Death and the media

The debate over the things that are influencing or shaping/reshaping the thinking of the people is very present in our time. The rules and the laws are shaping us since we are born, but during this time who is shaping or changing our behaviour towards certain realm with no general accepted and no specific rules? From the mid-twentieth century onward, the advent of radio and eventually television and internet intensified the power of such a "shaper" of behaviours. Now media is one of the most powerfull intruments for the people. Media tells us every day in newspapers, on television, in commercials and on the internet sites how to think, how to behave and how to understand everyday issues. This paper will try to show the influence that mass-media has in the "modern" and "post-modern" societies and show that media is one of the most important ways in which people learn how to understand and behave in relation with death, dying, bereavement and grief. As we will see, the implication of media in the death realm is total - from causing the death to directing the funerals or to requiring people to show a public grief. The works that cover this subject have different aproaches and focus on different issues related death an media, but the common theme running through them is a concern of how media presentations of dying, death, bereavement and grief draw upon and shapes societal understandings of these relatef phenomena.[1]

Media and the celebrety deaths

In the history, we can see that celebrity deaths had a big impact over the people. The impact was multiplied by the extremely mediatized event. The essence of celebrity involves the focusing of public attention on respective individuals. The attention and the focus on them is kept after their death through the media. We have many examples over the years and one question the arise is that of the reason of the magnitude and of reactions to the celebrity deaths. Many say indentification that public has with the celebrities is one reason and other say that the surfeit of mass-media attention create its own attention.[2] Merrin is taking a interesting stand about the life and the death of Princess Diana. He says that Diana was a simulacrum, an ireal image, created and maintened by the mass-media. From the beggining she was present in media, being photographed every place she goes and at every event. She also said that she is The Queen of people's hearts, through this established a direct relation with all the people. She is their hearts queen and they are watching her all the time through media. Other big figures of United Kingdom society where borught into public attention by the media at their death. Ellen Terry, a popular Victorian actress and Lord Alfred Tennyson, a Victorian Poet Laureate, are such examples. "In their discussions of the burials of Terry and Tennyson Kazmier and Matthews both stress that the media used their coverage of the deaths of these icons of Victorian Britain to convey moral messages about the nature of society."[3] We can bring into discusion the deaths of Pope John Paul the second, the biggest media event of that year, or the more recent death of Michael Jackson. Comparing these deaths in the media and the impact on people, every single one has something special. The death of Princess Diana had the biggest media covering since Kennedy's death and bigest even than the most dramatic stages of World War II. Pope John Paul the second had the biggest funerals with the biggest religious attendance with over four million christians. However, Michael Jackson broke all the records in audience and has incresead the traffic over internet with 11% in just few days.[4] It is interesting to observe the fact of transforming the image of the people after their death, through mass-media. The public eye sees only what media is transmiting. After the death, media usualy transmits only the good things and the bigest realisations from the life of the deceased, hardly mentioning some of his failures or imoral facts. We have the example of Ellen Terry, where the media glossed over the less aceptable aspects of her life such as her illegitimate children or her three marriages, or the example of Michael Jackson, where the media emphasized hie career, not mentioning his court problems or his deviations. In his article, Merrin is considering Princess Diana an idol created by media, an in image of the reality or how should be the reality.[5] The public has seen always her perfect behaviour and perfect style in fashion or her goodness towards everyone and that is why they proposed her for sanctification. Another good example is the appreciation that it is given to some celebrities only after their death. Lifetime achievement awards and special decorations and degrees are given, and also amends are made for past eversights. Henry Fonda had to wait until he was on his deathbed to receive an Oscar for his final role in On Golden Pond.[6] A view that worths to be mentioned here is that of Elizabeth Mallan and Jenny Hockey in their book. They say that " the constructed nature of media images, then, is seen to continuously scramble and invent the past from the perspective of the present."[7]

Death notifications and memorials

A part from the after death social issue is the death notification. The notification of death of a family member is one of the most important messages which are communicated in our society. A well known custom is of ringing the bells to announce one's death. In these times, a new form of announcement of a death is very popular and it is integrated in the mass-media. Some of the local radios are relating daily information about the recent deaths in the region. The newspaper obituaries are a published announcement of death and sometime include a short biography of the deceased and information concerning the funeral.[8] This information may vary in content and length, depending on the geographic region or the person. In the media we found also another type of messages concerning the deaths. The newspaper columns titled In Memoriam contain messages from the relatives and friends to show their regret and to transmit their feelings. Jon Davies is saying that this is a kind of populist, market provided mass media chantry in which the dead and the living converse with one another. Those who are writing in these pages seem to want everyone to know that they are in direct communication with their dead. Most of the messages are lapidary and are trying to say that the dead are not dead through phrases such as "always in our minds" or "never forgotten".[9] "The people are remembered by people whose evident sorrow at their death is in itself an intercesionary mediation. The style of the notices presupposes the continuing reality of the relationships between the living and the dead and they expect the dead to remember the nature and complexities of familial and communal life."[10]

Memories grow dearer as time travels on when you long for a voice and a face that is gone. Deep in our hearts you are still living yet, we loved you too dearly to ever forget. Today, tomorrow, our whole lives through, we will always love and remember you. Sadly missed husband Peter, mam and dad, brothers Dick and Fred.

