The Comedy of Mortality

Death is usually regarded as a tragic event. People grieve and mourn over the loss of a loved one and will feel compassion when someone else is going through that pain. There are, however, ones who mock death and ridicule the deceased. Examples of this are the television show 1000 Ways to Die and the Darwin Awards website. Is this completely disrespectful or can it count as legitimate comedy?

First, let’s take a look at 1000 Ways to Die. This was a television show that ran from May 14, 2008 to July 15, 2012 on Spike TV. The show recreates unusual deaths and the narrator presents them in a lighthearted way. Then a team of professionals (pathologists, toxicologists, etc.) explain exactly how the unfortunate victim died. After that, the death was given a number and a title which is usually a pun of some sort. The victims of the show are usually presented as being either horrifically awful or horrendously incompetent people who apparently “get what they deserve”.  One notable exception to this formula was death number 1000 which was titled Premature Endings. Here, the victim was a dying old man who had lived a long and fulfilling life. The narrator then gave a speech about how we should strive for living and dying respectfully like the man. He concludes by saying that this show “has been an instructional manual for how to live”.

Now, let’s take a look at the Darwin Awards which is a website that was founded in 1993. They present stories of people performing senseless acts and paying the ultimate price for it. There are rules for the site. One example  is that the victim must be able to make sound decisions on his or her own; this prevents the mocking of children and people with mental handicaps. Similarly to 1000 Ways to Die, the Darwin Awards claim to be “macabre tales that make [people] laugh while instructing [them] in the laws of common sense”; however, one major difference between the two is that the accidents feature on the Darwin Awards are real (this is another one of the rules of the site) while the ones on 1000 Ways to Die are fake (some of the stories might be true, the show usually changes a few details).

So, now back to the original questions. First, are they disrespectful? 1000 Ways to Die does openly mock some of their victims, but as I mentioned earlier, they are usually depicted as terrible people. The ones who aren’t are treated with much more respect. As for the Darwin Awards, they mock the decisions that were made rather than the people themselves. What about them legitimate forms of comedy? Well, that honestly depends on one’s sense of humor. Some people will be absolutely appalled while others might be slightly amused by the dark humor. Personally, I have found some of the stories from both mediums to be humorous and others to be disgusting. So what do you think? Is it okay to poke fun at the dead or should they be off-limits?

1000 Ways to Die official site: http://www.spike.com/shows/1000-ways-to-die

Darwin Awards official site: http://www.darwinawards.com/darwin/

A fair warning: some of the materials on the sites may be graphic and NSFW (Not Safe For Work)

3 responses to “The Comedy of Mortality

  1. Lindsey Beth Max

    This post relates to what I am pursuing for my final paper, the role of humor in death. It seems that teasing the dead has become very popular in the media. An example of this is the show “South Park,” in which the character Kenny is killed in various gruesome manners. I believe that making light of death and dying is one of the manners in which we cope with death. Especially with extreme examples such as those in “The Darwin Awards” and “1000 Ways to Die,” by making fun of these scenarios we alleviate our own fears of death and the discomfort we have with the subject. This is not to say that this is not disrespectful, however. While I admit that I have read “The Darwin Awards” many times and was entertained by them, I still do think it is somewhat disrespectful at the very least to the families of those whose misfortunes are being exploited. I do see how it could be considered a “teaching experience” of what not to do, but majority of the people who read “The Darwin Awards” would never consider attempting the things that caused those deaths.

  2. I thought this article was a good point to bring up since I have watched “1000 Ways to Day” on numerous occasions. Although the show is meant for entertainment purposes, it does reenact these tragic deaths in a belittling manner. The show depicts its victims as incompetent which results in the “freak accident” death they experienced. When I watch the show it’s usually since there’s nothing else on television so I never take it that seriously. But looking back on it, the concept of it is a bit irking. I don’t think it’s just to depict these deaths in a lighthearted, sarcastic fashion. If a program was to inform people of crazy ways people died, it should be more educational. On the topic of the Darwin Awards, I have never heard of them before this reading. After scanning the website and reading some stories, I think this website is appropriate. It doesn’t poke fun at the victim but rather makes fun of the decisions these people made. I can tell that from most of these stories, these people lack much common sense.

  3. I have also watched several episodes of “1000 Ways to Die,” and a lot of these deaths are quite ridiculous. I also agree with you on how they depict their characters and their deaths; some of these depictions can be insulting to some. However, many (or most) of these deaths and characters are fictional. If this show is disrespectful, then who is it being disrespectful to? Even in literature and other TV shows we have numerous examples of silly characters that make bad decisions or lack common sense, and we laugh at them too. Would this particular show be disrespectful because it shows people’s deaths in this manner? Personally, I used to watch “1000 ways to Die” partly because I found the science fascinating and because some of these scenarios are so ridiculous. I’m hesitant to watch now after a few graphic episodes. With the few that I watched, I didn’t find the show to be disrespectful although it did depict some of the characters to be rather gross; I thought this was because it added to the show’s atmosphere. For example, one of the shows had a man who died from contracting rabies because he hunted squirrels and cooked them rare. It would show close-ups of him eating the rare meat with blood dripping from his teeth, then sleeping in a messy room, etc.

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