How Society Deals with Death

In “9-11 Aesthetics” it is stated that in ‘remembering and speaking of the dead we engage in commemorative buffing’ – recalling only the positive aspects of the persons life, creating a sense of purpose or accomplishment for the individual, and even aesthetically improving the appearance of a deceased’s face and body. Why are we so stuck on creating movie character-like, unblemished characters out of the fallible and imperfect people around us only once they are gone, while we criticize and expect more from people when they are around? Is it that we feel we owe something to them, since they are dead and we are still living? Or could it be the type of idealistic culture we will live in where perfection and ‘being the best’ is prized? Could it be that the hopes we have about living a movie-like life would be crushed if we see that those around us die without having accomplished their goals, being unhappy, or looking imperfect and that we will have a similar end as well – in other words, is this aestheticizing merely a defense mechanism to preserve our egos and preserve the hope that we do in fact live meaningful, purposeful lives.
In my commentary I mentioned that our society seeks to live out an ideal – movie character like – existence. By that I mean a life in which we make the right decisions instead of the wrong ones, one full of ambition and purpose, one with more happiness and success than pain and suffering, one full of love from friends and family and free of misfortunes – all of these factors would be constituents of the ‘ideal’ and preferred life by individuals in our society. This ideal, however, falls short of the reality most lives encounter – hardship, injustice, struggle, lack of purpose, inequality, sickness and etc.. However, when an individual dies in our society we never think to emphasize the existence of hardships in their life or acknowledge the flaws in their character – we instead put up snapshots of the happiest moments and cake their faces with makeup to mask and forget about the imperfections and shortcomings of the reality of their existence. Usually one does not hear others speak critically of those who have recently died, while we are able to speak critically of those who have passed away a long time ago or those who are still among us. The death of those who were recently living among us implants the idea in our heads that death is imminent and not outside of us – and this injustice and arbitrariness of death causes us to try to rationalize death by instilling a sense of meaning in the lives of those who have died around us. We instill this false sense of purpose and meaning into these lives because death might come after us next. Since we may not have accomplished our goals, established a sense of meaning or fulfilled our hopes yet, this maksing process allows us to pretend that by the time we all die we too will have lived a life worth something, one full of mroe good than bad, and one full of meaning. Basically, this masking is a defense mechanism for the living in protecting us from the realization that life may not be the movie that we
hoped it to be.

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