Every few months, I scan the obituaries published in the so-called newspaper-of-record of this nation, The New York Times. In the process, I invariably get annoyed how The Times picks and chooses certain lives to elevate while other humans pass on without notice.
You don’t have to pay very close attention to see that every New York Times obituary starts with a headline like this:
Deceased, Who Did X, Dies at Age N
The “Who Did X” qualifier seems to be the most important part for The New York Times. Here is the all-too-homogenous assortment of “Who Did X” on The Times website as it appeared on November 30, 2015:
• Designer Who Influenced Choreographer
• Utah’s First Female Governor
• Co-Founder and Re-Inventor of Fashion Brand
• Writer for Stage and for Television
• Refined the Record Player
• Nurtured Dance and Joyce SOHO in Manhattan
• Painter of Scenes From African-American Social Life
• Japanese Star of Films by Ozu and Kurosawa
• Violinist and Boston Symphony Concertmaster
• Sly and the Family Stone Trumpet Player
• Coach of Houston’s Phi Slama Jama Teams
• Star of ‘All My Children’
• Student of Texas Blues
• Bustling Host of a Range of Game Shows
• Credit Card Pioneer
When you die, you are more likely to be memorialized by The New York Times if you had made your name as an artist or performer, as 11 of these 15 people were. I love artists but I also love scientists, park rangers, cashiers and the people behind the counter at the airport that help you navigate the ever-more-complex process of boarding a plane. These people never appear in the obituary section of The New York Times when they die.
And neither will I. I am not the “star” of anything. I have not made a zillion dollars on a smartphone app that helps you get a taxi 40 seconds sooner. I have made good music but it will remain unheard by all but a few. In my life, and in spite of my imperfections, I tried to be a good husband, a caring and protective father, a dependable worker and an interesting person to be around, if one could get past my introversion.
Which is not enough for The New York Times.
I have a strong anti-celebrity streak in me — not sure where it came from. I have a gut reaction listening to famous people (Scarlett Johansson, Harrison Ford, Nathan Lane and on and on and on) expound on issues both trivial and crucial as if their takes on life are more important than yours or mine. They’re not. But those celebrities will be the ones whose lives are memorialized by The New York Times, because they entertained us, and by us I mean the editor of The New York Times obituary page.
Craig H. Collins, Who Did All Sorts of Things, Dies Whenever. That will be the headline that The New York Times never prints.