediterranean as a fifth day of fighting in the region prompted most of the Group of Eight countries to make plans for evacuating their citizens from Lebanon and Israel.
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Angela MERKEL (CDU), federal chancellor.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during an official welcoming ceremony at the Chancellery in Berlin 05 June 2007. Abe was in Berlin for bilateral takes with his German counterpart prior to the start of the G8 summit the following day.
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Hohen-Luckow, GERMANY: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President George W. Bush pose with children of residents upon his arrival at Hohen Luckow Estate, northeastern Germany, 06 June 2007 prior their dinner on the first day of the summit of the Group of Eight most industrialized nations at the Baltic Coast hotel in the northern resort of Heiligendamm.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures as she delivers a speech at a Christian Democratic Union meeting in Frankfurt 04 September 2007, outlining the party's basic principles.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) talks to geishas during her visit in Kyoto, 31 August 2007. Merkel is on a three-day official visit to Japan.
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US President George W. Bush (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) shake hands after a joint press conference at the guesthouse of the Federal Republic, the Meseberg Palace, in Meseberg north of Berlin, Germany on June 11, 2008. President Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met for talks which were dominated by the Iranian nuclear programme, climate protection and transatlantic trade. Germany is the second stop on a farewell tour of Europe before Bush leaves office in January 2009.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for the weekly German government cabinet meeting on August 13, 2008 in Berlin, Germany. High on the morning's agenda was the extension of the German military mission in Sudan. The German Bundeswehr has approximately 40 soldiers in Sudan as part of the Untied Nations UNMIS peacekeeping force.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Ronald Pofalla (R), General Secretary of the CDU smile during their election campaign rally at the central station Koblenz during their journey in the historic 'Rheingold' train on September 15, 2009 in Koblenz, Germany. German Chancellor Merkel tours during her election campaign rally through six German cities in the historic train. The 17th German federal election is scheduled for September 27, 2009 and will be held to elect the members of the Bundestag, the federal parliament of Germany.
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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrives for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Meseberg Palace, the government's official residence, in the eastern German town of Meseberg on June 4, 2010. Medvedev is in Germany for two days of what the German government called 'informal' discussions set to be dominated by Iran's nuclear program and the Middle East.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a speech during the ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the German Federal Police (BKA) in Wiesbaden, August 18, 2011.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures as she takes questions from the audience on foreign policy as the Koerber foundation marked the 50th anniversary of the Bergedorfer forum, a German think-tank in Berlin September 9, 2011.
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French President Francois Hollande (L) greets German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) prior to their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France on November 25, 2015.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo pay their respects to the victims of the November 13 Paris attacks on November 25, 2015, on the Place de la Republic in Paris, where they each left a white rose. Hollande, just off the plane from Washington, met German Chancellor Angela Merkel, seeking support for his faltering effort to forge a coalition to fight Islamic State jihadists. Hollande is expected to look to Merkel to try to ease tensions between Russia and Turkey -- two potential components of the anti-IS alliance -- which fell out over the downing of a Russian warplane at the Turkish-Syrian border. Hollande is on a whirlwind diplomatic tour spurred by the November 13 attacks on Paris that left 130 dead and 350 injured.
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US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrive for a press conference after their bilateral talks at the Herrenhausen Palace in Hanover, on April 24, 2016. Obama is in Germany on the last leg of his tour of Europe and the Gulf, planning to underscore close ties with Chancellor Angela Merkel and make the case for a controversial transatlantic free trade agreement
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Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor and leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, reacts during a news conference at the CDU headquarters in Berlin, Germany, on Monday, March 14, 2016. Merkel plans to stay the course and pursue her migration policy much as before even as she acknowledged that the refugee crisis hurt her party in three state elections.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) receives a honorary doctorate degree from Nanjing University's president Chen Jun at University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, China, June 12, 2016.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) talks with Jerome Boateng (R) during the annual open-house day at the Chancellery on August 28, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. Merkel has seen her popularity ratings decline as Germany grapples with the integration of up to one million refugees and migrants who arrived in Germany thanks to Merkel's liberal policy. Many Germans feel unsettled by so many newcomers and only a small portion of those granted asylum have found jobs. Germany faces federal elections next year.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures during her summer interview with journalists of German public tv chain ARD on August 28, 2016 in Berlin.
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German Chancellor and leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union party CDU Angela Merkel reacts after her speech at the CDU party convention in Essen, Germany, December 6, 2016.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German Foreign Minister Fank-Walter Steinmeier walk towards the Christmas market in Berlin, Germany, December 20, 2016, one day after a truck ploughed into a crowded Christmas market in the German capital.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj as they and other heads of delegations watch traditional nomadic Naadam festival performance during the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit just outside Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, July 15, 2016.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Sarah Philips during a reception of German carnival societies at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, January 23, 2017.
Pupils make selfies as German Chancellor Angela Merkel signs autographs as she visits the French secondary school Lycee Francais in Berlin, Germany, May 3, 2016.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during a welcome ceremony at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, January 22, 2016.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at a combat diver during her visit to Naval Base Command in Kiel, Germany, January 19, 2016.
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The seven contenders for Time's Person of the Year who weren't German Chancellor Angela Merkel may be bummed they blew top billing, but they can still take comfort that they've dodged the cover curse, which warns that landing primo magazine real estate lauding your influence may coincide with a reversal of fortune. A perusal of the list of previous "winners" over the magazine's nearly 90-year history of issuing the designation shows the aftermath of the cover didn't always produce greatness.
