Monthly Archives: December 2013

Taylor Werkema- October Baby

This past week we were talking about the problematic death of the unborn.  Recently, I watched a movie that explored how someone would deal with learning that she was born through a failed abortion.   The movie is called October Baby.  So yes this is the perfect time to talk about this.  In the movie, the main character Hannah has just started college and is suffering from a number of conditions including epilepsy, asthma, and depression.  After a traumatic collapse during a performance Hannah meets with her parents and a doctor.  This is where Hannah learns she is not only adopted but that her biological mother tried to abort her.  Hannah decides that she needs to find her birth mother in order to move on with her life.  After a tumultuous encounter with her biological mother Hannah tries to get a better understanding of why her adopted parents went about adopting her.  She finds out that her mother lost twins at 24 weeks.  After this they had seen an adoption request at the pregnancy crisis center where they ended up getting Hannah.

This movie brought up the very interesting dimensions of problematic death of the unborn.  Hannah from the perspective of the unborn that almost didn’t exist allows the viewer to explore how an unborn might feel.  Hannah’s biological mother allows the viewer to see the perspective of the mother who chooses to end the life of her baby.  Finally, the movie explores the loss a mother feels after the loss of an unborn child and how she can cope and move on.  This movie, although offering a very religious dimension, offers a very interesting perspective of our recent class topics.


Taylor Werkema-How to Die in Oregon

In 1994 Oregon became the first state to allow physician assisted suicide.  Through a measure called the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, terminally ill patients were allowed to end their life though medications prescribed by physicians.  This documentary explores the background to the law and then it follows the story of several patients that are going through the Death with Dignity process.  The documentary is a really charged telling of the lives of these terminally ill patients and their loved ones.  The patients range from the elderly to middle age persons suffering from a terminal illness.  This is interesting story because it is very different from the documentary The Suicide Plan we watched in class.  This documentary intimately shows the emotional side of physician-assisted suicide.  The main difference is the people in the documentary focus more on the control physician assisted suicide gives the person over their death, and in turn life, rather than the relief of pain and suffering.

Although the film is clearly sympathetic to the agenda of physician-assisted suicide, it does do a good job of showing the vast amount of good that this program can do through the lens of several different patients experiences.  I recommend this to anyone who has an interest in physician-assisted suicide and end of life care.


Taylor Werkema- We need a heroic narrative for death

In this inspirational Ted Talk, Amanda Bennett, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, explains her journey with the death of her husband and what she learned through it.  Ms. Bennett explains first her life with her husband and then his death.  Her husband and her lived a life full of travel and adventure traveling all over the world as they both worked and wrote abroad.  She then speaks about how he became ill with cancer.  Much like how they lived their lives, both confronted death with an attitude of conquering this new adventure.  Unfortunately, this attitude of unrelenting hope and conquering led to the denial of the actual act of dying.  Finally, after three rounds of remission, when her husband died Ms. Bannett was not prepared for it and this quick death in a hospital bed did not seem to match the heroic narrative of their lives.

Ms. Bennett then calls for a more heroic narrative for death—a death that allows a person’s life to be manifested in his or her death.  Although having a death that is reflective of one’s life is not a new concept, referring to the concept of a “good death” as seen throughout history, it seems we have lost that in modern Western culture.  This video is a moving and powerful story of how the living need a narrative for death to match the narrative of their loved ones’ lives.  If you have 20 minutes free this would be a great watch.

A New Look on The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is a trilogy that takes place in Panem, which is a country with 12 districts that are controlled by the Capitol.  Panem used to have a 13th district, but the Capitol destroyed it after the people in the 13th district rebelled.  As a result, every year one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district are chosen to compete in the Hunger Games.  These participants are known as tributes, and they must kill one another in an outdoor arena until only one winner is left standing.