Shortly after the creation of the computer based communication another form of tributes to the dead appeared. These are virtual memorials and in the late years where been develop thousands os site over the internet of different type. Along with this virtual memorials appeared the web cemeteries and web services that "can" send e-mail and messages to the above online cemeteries. This can be seen as a public ritual and as a supplement to traditional rituals.

One of the recent developments in human death ritual are the spontaneous shrines at sites of accidents or at the places related to the dead. This is well observed in the west where large spaces are filled with flowers, cards and teddy bears in the memory of the dead. This ritual seems to be started in USA, in Washington D.C., with "the public gestures of leaving idiosyncratic offerings at the base o the Vietnam Veterans Memorial."[11] The sign that spontaneous shrines have become an expected, common response to tragedies is their appearance in the entertainment media. After 9/11 shrines were a part in popular venues such as West Wing ( NBC, September 24, 2003 ) and CSI: Miami ( CBS, October 13, 2003 ). In those episodes, images of shrines were effective rhetorical device with which to conclude a dramatic episode involving the violent death of one of the characters. The reporters are often seen now to broadcast from different scenes death related with having in background spontaneous shrines. Also, the newspapers use photographs of spontaneous shrine to illustrate news stories about accidents and deaths.[12] This reinforces this practice in viewers mind and it is propagated very fast in the whole world.

Grief

Eva Reimers provides in her article a form of the construction of grief and she states that ritual practices play an important part in peoples' life. According to Reimers, behavior of individual mourners is formed in interaction with others and the personal experience of loving someone is also a part. The roles in the construction of grief are divided between funeral industry, religious representatives, grief therapy and theory and media.[13] Media is the provider of an arena for emotional responses, and at this arena anyone has access. The media realm offers a context for the people for showing their grief and mourning, but in the same time media constructs the grief and their representations. After the disaster of the ship M/S Estonia, newspapers and tv channels were transformed in channel for dialog between authorities, experts and the relatives of the dead. Reimers continues by saying that media representations of grief and mourning are important for understanding the individual grief. The media has a big influence over the individual way of mourning and grief. In the analysis of death of Princess Diana Merrin is introducing a new term related to grief. He is asking if the grief of the people is real when is directed to a figure known only as an image.[14] As we saw in the part with the memorials, grief is very real in those messages and it is very related to the strong relation between the deceased and the mourning family. But the case of Princess Diana and, also, in the other celebrity deaths, is different. Compared with the grief towards someone close we have lost, this communal grief and hysteria seems to be unconvincing and maybe offensive. What kind of grief did the crowds experienced? Merrin says it was a recreational grief, a grief that the people wanted but not felt. It was, with others words, an entertainment grief. This entertainment grief was created by the entertainment "creator" - the media. This grief is not a genuine product of the people and it is a false product of media.[15] He is stating that "it was a result of the collapse of distinctions between truth and falsity, a collapse of distinctions between media and real world."[16]

Intrussion of the media and influence

As we can see, media has a big influence over the lifes of the people. It also influences behaviours and sometimes even forces to certain behaviours. A good example is that of the Royal Family shortly after the death of Princess Diana. Media and the people forced the Royal Family to join the display of the grief created. It appeared that real grief, the private one, that was proper for the family, wasn't enough. They also participated at the funeral like some actors in a show. Every step and scene was filmed and planned. The program, step by step, was known days ahead and was published in the newspapers. The applauses completed the idea of a funeral as a show. The applauses are not an usual ritual during the funerals, but during the Dianas' funeral seemed to be natural. Another example of the influence of media in the preparing of the funeral is the one at the death of a big sports man, who was killed last year. The television was broadcasting live from the house where the body was kept and the father of the dead was giving an interview. Meanwhile he tries to organize the funeral but an employee of the television stopped all people that were working in the organization so the interview can be take without any interference.

Film is another important source of ideas and understanding about death. Armstrong-Coster takes an ethnographic approach to look at the production and reception of two documentary films which were made for television. This films were about a woman who finally died from breast cancer.[17] "Her paper provides the subject's account of herexperiences, the producer's account of its production and the reaction to the filmsby members of a focus group, all of whom had cancer.At the centre of her analytic discussion is the impossibility of the cinematic attempt to represent and capture the experiences of dying and death (these are always experiences of the other rather than of the self). The 'alterity' of face, especially in 'close up', is central to the fictional cinematic representation of dying."[18] Film plays an important role in reflecting and shaping attitudes and ideas. Some other examples of the presence of death in the media in its influence we find in the article "The Social Facts of Death" by Douglas Davies. Here are presented several films that portrayed different aspects of cremation, in which the british people could find themselves in the real world. These were presented as being general accepted practices by the people. In this article, proffesor Davies drawned "attention tot the cultural lag between people's assessment of cremation rates and the actual level of creamtion in the United Kingdom and the United States of America."[19]

We can conclude that media is a powerful instrument in shaping the people understanding of death. It is a starting point for new practices and an arena of developing the old ritual. The coverage and speed of media can influence worldwide behavior people and fosters appearing forms of public grief as in the example with spontaneous shrines.

