Tag Archives: Culture

Before I die, I Want To…

Photo of the ‘Before I Die’ project in New Orleans.

To the left is a picture of an abandoned building in New Orleans. What you see on the the side of the building started out as an experiment by Candy Chang. Candy had lost someone she loved. In writing about this experiment and the impetus for it, she said, “I thought about death a lot. This helped clarify my life but I struggled to maintain perspective. I wanted to know what was important to the people around me and I wanted a daily reminder.”

Candy and her friends painted the side of an abandoned house in their neighborhood with chalkboard paint. They then stenciled the sentence “Before I die I want to _______.” and left chalk in little baskets along the walls so anyone walking by would be able reflect on their lives and share their aspirations in public space.  

I stumbled upon this project while perusing the world wide web via ‘Stumble Upon’ the other day.  As I looked through the

Before I Die in Minneapolis

photos of various walls across the U.S. and several other countries, I came across the wall in Minneapolis.  I scanned through the photos quickly, looking for the address where the wall was located, but had no luck.  Upon google searching the Minneapolis project, I found that Before I Die in Minneapolis, according to the Startribune, “is on a wall at 2609 Stevens Avenue in Whittier, part of that neighborhood’s ‘Artists in Storefronts.'”  The project ran April 27 through June 10 of this year (2012).  So, I had missed it by a good two months.  

Anyway, I know this is a departure from what I listed in my previous post concerning up and coming blog topics, but because these art projects are more time sensitive than the topics I am working on currently. Thus, I figured it would be best to post about this before other drafts.  

Projects like these are always very interesting to me.  So, I encourage you to look for your city on the Before I Die Project Website and go have a look.  And take some pictures.  Maybe even write a little something of your own on the wall for others to see.  Or, if like me, you missed the project in your city, see if you can catch one in a city near you because as Candy Chang said, “it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you.” And sometimes all you really need is a little reminder.

SOURCE: CandyChang.com

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Filed under Art, Cultural Attitudes toward Death, Culture

Prohibitions on Death: YOU SHALL NOT PASS.

Last updated Nov. 15, 2012

“It is forbidden to die in the Arctic town of Longyearbyen.  Should you have the misfortune to fall gravely ill, you can expect to be despatched by aeroplane or ship to another part of Norway to end your days.  And if you are terminally unlucky and succumb to misfortune or disease, no-one will bury you here.  The town’s small graveyard stopped accepting newcomers 70 years ago.” Duncan Bartlett, of the BBC News,  wrote in his article on this little Arctic town in July of 2008.

Longyearbyen is the largest settlement and administrative center of Svalbard with roughly 1,500 inhabitants (as of 2008) and is

Image Credit: Spitsbergen Travel

located on the Western coast of Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago.  This group of islands lies between Norway’s Northern coast and the North Pole. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Longyearbyen’s prohibition on death was a necessity, as it was discovered bodies were not decomposing.  Rather, these permafrost preserved remains were becoming a morbid curiosity.  Scientists even removed tissue from a man who died there and were able to extract intact traces of the influenza virus he died from during an epidemic in 1917 (Duncan 2008; Sumitra 2012).

But Longyearbyen is not the only town with a prohibition on death! Itsukushima, Japan; Falciano del Massico, Italy; and Sarpourenx, Cugnaux, and La Lavandou France; and Lanjarón, Spain also have prohibitions on death.

Click to enlarge; Image credit: Wikipedia

The Japanese island of Itsukushima is considered a sacred place according to Shinto belief.  And thus, in an attempt to maintain the sanctity of the island according to Sumitra,  “no deaths or births have been permitted near the shrine [since 1878.  Furthermore,] [p]regnant women nearing the date of delivery aren’t allowed there, nor are the elderly or the terminally ill” (2012).  This may seem strange but this concept is not an entirely unfamiliar one.   The island of Delos, birth place of the twins Apollo and Artemis, was considered a sacred and holy place by the ancient Greeks and various measures were taken to “purify” the island. In the 6th century BC, Peisistratus ordered that all graves within sight of the island’s temple be dug up and the bodies removed to locations on or beyond the perimeter (Whitaker, 2012).  In addition, in the 6th century and under instruction from the Delphi Oracle, the island was purged of all dead bodies and it was decreed that no one shall be allowed to give birth or die there (Whitaker, 2012).

On the other hand, the reasons for prohibitions in France and Italy are not, shall we say, so lofty or practical in nature considering the issue they seek to address.  Since March of 2012, according to Craggs,  it has been illegal to die in Falciano del Massico, Italy.  The reason: the village has no cemetery and has been feuding with the near by town that has one since 1964 when local boundaries were redrawn.   Luckily for the residents of this village, the mayor is now seeking land to build a cemetery.