Before taking this class, I wouldn’t have paid attention to the fact that these tributes are basically each district’s sacrifice in order to maintain “peace” for Panem.  But now, that’s the first thing that comes to mind.  Some tributes, known as Careers, will voluntarily offer themselves for the games because they were trained for them from an early age.  But do they consider themselves as some sort of martyrs?  Or is this some sort of twisted suicide? I know there is a lot of fame and benefits that come from winning the games, but these children are basically offering themselves up as a sort of sacrifice.  But for what? Panem doesn’t need to use children to keep peace, but the president thought that it would be the most effective way.  This is even shown in reality because we are more outraged or sympathetic or empathetic when children are killed, sacrificed, hurt, or abused than adults.  If our children’s lives were at stake, I can see people either causing an uprising or complying to the whoever is in power.  Children evoke stronger emotions and opinions than any other age group.  I would assume it’s because they are seen as powerless and naive, but there’s nothing powerless or naive about the tributes.

The tributes make me wonder why some of them are excited about the games while others fear them.  I understand the fear more than being excited.  I don’t think I could ever be excited about sacrificing my own life for a competition that falsely promotes peace and forces me to kill others if I want to stay alive.  I really enjoyed the trilogy (both the books, and so far the movies!), but I definitely see them in a different perspective now.

Mandela’s Funeral Attracts Hundreds and the Famous: An Opportunity for South African locals?

Nelsen Mendela continues to be a symbol of freedom and democracy for all, and is respected and revered by many. His legacy easily makes him extremely famous and his funeral is attracting the attendance of several key individuals including President Bill Clinton, President Obama, and and several other dignitaries. Several world leaders will be in South Africa for this extremely public event, and this is not a surprise to me. It seems as though our culture today expects large, lavish funerals for those who are famous or have contributed greatly to society, and that the public has automatically demanded a right to grieve along with family of the dead. What is interesting about this to me  is the fact that several, several people are going to benefit economically from this momentous event. Suddenly, Mandela regalia has a large demand, and South African locals are benefiting greatly from the influx of visitors.

In the article above, it is said that Mandela’s funeral will be an event for hundreds and it is attracting the attendance of several world-renown icons. South Africa is expected to receive hundreds, even thousands of visitors who will be coming to pay homage to the great leader. Nelson Mandela, at the age of 95, passed away earlier this week, on Thurs Dec 5th, and since then there have been grand plans being made for his funeral. As discussed in class, there is great attention payed to the funeral services of the famous, and this funeral is bound to be a grand event. His funeral is expected to be one week long, and is to included days of prayer and mourning, among other activities.

What is not spoken about is the industry that will benefit from this funeral. The article hints at the business that the state airline, South Africa Airlines, will receive. They will be providing private chartering of flights for several dignitaries to attend, and they will accommodate hundreds of people who will be entering the country in the next week or so.  They also mentioned the increase in Mandela merchandise, such as shirts, posters, pictures, or other regalia. This, along with the revenue from hotels, restaurants, or other services, will be enough for the South African locals to benefit from. In many senses, Mandela’s death will benefit several individuals.

This is similar to the deaths of recent public figures; Micheal Jackson, Whitney Houston, or Princess Diana. This is slightly problematic, but yet a fact of life; people benefit from the death of others. Especially famous people. Almost anything can become a commodity, can’t it?


Delicious Corpses

Marina Abramović , a famous performance artist who now lives in New York, is a prominent figure in the art community.  To understand her work I had to first understand performance art. Basically, it is a form of art that incorporates real personal emotions and interactions usually in the forms of public performances and videos. In one interview, Abramović , who self-identifies as the grandmother of performance art, stated that a performance artist never hesitates to cut or harm his or her own body for the sake of the artistic message because the body is only a canvas. Most of her work consists of very unusual public acts, including nude performances with skeletons and interacting with museum visitors in a previously constructed display, like a large table.


In regards to this class, Abramović’s most relevant art performance was at the MOCA Gala LA in 2011. The event was set up with a large stage in the middle of the room with oval-shaped banquet tables stationed around it, each set with plates and place settings to instruct guests where to sit.  Though this set up seems traditional, it was the details of the event that Abramović used to send her artistic message.  All servers wore long white coats similar to a doctor’s white coat and each table had a centerpiece either of a skeleton or of a live actor’s head (a hole was cut in the table for the actor to stick his or her head through). For the actors in the tables, I believe they were instructed to act as lifeless as possible. I say this because the footage of the event shows the actors staring at guests with “dead” facial expressions.