Take Rudy Giuliani, whose 2001 cover praised his comforting resolve in a bleak post 9/11 landscape—a "Mayor of the World" who reunited America. It looked like the sky was the limit, but next was a failed 2008 presidential bid described as a "dizzying free fall." Looking back further, things didn't exactly turn out great for Hitler, for instance, who took 1938's Man of the Year as the dictator of Nazi Germany, correctly recognized as one of the democratic world's greatest known enemies (the magazine clarifies often that the distinction is not a popularity contest, but a designation of influence for better or worse). Though they were right about his influence—World War 2 was a mere months away—it's safe to say he didn't achieve the victory he wanted.
1964's winner was General William Westmoreland, commander of American troops in Vietnam. Though he was first considered popular due to his aggressive strategy and initial victories, his difficult mixture of hubris and naiveté about the enemy's guerilla warfare saw history reframe him as the general who lost the Vietnam War, a narrative he fought against until his death until 2005.
It goes on. It was nice of Time to give the "Endangered Earth" the attention she so sorely needed by naming her Planet of the Year in 1988 as climate change concerns escalated (what other planets were contenders?), but things have only gone downhill from there. An analysis of databases from the most recent Earth Summit found that it's now hotter by at least .6 of a degree, the sea is 3 inches more elevated, we're more crowded by 1.7 billion people, and the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets are short 4.9 trillion tons of ice.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos appeared as Person of the Year in 1999, only to see the dotcom bubble burst a few short months later in March of 2000 and Amazon stock drop 86 percent by the year's end. The Nasdaq lost nearly half its value, while many startups crashed and burned, losing dough at a devastating rush of between $10 and $30 million a quarter. We're still not quite back to 2000-era bubble-level valuation.
An investing principle may shed some light on this phenomenon. In 2007, researchers/professors at the University of Richmond in Virginia—Tom Arnold, John S. Earl and David H. North—issued a paper asking "Are Cover Stories Effective Contrarian Indicators?" The study looked at 549 covers over 20 years of publication from Forbes, Business Week and Fortune, categorizing the coverage as positive, negative, or neutral, then comparing it with how each cover company's shares had performed in the 500 days before or after the profile. As they expected, there were more positive stories overall, and also as expected, the positive companies' stocks had been doing well before the coverage, while the negatively portrayed companies had been doing poorly.
But after? The positions switched—the praised companies suffered, and the dissed companies improved, according to analysis at The Economist. The difference wasn't statistically significant, but that wasn't the point. "What matters is that if news is sufficiently good or bad to catapult a company onto a magazine cover, then it is already reflected in the share price," they wrote. "Or, as the academics put it, 'positive stories generally indicate the end of superior performance and negative news generally indicates the end of poor performance.' "
"What you can extrapolate [from the research] is that the extraordinary performance is capped by the magazine cover," says Arnold by phone, a professor of finance at the Robins School of Business at UVA Richmond. "You've hit your apex. So instead of staying superior, they just became average afterwards."
He was talking about stock performance, but what this translates to into Time cover speak, or any cover speak, is that by the time the media gets around to putting you on a cover, you've probably already done your best work or worst work, as the case may be, meaning there is only one way to go respectively after the fact. It happens with athletes, too.
Sports Illustrated is thought to have a cover jinx. Said to have started in 1954 after Braves third baseman Eddie Matthews got a cover and then broke his hand, various subjects have said to go on to suffer trouble, injuries or untimely accidents. There are also, of course, counterexamples—Michael Jordan was on the cover 50 times, and there are probably no superlatives left for him to collect.
The curse is even said to extend to the athletes who appear on GQ and quickly go from wins to disappointment. ESPN searched decades of GQ covers and found only one athlete who'd been on the cover to have gone on to win a Super Bowl: Troy Aikman. That piece was written in 2012, and its main concern was the future of recent cover Tim Tebow. He has since moved from the Broncos to the Jets to the Patriots and recently, the Eagles, but he still hasn't won a Super Bowl either.
Of course, it's worth noting that athletes, celebrities, politicians, and world leaders, good and bad, also have more visible, risky, volatile lives, leaving them more vulnerable to accidents, injuries, and early death. To bigger successes—the kinds that land you on covers in the first place—but also more epic failures. Which means it's probably not the cover, but the notoriety in the first place, that puts you at risk.
But such is the price of fame. Which is why of all the people Time has ever seen fit to put on the cover, the one we should probably be worried about most is us. Or rather, "You"—the winner of 2006's designation, the Internet content generator. It was supposed to be a comment on the proliferation of user-generated content and its rapid transformation of the Internet we made in our image and now know and love—full of memes, Vines, Wikis, Youtubes, and such.
But how are "we" doing now? Well, "we're" creating a staggering amount of content every single day, often for free. As much as 300 hours of footage is uploaded to Youtube per minute, for instance. Yes, thanks to us, the Internet is a one-stop shop for every weird mundane and awful thing, and anyone can be a star, but we're also competing with every other person out there.
If Arnold had any advice for "us" based on his research, it would be the same thing he tells his students at UVA. "If you actually do something in the market that gets you some extremely great return and you can figure out it's a lock? Double down and write a book about it. Once you're at your peak of your popularity, that's when you cash in, that is what making you newsworthy. After that, you're average."
Of course, only time will tell our true fate, but right now, it's not looking so good.