In Memoriam segments at awards shows are supposed to be loving tributes to those who passed in the year. Instead they bring out the worst in people. Maybe it's time to skip them altogether.
The latest uproar in the world of In Memoriam revolves around the Emmys decision to give Cory Monteith a special tribute alongside the likes of James Gandolfini, Gary David Goldberg, Jean Stapleton and Jonathan Winters. These tributes would be aired in addition to the usual In Memoriam segment. Variety's Andrew Wallenstein argued earlier this week that Monteith isn't as deserving of the special attention: "The unspoken, uncomfortable truth of the matter is that while the work he did on Glee showed great promise, it was not equal to the incredible careers the other four amassed." Today producer Ken Ehrlich defended the choice, saying: "It was important to be responsible to the younger viewers to whom Cory meant perhaps as much as these other individuals meant to their own generations."
Debating whether or not a dead person deserves to be honored by an institution is a losing battle. Sure, you can make the argument that by including Monteith the Emmys leave out Larry Hagman, who arguably had a more lasting impact on the history of TV. You can also make the perfectly respectable argument, like Ehrlich did, that it's unfair to younger TV watchers to understate the sorrow of Monteith's passing. (You might also rebut the bringing young eyes to awards shows is what networks and advertisers really want, no matter how they get there.) Ultimately, though, both these arguments hinge on the notion that it's up to producers to determine the value of someone's life, and that's pretty gross.
It's not like this is exclusively a problem at the Emmys. In February leading up to the Oscars the New York Times' Michael Cieply wrote about how just getting into the In Memoriam segment requires the campaigning usually thought to be reserved for the living nominees. Even then there are always notable snubs. To compensate, this year the Oscars even added an online gallery to include tributes to those that didn't make it on the air.
Ostensibly In Memoriam tributes are nice things, but its so often the case that they become political, and ultimately be about weighing the importance of someone's life. Is it really fair that some people get more applause than others? No. That's not to say awards ceremonies should completely forget those who in an industry were lost, but perhaps just a moment of silence for everyone on an equal playing field is best.