Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On Dead People

Hello, long time no post. Just saying.

I was driving along in the RD mobile the other day and listening to a phone in show on the radio (who said men can't multi task eh?).

The main topic on the show was to do with Michael Jackson, as the trial of his Doctor was beginning and big in the news. Rather, the main topic was a tangent of the MJ Doctor trial, triggered by something that the Sun, that bastion of all Great British journalism, had published that morning; a photograph of Michael Jackson lying in the hospital as dead as a Dodo.

Apparently some of the British tabloids had made the decision to publish the picture and some had presumably decided against doing so. There was much discussion on the radio about the wisdom, ethics and respect (or lack of) involved in this publication and I listened with interest, it being something I've pondered on for many a moon.

Being brought up in the UK with Sri Lankan parents means that I sometimes find myself with mixed mindsets. One example is the way in which I thought the word "advertisement" should be pronounced. I spent probably close to ten years thinking that it was "add ver tizzment" until I discovered that it's actually "ad vurr tis ment" and promptly changed my approach. Of course Michael Meyler and coves like that would no doubt argue that it matters not, that they're both correct, just different ways of saying it. All well and good but the aforementioned coves probably didn't have their ten year old mates taking the piss out of them.

Another example is in the approach to dead bodies. The traditional UK mindset is that a corpse is rarely seen by the average person. I must admit that I don't know if that's a mindset shared by the rest of the West, though I reckon it probably is.

There are people here who deal with the dead; funeral directors, medics and close relatives at funerals. For the rest of the populace dead bodies are not part of our everyday existence, which is mostly why the publication of the picture was causing such an uproar.

Yet in Sri Lanka and the East dead bodies are much more a part of everyday life. Open a Lankan newspaper and it's a common occurrence to see a photo or two of a mourning family around the open casket of a sadly dead relative. During the conflict it was quite common to see pictures of dead people. Was that to do with the conflict, with death being so much more a part of everyday life that people became slightly immune to the concept?

Or was it because that's how things are there?

As I listened to the radio most of the callers shared a theme; that they weren't upset or offended by the photographs, but that it was highly insensitive and disrespectful to Michael Jackson's friends and family to publish them. Which is kind of where my opinion sits too.

I'm not in the least bit upset or offended by the sight of a body, but I consider it disrespectful to the person's relatives to show one. But, in Sri Lanka, I genuinely don't know if the relatives concerned are bothered about it.

Is the sight of a body, of grieving relatives and an open casket such an everyday thing that people just become immune and desensitised to it?

Or are people in the West too protected and shielded from the one thing that awaits every one of us?

Or is it none of the above?

What do you think?

1 comment:

Marc said...

In Aboriginal culture it is taboo to show pictures of dead people. It is said to recall and disturb their spirit.