Bibliography

  1. Armstrong-Coster, A. ,In Morte Media Jubilate: an empirical study of cancer related documentary film, Mortality, 6, 287 - 305.
  2. Calen, Ioana, Cultul mortii in epoca media. Disparitiile care au ravasit lumea in ultimii 20 de ani ( The Death Cult in media era. The disappearing that moved the world in the last 20 years ), Cotidianul, 2 July 2009. http://www.cotidianul.ro/cultul_mortii_in_epoca_media_disparitiile_care_au_ravasit_lumea_in_ultimii_20_de_ani-90532.html ( 14 February 2010 ).
  3. Davies, Douglas, The Social Facts of Death, in Contemporary Issues in the Sociology of Dead, Dying and Disposal, ed. By Glennys Howork, Peter C. Jupp, Macmillan Press LTD, 1996.
  4. Davies, Jon, Vile Bodies and Mass Media Chantries, in Contemporary Issues in the Sociology of Dead, Dying and Disposal, ed. By Glennys Howork, Peter C. Jupp, Macmillan Press LTD, 1996.
  5. Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, vol. 1, Macmillan, 2002.
  6. Field, David, Tony Walter, Death in the media, Mortality, Virtual themed issue, 2003. http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/archive/deathandthemedia.pdf ( 14 february ).
  7. Kathleen Garces-Foley, Death and religion in a changing world, ed. Imprint Armonk, N.Y. ; London : M.E. Sharpe, 2006.
  8. Mallan, Elizabeth, Jenny Hockey, Death, Memory and Culture, Oxford, 2001.
  9. Merrin, William(1999) 'Crash, bang, wallop! What a picture! The death of Diana and the media', Mortality, 4: 1.
  10. Reimers, Eva, A reasonable grief - discourse construction of grief in a public conversation on raising the Shipwreck M/S Estonia, Mortality.
  1. David Field, Tony Walter, Death in the media, Mortality, Virtual themed issue, 2003. http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/archive/deathandthemedia.pdf ( 14 February 2010 )
  2. Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, vol. 1, Macmillan, 2002, p. 110.
  3. David Field, Tony Walter, Death in the media, Mortality, Virtual themed issue, 2003.
  4. Ioana, Calen, Cultul mortii in epoca media. Disparitiile care au ravasit lumea in ultimii 20 de ani ( The Death Cult in media era. The disappearing that moved the world in the last 20 years ), Cotidianul, 2 July 2009. http://www.cotidianul.ro/cultul_mortii_in_epoca_media_disparitiile_care_au_ravasit_lumea_in_ultimii_20_de_ani-90532.html ( 14 February 2010 )
  5. Merrin, William(1999) 'Crash, bang, wallop! What a picture! The death of Diana and the media', Mortality, 4: 1, 41 62
  6. Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, vol. 1, Macmillan, 2002, p. 113.
  7. Elizabeth Mallan, Jenny Hockey, Death, Memory and Culture, Oxford, 2001, p. 204
  8. Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, vol. 1, Macmillan, 2002, p. 621.
  9. Jon Davies, Vile Bodies and Mass Media Chantries, in Contemporary Issues in the Sociology of Dead, Dying and Disposal, ed. By Glennys Howork, Peter C. Jupp, Mcmillan Press LTD, 1996, p. 53-54
  10. Ibidem p. 55
  11. Kathleen Garces-Foley, Death and religion in a changing world, ed. Imprint Armonk, N.Y. ; London : M.E. Sharpe, 2006, p. 251
  12. Ibidem p. 258
  13. Eva Reimers, A reasonable grief - discourse construction of grief in a public conversation on raising the Shipwreck M/S Estonia, Mortality, vol. 4
  14. Merrin, William(1999) 'Crash, bang, wallop! What a picture! The death of Diana and the media', Mortality, 4: 1, 41 62.
  15. Ibidem
  16. Ibidem
  17. ARMSTRONG-COSTER, A. (2001). In Morte Media Jubilate: an empirical study of cancerrelated documentary film. Mortality, 6, 287 - 305.
  18. David Field, Tony Walter, Death in the media, Mortality, Virtual themed issue, 2003. http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/archive/deathandthemedia.pdf ( 14 february )
  19. Douglas Davies, The Social Facts of Death, in Contemporary Issues in the Sociology of Dead, Dying and Disposal, ed. By Glennys Howork, Peter C. Jupp, Mcmillan Press LTD, 1996, p. 29

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