Meanwhile in France, in an ordinance posted in Sarpourenx (2008), residents were also forbidden to die.  The mayor even threatened harsh consequences should any of the residents deliberately disobey and die.  In addition to Sarpourenx, there are two other settlements in France that have created similar bylaws and/or ordinances, La Lavandou (2000) and Cugnaux (2007), for similar reasons.  All three towns were denied permission to annex land and/or build on certain proposed areas (i.e. requests to expand their town cemeteries were denied). The Mayors’ claimed their responses were proportional to the absurdities of the laws and/or regulations obstructing the requests for land.  As far as I could find, nothing has been resolved in these French towns with the exception of Cugnaux.  And so it seems the residents of La Lavandou and  Sarpourenx will not be as fortunate as their Italian counterparts.

And lastly, we have Lanjarón, Spain.  It seems to have been the first town to outlaw death due to lack of space in the local cemetery back in 1999.  Mayor Rubio blamed “inertia by his predecessors for the tight quarters at the cemetery” and he further insisted that the edict banning death was not about hubris, but, rather, a “response to politicians pestering him for a quick fix to the problem that dogged them for years” (Stiffs, 1999).  

OH, but wait! Of course, there is at least one more.  Mayor of Biritiba Mirim, Brazil, following in the footsteps of the French, filed a public bill to prohibit his some 28,000 residents from dying back in December of 2005 in response to federal regulations restricting new or expanding cemeteries in preservation areas (BBC News, 2005).   The bill was not passed nor denied as far as I could find.  Thus, this issue is still in suspense to my knowledge, but the government has agreed to a vertical cemetery from what I understand.

So, it seems banning death is becoming the trending political response to what has been called, by several of these mayors, absurd politics/law.  Well, isn’t that just– oh, how shall I put it–productive.  Religious beliefs and practical responses to environment and climate change aside, these prohibitions (France, Italy and Brazil) are laughable.  Maybe I find it utterly ridiculous because I do not understand the nuances of French law or peculiarities of Italian pride.  Or maybe I am missing an important environmental factor wrapped in these nuanced laws.  Or maybe I am just missing the political and satirical brilliance that is the purpose of these bans. My question at the moment–to the mayors threatening harsh penalties on those who disobey their decrees– is just how exactly will those that break the prohibition be punished,  that is if you do intend to directly punish those that break the prohibition and not indirectly punish them by fining their bereaved families? Will you not put a pillow beneath the poor souls’ heads?  Will you remove stuffing from their pillows or their casket liners? Will you take their shoes and socks so they are forced to face the afterlife with an chronic case of cold feet all in an attempt to ensure that they duly pay for and regret their decision to disobey the law and die?

It makes me think of the Fellowship of The Rings when Gandolf tells the balrog that he shall not pass…

…Except in this case YOU SHALL NOT PASS takes on an entirely new meaning.

Image Credit: Oddity Central

Sources:

Bartlett, Duncan. (2008, Jul 12). “Why dying is forbidden in the arctic.”  BBC News. Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 from <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/7501691.stm&gt;

(2005, Dec). “Brazil City proposes ban on death.” BBC News. Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 from <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4527868.stm&gt;

Craggs, Ryan. (2012, 13 Mar). “Death made illegal in Italy town Falciano del Massico.”  The Huffington Post. Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 from  <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/13/deaths-illegal-italy_n_1341120.html&gt;

Dobbie, Andrew. (2008, Mar 5). “Cemetery full, mayor tells locals not to die.” Reuters. Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 from <http://web.archive.org/web/20110604150100/http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/03/05/us-election-cemetery-idUSL0552076620080305&gt;

Henley, Jon. (2000, Sept 22). “Citizens live under law’s dead hand.” The Guardian. Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 fro <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2000/sep/23/jonhenley&gt;

Ionox. (2007, Nov 25).  “Forbidden to die because lack of room.” Weird Globe News. Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 from <http://web.archive.org/web/20080528204947/http://weirdglobenews.com/forbidden_to_die_because_of_lack_of_room.html&gt;

Johansen, B.F., et al. (2008, Jul). Longyearbyen – The Cruise Handbook for Svalbard.  Norwegian Polar Institute. Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 from <http://cruise-handbook.npolar.no/en/isfjorden/longyearbyen.html&gt;

Stiffs.com. (1999, Oct 2).  Spanish mayor outlaws death. Retrieved 15 Nov 2012 from <http://web.archive.org/web/20080709215313/http://www.stiffs.com/backoct99.html&gt;

Sumitra. “4 places where dying is not allowed.” (2012, Mar 16). Oddity Central: Collection Oddities. Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 from <http://www.odditycentral.com/pics/4-places-where-dying-is-not-allowed.html&gt;

Whitaker, Alex. (2012). “Delos.”  Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 from <http://www.ancient-wisdom.co.uk/greecedelos.htm&gt;

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Filed under Humor, News

If I Die– Hey, There’s an App for That!

