There’s a lot of injustice in the world, and the Tuesday Tribune located a little bit more. Op-ed contributor Gilbert Cranberg meditated on how unfair it is to deny life’s most glittering prizes to worthy candidates simply because they’re dead. It’s “not only discriminatory but perverse,” Cranberg argued, “for an award that symbolizes extraordinary achievement to be withheld wholly on the basis of something as extraneous as longevity.”
In fact, Cranberg reasoned, his essay picking up speed as it moved along, the dead should lead the field: after you give them your precious medal they won’t do something stupid to embarrass you. He had in mind James Watson, who back in 1962 received the Nobel Prize for discovering the double-helix structure of DNA but the other day put his foot in his mouth and said tests show Africans aren’t as smart as other people.
Cranberg misses the point. Awards are meaningless unless they’re coveted, and the dead don’t covet. An award is worth getting to the degree it stirs up envy and despair in the defeated that must be masked (poorly) in obligatory congratulations. It’s nothing at all to lose to someone dead.
And yet . . . I’ve had in the back of my mind for a long time a TV extravaganza with a name along the lines of The Towering Geniuses of All Time Cavalcade of Stars. Giants like Plato and Newton would be issued glistening figurines accepted on their behalf by personalities such as Ben Stiller and Anderson Cooper. Would Plato even win? Maybe Kant would edge him out. Things could get plenty exciting.The point is, being dead is a separate category. That’s something most people who are alive grasp intuitively, through Cranberg’s an exception.