Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Death on TV

Nige beat me to a post on this story. And, of course, he's right, the moment of death has become a taboo. This was first identified in 1955 by Geoffrey Gorer in his essay The Pornography of Death. Gorer compared our queasiness about death with the queasiness of Victorians about sex. This was taken up by the great Philippe Aries in his book The Hour of Our Death. It's obvious that the reaction to the TV show betrays a fear of exposing what should not be exposed, that seeing death is, somehow, unhealthy. But, as Aries shows, watching death was once see as very healthy, indeed edifying. The good death used to mean passing away in full awareness, your affairs - spiritual and worldly -  in order and your family at your bedside. Obviously this is not quite the same as dying on prime time, but is that just the way we do it now? I wouldn't want to die on TV, but I'm not that worried about watching somebody else do it. Either way, you're not going to live to regret it.


  1. Maybe we're more queasy about death because we no longer believe in an afterlife.

    But our queasiness is one thing and showing death on TV is another. Normally being queasy would be all the more reason to show it on TV. The protests against the show are presumably from anti-euthanasia campaigners, and the watchdog is worried about anti-euthanasia campaigners. Squeamishness about death isn't the issue.

    After all, violent death is on TV all the time, it's just that euthanasia is more controversial.

  2. In the days of public execution what the crowd turned up for was the view at the moment of death. Thought to be the most private of moments and something to be removed from the subject.
    And one of the reasons why the Tower method was used for the nobility. At that moment the face was hidden, thereby conferring difference. Plus the blood was spilled on Normandy as the Tower is sitting on, rather that in London.

  3. eXit-Factor! it might be the new thing...

  4. death's fine, but no one likes a quitter.

  5. a death is only 'good' if you have realised what the end of your wordly life means. And what life here was all about. Inherent uneasiness is correct if you're just wishful thinking at the end. Comedy is indeed trying to laugh at death. Another human folly.

  6. The problem with watching it on TV is that you miss the reality of it. Reality TV is, by its very nature, NOT real. It's still virtual.

    My son's science class recently watched the dissection of a human cadaver on closed-circuit TV. No one got sick or freaked out, mainly because the element of smell was removed.

    If something is on TV, you can look away. If you're in the room with it, you can't stop breathing.

  7. I don't know about in England, but in Australia I believe there is no longer any dis-encouragement of relatives from being at the bedside of a loved one who may die at any time. I suspect that most spouses, and many children, feel that it is right and proper to be there at the end. Not everyone feels it is worthwhile, though. My mother had an unpleasant experience while at the bedside of her first husband when he died; she did not want to be there when her (more loved) second husband died.

    In any event, I reckon the taboo thing is not what it was.

    No, what people get upset about is the voyeuristic nature of watching a non-relative die, and more particularly, the propaganda purposes for which the euthanasia movement will use it.

    From what I can gather, this is entirely the desire of the deceased, but that doesn't stop me from questioning its dubious ethics and tactics of making your suicide a media event. Watching a peaceful suicide will surely encourage people who should feel more valued by society to take the same route. (There was a well publicised case in Australia a few years ago of an aged woman who sought and got advice from a famous euthanasia advocate on how to end her life, just because she didn't like being old.)

  8. Sorry about spelling of "discouragement" that appeared above.