Examining death and learning about life
DOI link for Examining death and learning about life
Examining death and learning about life book
In terms of understanding death consumption and its trajectory, the authors in this volume have paved a path of deep examination, introspection and reflection that offers significant insight into humanity and how the living deal with death. In these times of increased uncertainty, economic strife, and global unrest, the prospect of death may be more at the forefront of our minds. This means that death, and in some cases, associated violence and/or historic violence or distress is permeating our everyday lives and our consumption practices in ways we haven’t really reflected on in the past number of decades. Further, it is clear from these chapters that there is increasing attention on the “performance” of the spaces (as we see in McKenzie’s and Hackley and Hackley’s chapter) and practices related to death, giving us more opportunity to understand the discourse surrounding death in tourism, rituals and consumption. In some cases, performance becomes interconnected with the horrors of death or the abject, as in Drummond and Krszjsaniek’s work. In other cases, death and its related materiality deals with the symbolic and/or relational (see Dobscha, et al. 2012). This increase in what has become more salient, as well as more acceptable to witness, engage in and discuss, in itself, indicates a cultural shift towards an environment whereby humans are forced to confront more tangible realities of death in consumption practices. Death and the abject has been a topic of increased interest in recent history as humans appear to make sense of the violence that surrounds them and has become ever-so-present in the global media (Podoshen, et al. 2015) – a media which is reporting on mass and serial death and violence at an alarming rate – whether it be ISIS, gun violence or public unrest. No longer are images sanitized by the news media, but rather images and stories, in raw form, are available to everyone in seconds via social media. In fact, it is nearly impossible to simply “turn off ” media and its associated images in the digital age. Consuming death and related activities beyond the traditional funeral or religious ritual reflects a transformation in our search for answers and explanations that go beyond the limits of mere religiosity or cultural mores. Further, as demonstrated by some of the work in this volume, the concept of death and dying finds itself as a central ethos in a myriad of consumption activity,
tourism and materialistic sensemaking. Once centered on ritual, religion and community, death as a consumption practice and consumer culture construct has transcended previous boundaries, prejudices and beliefs. Death consumption and interest has rapidly begun to remove itself from being viewed as merely a transgressive consumption activity. Schadenfreude labels of this type of consumer activity are being replaced by more introspective thoughts and feelings. Death is not something that we avoid (or can try to avoid) like we once did. As Marketing academics, many of us probably use the product of life insurance as the exemplar of the unsought good. The reality is that death-related products and services are not really as unsought as they once were and how we deal with the materiality of our bodies is one that takes on even more significance as our planet gets more crowded and more tumultuous. Death consumption today continues to further blur lines of acceptability and mortality as evidenced by Welch’s work in this volume and might even find itself blending and bridging themes we don’t “normally” associate with death, such as renewed and deeper understandings of erotica, art and sex. As evidenced in the recent literature (Venkatesh, et al. 2015) global underground and extreme subcultures have used sex and gender issues to make provocative statements not just about death and dying, but about the living, culture(s) and subcultures(s) and attempts to deny or defy death. This falls into line with Stone and Sharpley’s (2008) assertions that activities such as dark tourism and death-related consumption really tell us about humans currently living and breathing, their thoughts, feelings and dispositions, and not necessarily so much about the dead. This focus on the needs, wants and desires of the living based on the dead has manifested itself in increasingly popular quests for understanding ancestry as evidenced by Neilson and Muse or through mythologizing deceased celebrities to bring living fans closer to them as seen in Radford and Bloch’s piece. It should come as little surprise that while we are producing this text, Silicon Valley scientists, investors, bankers and billionaires are attempting to find ways to live forever and that death, violence and environmental concerns about the body are at the forefront of popular culture and consumption activity. As Dobscha mentions in the Introduction, embarking on the study of death and consumption is one that causes discomfort for many, yet appears in the public and non-public discourse more and more. This all creates an interesting amalgam that makes a sharp statement about the current state of neoliberalism, consumer behavior and what lies beyond. Will economic power really allow us to escape death? Will there be such a thing as “terminal illness?” How will death rituals and traditions change when we run out of space for the earth’s bodies? How will the digital world preserve the memories of the dead – and better yet – how will the dead become “resurrected” in the digital realm? I might argue that underlying all of this is the issue of control – control of our bodies, our identities and our environment – in an era filled with uncertainty, economic strife and never-ending war. For some,
death is one of the few things we can control, or at least better prepare for, and, as such, the implications of this reality are unsurprisingly manifest in consumption.