AboutThis blog is a platform of communication for a college course at Emory entitled "The Anthropology of Death and Burial". The purpose is to use this blog to invite the world into our classroom by drawing on current events or phenomena that surround us and that are relevant to our exploration into the topic of death and how people deal with it. The course is explicitly cross-disciplinary and besides anthropology we also explore the topic of death through the lens of biology, history, religious studies, medicine, law, philosophy, sociology, literature and art. Feel welcome to explore and participate!
Who we areThe contributors to this blog are all undergraduate students at Emory University in Atlanta GA (USA). The course is taught by Dr. Liv Nilsson Stutz who is an archaeologists with a special interest in mortuary archaeology and ritual studies. She is also a regular contributor.
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Monthly Archives: December 2012
A couple of weeks ago in bed I watched an HBO documentary called “Boy Interrupted” which tells the account of Evan Perry, an adolescent fifteen-year-old boy who committed suicide. This film initially interested me because it was produced and directed by his parents after his death. The film tells the story of Evan’s life and the reactions of his friends, family, and relatives. I found it to be extremely interesting specifically because Evan was so young and throughout the film, it is evident that some psychological problems were present. I watch this during our “suicide/assisted suicide” unit and thought that this documentary can apply very well. One can see truly how one boy can be shaped so much by his surroundings that he would want to end his own life. In the end, Evan killed himself by jumping out his window of his bedroom on the sixth floor of an apartment building down an airs haft onto the concrete below. I greatly advise that you take a look at this film, even if you don’t watch the whole thing. It is very interesting to see first hand the psychological and mental implications that could result in suicide.
The website for this film can be found here:
On November 20, 2012 in Puerto Rico, famed boxer Hector Camacho was shot in the head in a drive by shooting while traveling with a friend. The bullet penetrated his jaw, fractured two vertebrae and severed his carotid artery restricting blood flow to his brain; he also suffered a cardiac arrest during the first few hours of his hospitalization. The next day he was declared brain dead by the physicians present effectively ending all hope that he could make a full recovery. The doctors then recommended that he be taken off of life support, a recommendation that his mother endorsed. Camacho died on November 24, 2012 and was laid to rest in New York City on December 1.
However, not everyone in Hector’s family was supportive of the decision to remove him from life support. Hector’s eldest son, Hector Jr., opposed his grandmother’s decision to remove his father from life support stating that “He is going to fight until the end. My father is a boxer.” Other relatives as well as friends of Camacho were also unsure of whether or not to remove Camacho from life support. One friend and fellow professional boxer Victor Callejas remarked that “If there is still hope and faith, why not wait a little more?”
The death of Camacho and the dispute over whether or not to end life support for him shows that despite what scientific evidence tell us, despite what professional doctors know and despite what we have learned throughout the semester in this Death and Burial Class, there is always going to be a debate over life support and whether or not brain death is truly the end. Even though we know about brain death and the fact that a person cannot recover if the brain is dead, we should not be so quick to look down on people who doubt the evidence of brain death with contempt. It is understandable why these people might be hesitant to pull the plug on a loved one. For almost everyone, losing a loved one is one of the most traumatizing experiences they can go through; furthermore, losing a loved one who still looks able to potentially function and recover is even more traumatizing. Even though we should raise awareness of brain death, due to the fact that people are reacting normally to the state of their loved ones, we shouldn’t blame people for being hesitant to pull the plug on a brain dead relative.
Because of this, every person in this class should make it their goal to help raise awareness of brain death is some way shape of form. By doing this, we can at least help make sure that people are more understanding of brain death and what it means for their loved ones
On November 1, 2012, Emory hosted the Send Silence Packing exhibit. As I walked to my last class of the day, I came across many backpacks dispersed about the Quad. As I got closer, I saw that there were personal letters or notes written by friends and relatives, telling a short story of the tragic loss of their loved one to suicide. With each step I took along the sidewalk, I viewed the letters of other deceased college students. Lifting my head, I realized that these people were once students just like me, stressing out about classes, but something about their situation made their only solution suicide. Suicide falls closer than we expect. The 1100 backpacks represented the students who have taken their own lives in the past year alone. For more information go to: http://news.emory.edu/stories/2012/10/er_send_silence_packing/campus.html
Or the Send Silence Packing webpage: http://www.activeminds.org/our-programming/send-silence-packing
Suicide has left a mark on our younger generation. It is interesting that although it is so prevalent, its stigma makes it a subject not openly discussed. It is such a difficult topic that many suffering from depression do not seek help. However, a mental health issue must be handled appropriately. Furthermore, there is no “type” or person who commits suicide. At a school of diverse students, this issue should top priority because anyone of any background can suffer from mental illness.