After guests were seated, the live performances began. This part of the event included different performances by varying artists, along with Abramović’s reading from a section of her manifesto about the role of the artist in society as an entertainer and a selfless teacher. After this reading, Blondie took the stage and performed her song, “Heart of Glass.” As her performance came to an end, shirtless men brought out two large planks each carrying a large object draped in an opaque shroud. When Blondie finished her song, Abramović came on stage and unveiled the objects. The objects were life-sized naked corpses that each resembled one of the artists on stage. It turns out they were cakes. After handing Blondie a knife, the two artists moved to her own replica cake; Abramović, a brunette, moved to the brunette cake and Blondie moved to the blonde one. Each performer proceeded to stab the woman cake in the heart and hold up handfuls to the audience.  It was this action that struck me the most.


Would simply cutting the cake not send a sufficient message? The stabbing act was extremely unsettling for me, and the video of the event made sure to include the reactions of the celebrity guests. The video of the event ends on an image of the devoured woman cake with the serving knife sticking out of its chest; a very unsettling image due to the life-like appearance of the woman cake’s face and the color of the cake.


During this large dinner event, which doubled as a performance art piece, I believe that the corpse cakes were meant to symbolize an artist’s body of work. This is a great example of the symbolism that a corpse can have. Because it is an inanimate object, it innately represents victimization and helplessness. Does this mean that Abramović wished to state that she felt viciously devoured by her audience and fans? But doesn’t she enjoy being an entertainer? Why else would she choose that career? Maybe this was meant to symbolize that she wanted herself to be consumed by her audience, which would mean the corpse cake simply represented herself and her dreams.

Overall, the performance succeeded at evoking profound emotions from the audience, including myself. Abramović’s belief that an artist’s body is a canvas was brought to a new level with the cutting of the cake. I can imagine the discomfort that guests would have felt while eating a cake that was so human-like, which I’m sure Abramović understood. The whole event was raw and unusual, which art should be. Her message was stark and I applaud her methods of pushing the envelope.







Suicide Watch: reddit and suicide

Some of the traditional methods for suicide prevention in the past several decades have consisted of therapeutic programs, medications, and suicide hotlines. Suicide hotlines have been a key part of the suicide prevention phenomenon in the United States and the Western world and are also part of the public conceptualization of the suicide problem (with them being a theme or topic of television series episodes). The suicide hotline model is an important one and not unusual that it has been somewhat reshaped to fit the internet.

The popular online discussion board reddit has a ‘subreddit’ called Suicide Watch, which allows users to submit their stories and receive advice and support from other members of the website. The site is not just for people contemplating or planning to commit suicide but is also open to discussion for individuals who are worried about loved ones and would like advice for how to go about getting them help and saving their lives. To ensure the safety and protection of their user base the moderators of the subreddit have installed guidelines for posting and replying on Suicide Watch. These can be seen on the right side of the forum when browsing through threads or reading through individual comments and responses. The emphasis on no “abuse, pro-suicide comments, tough love” and the espousal of “non-judgmental peer support” are key parts of the suicide prevention dogma.

I know we have discussed (at least in my discussion group) how anonymity of the internet can promote bullying and thus suicide or other violent actions. But in the case of Suicide Watch on reddit, the anonymity of the internet lifts barriers of fear that would have otherwise prevented individuals from seeking the help they so dearly required. Opening and reading some of the various threads that have been posted on Suicide Watch is somewhat saddening, but also very touching to see the amount of care and effort people will put into helping others to whom they have no personal connection beyond being members of the same discussion board.

Beyond the mental health advocacy groups and suicide hotlines and psychiatric clinics in the United States, the internet, in this case reddit, represents a new frontier for suicide prevention, as well as support for other issues like depression and self-harm (which are covered by subreddits listed as related by the moderators of Suicide Watch).

Here is the link to Suicide Watch in case you wish to read some of the threads and see how an online community is reacting to suicidality: I think a lot of the stories speak for themselves.