Column: Are death pools OK?

by Andrew Wig

Sun CURRENT Newspapers


One great thing about being a non-celebrity is that you can usually presume nobody wants you dead. That is something that someone like, say Hugh Hefner, selected in KQRS-FM’s Dead Pool 2013, cannot say.

I was pulling into the office when I caught the draft on the radio. A rotating cast of callers took part in the contest. They called, selecting the celebrity they believed had the best chances of dying this year. I didn’t listen for long, but it got me thinking: Prognosticating death for fun. Should I be OK with this?

Let’s see.

Celebrities give up a certain level of privacy when they become celebrities, and death watchers are likely to point to that in their own defense. But where does that line end? Where does somebody stop being a celebrity who signed up for this?

It is posted on the KQRS contest website: “All picks must have some element of celebrity, fame or political relevance so that an announcement will be mentioned in some credible news source.” That makes for a wide-open field.

In addition to Hefner, among the big names drafted in the KQRS pool were George Bush Sr., Billy Graham and Betty White, all of whom you’d expect.

But some of the other picks constituted dark-horse selections that came with explanations painting a cool and speculative approach to the game.

One caller picked 44-year-old actor Tracy Morgan to die this year on the basis that “30 Rock” is almost over and that Morgan doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who takes good care of himself. The caller could see Morgan “going downhill pretty fast” (or something to that effect).

In another possible speculative reach, the same caller took Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple. This time the justification was along the lines of, “These tech guys don’t live too long.” You know, Steve Jobs and stuff.

One knock on death pools is the question of what kind of behavior the activity might engender for the mentally unstable. It is scary but it doesn’t sound like that much of a stretch to imagine a death pool enthusiast taking matters into his own hands.

For a celebrity, there is also the psychological effect of knowing there is a segment of people who are — in a way many of them would never admit — hoping you die. Not just someday, but this year. If you are our sympathetic subject Hugh Hefner, you know there are probably thousands of death pool players out there rooting for your end. The thought could be disturbing to some, but it may embolden others who are ailing or aging. Like the way being doubted can make you more determined.

The argument that will convince me to take a side for now is this one:

Most of the subjects of death pools are entertainers. What better way to go out than to do it entertaining the people who get points for your death?

Death pools require a certain flippancy regarding death. Could that be a good thing? A way we can deal with it? Isn’t it supposed to be heroic to face death laughing? We have to deal with it some how.

Andrew Wig
Andrew Wig

One could make that argument, and I will go with it, that you are hurting nobody. Unless Tracy Morgan’s kid tunes in to your radio death draft. That would not be cool.

But I can live with the existence of death pools. (I think the mentally disturbed angle can apply to anything so I disqualify it.) The only thing is, let’s just keep the phenomenon low on the cultural radar. If death pools ever get as popular as fantasy football, it’s time to get creeped out.

Contact Andrew Wig at [email protected]