October 19, 2007

Trivializing Death

 Bird In Hand Victor Schrager

Writing in Encounter magazine in 1955, the British anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer argued that death had become the great unmentionable. The Victorians were prudish about sex and candid about death, he said, whereas Westerners of the mid-20th century were garrulous about sex and, well, stiff about stiffs. Death be not loud.

The New Death by Stephen Bates in the Wall St Journal.

But we shouldn't be too hasty in congratulating ourselves and deriding earlier generations as uptight and self-deluded. We can chatter and chortle about death without honestly confronting it. In fundamental ways, our culture is reinventing death rites and, in the process, growing further apart from death itself.
What's wrong with all this? At the individual level, funerary frivolity trivializes both the death and the life that preceded it. At the social level, tradition and ritual, passed from generation to generation, create a common framework for discussing life's ultimate questions. When we choose customized, individualized, let-it-be-me funerals, we start slipping from lingua franca to tabula rasa. Soon, we're talking only to ourselves.

Next week, October 30 at 9 pm,  Frontline will present a documentary featuring the poet and undertaker Thomas Lynch about whom I've written a number of posts.
The Calling of a Funeral Director
Going the Distance
Death Lite

The Gorer quote brings to mind a favorite quote,  Money has replaced sex as a driving force, death has replaced sex as a taboo, and sex has replaced bridge as a social event for mixed foursomes, Reginald Perrin.

Posted by Jill Fallon at October 19, 2007 10:58 AM | Permalink