Curious Trends

01/01/2011

Death style as the new lifestyle


The past few years have seen a significant increase in public outpourings of grief. The death of Princess Diana seems to have inspired a new trend of mourning and memorializing the dead in a way hitherto unseen since Victorian times.

The cult of celebrity has extended idolization of people in the public eye beyond their existence, turning them into memorialized icons of art and the Internet.


Michael Jackson’s body was presented in a glass coffin for people to view at his Neverland Ranch before he went on to make a posthumous series of ‘comeback’ concerts and motivate a number of online tributes, including dedicated websites such as eternalmoonwalk.com.

According to Nick Ferrari, Jade Goody’s funeral edition of OK Magazine achieved a circulation of 1.35 million, way beyond the average weekly figure of around 345,000. The deification of celebrities through their memory isn’t a recent phenomenon. In AD 130 when Hadrian’s lover Antonious died, the Roman Emperor founded a city in his name, which had columns featuring 1,344 busts and statues of Antonious in two streets alone. 70 cities across the empire erected temples in Antonious’ honour.

However, until recently it was only the great and the good that were honoured in newspaper obituaries when they died. Now most people express their grief publicly through classified advertisements, or more recently on the internet.

A new range of internet services and memorial websites allows people to send email greetings to loved ones from beyond the grave.

Some of the more popular websites include:

Viternus.com

Gone too soon

Friends at rest

Muchloved.com

It’s also possible to leave messages for the dead via a site called 'Letters to Dead People':

Virtual Eternity even offers an intelligent avatar that can live on after you die:

“You begin by training it. You answer personality tests. You teach it to answer in the same way that you do. You also upload photos that your future avatar can talk about. You can even make a voice profile so that it talks in your voice.

Once it’s trained, it can answer questions that are typed into a text field. Now, it isn’t perfect. In fact, the makers say that it’s still in beta. It fails on many questions, but it answers some correctly. And you can assume that the more data that you give it the more that it’ll know about you. You can also assume that with time, effort and increased computing power, these avatars could get pretty high fidelity.

This is an amazing platform for knowing people from the past, whether they are famous people or your grandparent. And while its current functionality needs some work, the potential is here to offer people something that is really unprecedented and something that we have never seen before, except in science fiction.”

The curious new phenomenon of online immortality has been labelled ‘obitutainment’ by the New York Times and Twitgrief by the London Evening Standard, reporting the sad, unnecessary and self-inflicted deaths of Casey Johnson and Brittany Murphy.

The commemoration of death online by social networking communities or via dedicated memorial sites is often in marked contrast to the relatively isolated lives led by individuals in the modern, digital age.

The Oxford educated, bright young financier Anjool Malde is famous for leaping to his death from the balcony of the Coq d’Argent restaurant in the City of London. His parents said, “He was an inspiration to so many. He meant everything to us. Style meant everything to him and that’s how he chose to mark his exit.”

‘Too fast to live, too young to die’ – was the curiously appropriate final declaration of Malcolm McLaren’s life, daubed punk-style, along the side of his coffin earlier in 2010.

In mid 2009, one of Britain’s greatest conductors and his wife of 54 years took their lives in an assisted suicide clinic – Sir Edward Downes and his wife Joan took overdoses of barbiturates at the Dignitas Clinic in Zurich.

Will the developed world’s rapidly aging population result in many more people deciding when and how they take their own lives? Will death become the ultimate style statement?
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