Saturday, September 12, 2009

Is Life a Boon?

The New York Times reported yesterday on the death of the oldest person in the world, at age 115. This is a genre I like very much, not because I take any pleasure in the death of old people, but because as a category of news, it is sui generis.

The story "World's Oldest Person Dies" is published about once every six months (they last ran it in January) and unlike normal obituaries, the deceased is almost never interesting for what they have done -- merely what they have not done. Sex, race, achievments, cause of death and even age are adventitious. Consequently, while obviously newsworthy, the articles are almost completely inane. Who else could receive an obituary notice from the Times saying "she worked as a maid... until her retirement?" Most pathetically of all, the lede of this latest obituary mentions how much the deceased liked ice cream.

At the same time, "World's Oldest Person Dies" isn't just an isolated event. Human lifespans are carefully circumscribed -- everyone seems to just poop out at age 115 or so, making this a reliable event where
"World's Oldest Lightbulb Burns Out," or "World's Oldest Car Breaks Down" never could be. The very nature of the story means that its recurrence is utterly inevitable, and I find that comforting. Whatever else may happen a hundred years from now, the New York Times will still be lighting the world's oldest fools the way to dusty death.


Blogger pjkobulnicky said...

Might be cool if we got, say, $1 times 10**(age-100)or something like that. Then the headline might read world's richest person dies at 121.

2:33 PM  

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