This silent epidemic is taking our loved ones away from us. The worst thing to do when dealing with an epidemic is nothing. The lack of attention and effectual solutions to this problem produces incessant reports of suicide throughout the country. Therefore, it continues, spreads, and will continue to do so until we as a society take preemptive steps to avoid this last resort and help the people who are in this situation.
Something has changed that has caused problems to be so unbearable that the only answer is death. It is especially problematic because with this exhibit, the victims are college students. The stress of college can be intimidating. Not only do students concern themselves with academics, but also work, paying for school, approval from parents and professors and friends, their future and career. Although college is supposed to be the best four years of your life it can also be the worst and last years of a student’s life. There have been strategies to help depressed students, but how far have we come to where suicide is not statistically significant?
A 93-year-old elderly man froze to death from hypothermia after the city shut off his power due to an unpaid bill. Check out the full story here:
Have you ever heard about Carl Tanzler?
If not, you may want to check this out.
Long story short, he fell in love with a woman who never loved him back. After that poor woman died, he got the body and preserved it (in crude ways), made it a wax face with glass eyeballs and slept with it (sexually active too) for more than 7 years until the woman’s sister discovered. Carl was not charged with any crimes because of the statute of limitation. The body was reburied in a secret place and Carl went on making an life-size effigy of the woman which he lived with till his death.
The story was romanticized by the mass media and he actually gain a lot sympathy. Then the shocking part comes: the government decided to publicly display the reconstructed body. This has deeply troubled me (think about how much we talked about protecting bodies and the problems came with exhumed bodies–they easily crossed the line here). Because the case is very old, I couldn’t find out more about why the government made this decision, but on the web page below, you can read the recount of this public display from a kid who went (now in his sixties). Apparently a traumatized childhood experience.
A Demented Love
The final installment of the Twilight saga was released on November 16, 2012 in U.S. theatres. The film centers on Bella’s half- vampire half- human daughter, Renesmee Cullen, who is in danger of the Volturi for a false allegation. The Cullens gather support from other vampire clans to protect Renesmee to prevent a bloody vampire war. Breaking Dawn Part Two presents interesting elements of vampire lore that are undoubtedly connected with death: death as a sex symbol and a lesson on how to kill a vampire.
Sex sells in pop culture, and Breaking Dawn definitely made this point clear. From Tayler Lautner’s rock hard abs to close ups of Kristen Stewart’s full lips; from passionate love scenes to sex jokes, Twilight symbolizes the sexuality in death. That is to say, the characters themselves are symbols of sex. The highly attractive cast reminded me of other vampire movies, from Coppola’s Dracula (1992) to Dracula 2000 (2000) produced by Patrick Lussier to Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing (2004) which similarly casted sexy actors and actresses. Furthermore it reminded me of Dr. Stutz’ previous blog post from early November, “Can I please have a look at the coffin with the hot chick black reaper?” and Sarah Hampton’s recent post on Vladimir the Impaler: the media is “sexifies” objects of death, making death more pleasing, enticing, and approachable.
Breaking Dawn pt. 2 presents an interesting element regarding suicide: you die to become immortal. It is a sacrifice for rebirth. Bella exemplifies this resurrection most clearly when she is bit by Edward to become a vampire. As a result, she not only gains immeasurable strength and good health, but her daughter, Renesmee, is born a vampire-human hybrid. Renesmee is special, because she is not an Immortal Child, or a child that was bitten by a vampire. Instead, Renesmee is born biologically. Here, again we see how our generation humanizes vampires, changing the old traditional stories of bloodthirsty vampires to the possible existence of half human half vampire entities.
The film also comments on what we understand as the death of a vampire. Supposedly immortal beings, it is agreed that vampires can be killed by sunlight or a stake through the heart. The film disregards death by sunlight and also illustrates a new method. We have seen from the first episode of the Twilight Saga that vampires sparkle in sunlight instead of burning into ashes. Furthermore, decapitation becomes the method for survival in the film. Team Cullen, aided by their alliance with the wolves, takes on the Volturi in a gruesome battle where the heads literally snap and roll. I find this very interesting, because vampire films have illustrated how humans can kill vampires, but I have never seen vampires kill vampires. Lastly the decapitations made me think of how the living suffer and the dead do not: mortals sometimes experience painful deaths whereas the vampires (technically dead), die instantly and definitely at the detachment of their head.
