2016 1h 33min

Available on Amazon Prime

Who gets an obituary in the New York Times? This documentary gives us a glimpse inside the most prestigious obituary outlet in modern day America. Editors and writers tell us what makes for a good obituary as well as the types of people they profile in these widely-read life histories. We also learn about the history of obits such as how old obits used to avoid words like “death” or “died”. Moreover, did you know many obituaries of famous people are written well before they die? These are called “advances” and are often composed when notable individuals become ill or pass a certain age.

What I liked about this film is the way New York Times obits have become status symbols. Many folks aspire to an obituary in the NYT—it’s certainly become a form of posthumous social status—but only a precious few get in, mostly people who made headlines during their lives. How might this perpetuate social inequality, though? One statement made in the film is that since women and minorities did not make top-tier news back in the day, they are still underrepresented in NYT obits. What do you think? And what might your obituary look like?

Sociological themes include: Social status, culture, the media, objectivity, and death/dying…