Tag Archives: pop culture

Cryonics and Death

     A few months ago, there was a story in the news that relates to an interesting aspect of death— cryonics. Cryonics is the science of using extremely cold temperatures to preserve a human body, with the hope that life can be restored in the future, when we have the technology/ knowledge to do so. The news article explored the case of a 14 year old girl who died of cancer, whose dying wish was to be cryogenically frozen (the court ended up ruling in her favor and if you’re interested, the articles can be accessed below).

     The concept of cryonics is one thing and the ethics of cryonics, another. Personally, I don’t think cryonics is, or ever will be, feasible— the vast majority of science deem it an impossible task, and I think we’re simply wasting resources, time and research that can be put to better use. However, if we did manage to revive the actual human body— the cadaver— reviving the human brain is an infinitely more complex and intricate task. But let’s go along with this idea. If both the human body and brain were revived, how can we ensure the health/ quality of life or that the revival would result in the same individual? Would personality or memories, the very essence of a person, be preserved? If so, to what quality or to what extent? It’s incredibly hard to believe that after cryopreservation, that the mind, body and brain would not be fundamentally changed. Again, let’s play along and suppose that all the logistics of cryonics were perfected and the same individual could be brought back to life. The bigger question then arises— is it ethical and should we do it?

     Successful cryonics would shatter our very notion of life and death. In my opinion, humans were not meant to be brought back to life; it’s against our very nature. Life is a natural of death and death is a natural part of life. I understand that many people are uncomfortable and afraid of death and what it entails, but on the flip side, what would an essentially immortal life mean for humanity? Imagine what life would be like, waking up hundreds of years later, in a completely unfamiliar place and time, with no family or friends. What quality of life would you have? Cryonics would affect virtually every aspect of society — the economy, environment, religion, education, population etc… The desire for immortality has intrigued humans for thousands of years, yet death is natural for humans and I think that cryonics, especially if you benefit financially (like cryonic companies do), is little cruel because you may very well be giving people false hope, in one of their most vulnerable states.

     On a last note, however, my stance is softened a little bit when I consider cases like this little girl, where she didn’t get a chance to live her life. It’s one thing, if you want to be immortal or have a longer life for selfish reasons, but another, to simply want a chance to experience the world, because at the end of the day, I do think that everyone should at least deserve a chance at life.

The news article links:




1000 Ways to Get Comfortable with Death?

Have you ever had one of those days where you just can’t seem to get off the couch, and mindless channel surfing transforms from a merely a procrastination technique to the day’s activity? If so, you may be familiar with Spike TV’s 1000 Ways to Die, a series dedicated to retelling the real-life stories of those who have fallen victim to strange and unusual deaths. Far from an educational or austere program, the show is littered with dramatized and embellished reenactments of real life events. To say the show’s producers have used an artistic license is an understatement – each story is told by a sardonic narrator who uses dark humor to show his unsympathetic view of each victim. The victim is usually presented as an idiotic, deserving fool, for which death is a rightful result of their poor decisions. This is perhaps best illustrated by the cringe-worth puns that end each episode. After being described as a steroid-pumped, SUV-loving cyclist-hater, a man who gets hit by a semi-truck after driving two cyclists off the road is described as going “from road rage, to road kill.” To grasp this show’s mocking, unabashed humor, I believe this clip speaks for itself:

[jwplayer mediaid=”880″]

It’s obvious that 1000 Ways to Die is not the next critically acclaimed show that is promised to spellbind viewers from across the nation. But as somebody who has watched more episodes than I’m willing to admit, what makes this show so entertaining? And do we believe ethical to use other people’s misfortune as a source of entertainment? The former question has a slightly easier answer – there’s something Americans love about pranks, tricks, and those rare “oops” moments. Funny at the time, these moments become even funnier then captured on camera to enjoy again and again (consider the popularity of a recent YouTube video showing a woman accidentally lighting herself on fire while twerking)

Although these videos may make us cringe with the imagined pain of the victims, we find it ok to laugh, because we know they’re going to be ok. Maybe badly hurt, but alive. Laughing at their death would just be cruel.

With this in mind, why do we allow ourselves to laugh at the foolishness of people on 1000 Ways to Die? Is this ethical? I argue that the answer comes from the clever words of the sadistic narrator. Since the narrator makes each death seem like the victim’s fault, we find it ok to laugh at them – after all, they deserved it. Their poor decisions justify the punishment, and we can justify our laughter.

Although 1000 Ways to Die does not present death in the most graceful or respectful manner, I support it’s presence on TV simply because it gives death a presence. Many Americans are fearful and unfamiliar with death. 1000 Ways to Die uses humor to lighten the sober theme, a clever trick to make viewers comfortable with the topic of death. For those uncomfortable with the disease-stricken and war-torn bodies on CNN, I suggest giving 1000 Way to Die a try.

We are all born to die.

We mentioned in class the other day how “dying young” can be considered a “bad death”. However, I came to thinking about our current young culture of YOLO (Thank you Drake). “You only live once” has perfused through so much of our culture, especially for young populations, that death is a far off thing. Right now, people feel they’re invincible, living on extremes and partaking in behavior that contributes to a slow and invisible death (the booze and buzz for example). The typical college scene thrives off of this image of do-whatever-you-want because, hey, what do you have to lose (besides your one life)?

I was listening to Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die”, and I thought it summed up this idea in an interesting way. The lyrics:

“Come on take a walk on the wild side
Let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain
You like your girls insane…
Choose your last words,
This is the last time
Cause you and I
We were born to die”

Scene from “Born to Die” Music Video

In an interview Lana says, “When I was young I was overwhelmed by thoughts of my own mortality, but I also found fleeting moments of happiness in the arms of my lover and friends. This track and the record are about these two worlds–death and love–coming together.”

Our culture is so obsessed with death, but in a variety of ways apparent in our social media. The underlying theme I see, especially in music, is that regardless of how or when you die, death is universal. We are all born in this world and at some point we all leave it. It almost is like we are born to die, for death is inescapable for everyone. Why not go all out then and “live like you’re dying”?

The Final Installment of the Twilight Saga

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.

Julio Medina