The Who2 Blog

Is the ‘Death’ Field Ghoulish?

A Who2 user writes:

“I was looking at a profile of an actor… the name is irrelevant. In the “vital statistics” category you list birthday, birthplace, and DEATH. The actor is very much alive, as the death section did not have a date under it.

My question is: do you really need to show DEATH as a category for a celebrity if they are still alive? This is the only website that I have seen that does this, and it is very disheartening. I realize everyone has to die at some point, but to list it as a category when the person is still living seems to be wishing their impending death.”

It’s a fair question.

We include the “Death” field for living figures not with the intent of being ghoulish, but simply to be informative. One of the questions people often have when they come to a site like ours is, “Is Paul Newman [or Gerald Ford or whomever] still alive?”

If we included only a field for birth date, with no field mentioning death, that question wouldn’t be answered. The user might reasonably think that we had neglected to mention it, or that our profiles included only birth information, not death information. This way it’s made plain that yes, Paul Newman is still very much alive.

Over the years we have tried variations intended to make this approach more palatable. In Who2’s early days we actually used the words “Still kicking” in that space to indicate that the person was alive and well. We thought we were using humor to take the edge off a touchy subject, but instead we got angry letters. (One came from a Texas reader who thought “still kicking” was a personal jab at Ross Perot‘s southern roots.)

Thus we have settled on the current simple, if direct, system of including the Death field in all profiles, and entering “–” if the person being profiled is still alive. It’s not perfect, we agree, but in the end giving the most possible information is the most important thing to us.

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