Yes, seriously.  It’s true.  If I Die is a relatively new Facebook App that allows its users to create a video or a text message that will be published once the users’ death has been verified.  While this may seem morbid, Eran Alfonta, co-founder and CEO, sees it this way: “We all have things to say and don’t necessarily have the audience with the patience to hear us.  Actually, we all want to leave something behind, we all want to leave a stamp behind us.”

Now that you’re curious and contemplating your mortality, let’s get to how it all works.  It’s simple!  Download (or install) the app, create a message or two, or three, or more and then select three people, called “trustees,” who will verify your death.  And you’re set!  It’s just that easy.

Click to see ‘If I Die’ youtube video advertisement

As of today, according to Sinderman’s article on Mashable: Social Media, “If I Die currently only publishes to a user’s public profile, but the team is working on features to allow for discrete messages and even messages that can be sent to people not on Facebook.  The public postings will be free to use, though the discrete messages will work on an annual subscription model.”

Now, some of you may be thinking: doesn’t Facebook already have something in the case that a user dies?  Facebook does have an official process to aid family members in the memorialization of their deceased relatives but, according to Powell from Daily Dot, “Facebook is quickly becoming the world’s largest e-cemetery [and therefore,] there’s a legitimate need for this (If I Die) sort of service.”

So, just how popular it this little app?  According to Sniderman, it is unknown how many active users If I Die has, as the team has been fairly silent when asked, but Alfonta expects to reach 100,000 in a few months.  And guess what, there’s more!  If I Die isn’t the only death-focused digital service out there to help you manage your virtual life.   Here are seven others: Entrustet, Legacy Locker, My Webwill, Futuris.tk, Deathswitch, Great Goodbye and AssetLock.

All of this brings me to a bigger theme: technology and death.  Is it good?  Is it bad?

I already did  encounter one less than optimistic response, specifically to If I Die.  Hehir, of the Nerve, generally expresses the sentiment that “life has gotten unnatural enough with social networking.”   She sees the potential for one too many “inarticulate, embarrassing, and self-indulgent rants [with] far too many people us[ing] it just to spit vitriol, spite their enemies, and further desecrate whatever good merit they managed to hustle for themselves while they were alive.”  (FYI: ifidie’s youtube video even explicitly mentions “settling an old score.”)

While I do not disagree with Hehir’s sentiment entirely, my interest at this particular time is concerned with the American attitude toward death rather than a critique of the flaws of human nature and judgement.  With that being said, according to anthropologists, there are three different cultural responses to death: acceptance, denial or defiance with American culture exhibiting that of denial.  Defiance and denial are associated with cultures in which there is a strong belief in or desire for immortality.  There are a multitude of aspects in American culture that scholars use to argue for (and against) American denial: life insurance policies, euphemisms, taboo on death conversation, cryonics, the way in which caskets are styled, medicalization of death, the process of preparation, the committal itself, “pornography” of death, etc.. And now with the advent of social media and other technology, this list just might be growing.

Social media technology (TV and video gaming included) is impersonal; it creates distance–a kind of bubble–allowing the user to create, perpetuate, and live in their own reality in many ways, in addition to the opportunity to distort and thereby control a situation.  This, over time, can (or may) succeed in lessening the weight of reality itself whether by desensitization or separation, or a combination of the two.  For example, consider  Digital Death (Buy A Life).  The premise is that, through a donation, the donor can “buy life” or resurrect a famous individual from the dead (albeit digital death).  It’s the most blatant example of the user controlling death, specifically the death of another. All this being said, digital life– life after death– begs several questions: is this simply an extension of our denial?  Is this an attempt at immortality?  Is it representative of another shift in the American perspective on death? How will this affect the mourning process?  Will it result in emotional stunting?  Will it present or lend itself to the creation of complicated grief?  Will it help families grieve more fully…?

Where do you stand? What do you think social technology will do to death?

For another interesting article relating to technology and death, please see: Life After Death, in Digital Form

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Filed under Cultural Attitudes toward Death, Technology