Advocates of assisted suicide support it, because they believe that it is not painful to the individual and instead, acts as a relief for those suffering from a poor quality of life (whether it is due to an illness or old age). However, thirty-three of the fifty states support a painful assisted death, the lethal injection of prisoners.
In a recent report issued by the Human Rights Watch, titled So Long as They Die, the organization highlights that “although supporters of lethal injection believe the prisoner dies painlessly, there is mounting evidence that prisoners may have experienced excruciating pain during their executions.” Like methods described in the movie Suicide Plan, lethal injection requires a sequence of drugs: an anesthetic, a paralytic, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. However, unlike the drug cocktail used during assisted suicide that yield a painless death, the drugs approved by state officials for legal injection have been deemed “too cruel to use on dogs and cats.” What makes it worse is that prisoners are often paralyzed but “insufficiently anesthetized,” and therefore, although they are experiencing intense pain, they are unable to “signal their distress.”
The descriptions of the things that have gone wrong in executions were appalling. Some included:
- “For over an hour, medical technicians and then a physician tried to find a suitable vein for intravenous access. The condemned inmate ended up with one needle in his hand, one in his neck, and a catheter inserted into the vein near his collarbone. One hour and nine minutes after he was strapped to the gurney, the prisoner was pronounced dead.
- “A kink in the intravenous tubing stopped some of the drugs from reaching an inmate. In the same execution, the intravenous needle was inserted pointing the wrong way-towards the inmate’s fingers instead of his heart, which slowed the effect of the drugs.”
- “A prisoner who initially lost consciousness during his lethal injection execution began convulsing, opened his eyes, and appeared to be trying to catch his breath while his chest heaved up and down repeatedly. This lasted for approximately ten minutes before his body stopped twitching and thrashing on the gurney.”
In the movie, Law Abiding Citizen they show a lethal injection that corresponded to some of these examples. Below is the link for a clip of the scene:
Now imagine this going on for 10…20…or even 30 minutes, like what occurred during the lethal injection of Angel Diaz.
How is this humane? People may do bad things in their life, but no one deserves to die in this way. However, it is not only supported by states but people come to watch these people die this way. Families hurt by the individual gain satisfaction in seeing the person die.
Read more about this at: http://www.hrw.org/node/11414/section/2
On another note, I found it interesting that the death penalty is legal and the punishment is given, because a judge, jurors, and the families that fall victim to the actions of the prisoner during their life believe that the he or she deserves to die. Yet, euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal. Do people suffering in this world not deserve to have the right to die too?
Earlier this year our class read about the important role material items play in the grieving process for parents who miscarry or lose a child at birth. In these cases parents never get to spend real time with or form memories of the dead child, and the child does not live long enough to accumulate personal artifacts, so parents often rely on material objects to remind them of the child’s existence. But how does this role change when a parent loses an older child? Are the child’s possessions more important because they help fill the gap that is created from their death? Or are these possessions more painful because they are accompanied by memories of the child’s life?
In a recent Huffington Post video “Creating Space to Heal: Mother Transforms Murdered Son’s Bedroom” Beth Dargis describes her cathartic experience of transforming her deceased son’s bedroom into a hang-out space for her daughter and her friends. For some reason I had always been under the impression that parents tended to keep their deceased children’s rooms relatively untouched after their death, and in so doing created a sort of shrine to the child. This video showed, however, that cleaning out her son’s room was a beneficial component of her grieving process and provided her with a way to let life go on and create new memories. Dargis cited the fact that her son would not have wanted a shrine for himself as one of the reasons behind the rooms transformation, which is interesting considering how often times the deceased’s wishes are ignored so that their loved ones can grieve in a way that benefits themselves. While she did get rid of most items from her son’s room, Dargis still kept a few important one and created a more miniature shrine in his honor.
This video made me wonder: in getting rid of material objects related to deceased children, are parents simultaneously getting rid of their child’s memory? Or do they not need these objects because they have memories of their child, whereas parents who miscarry do not?