Death porn

Is our media fascination with the physical aspects of dying a kind of death porn?

Back at San Francisco State University in the late 1960s I took a class in media analysis from Arthur Asa Berger. He taught me how to look beyond the surface message of a media event to see the deeper levels of meaning and symbolism that existed just under the radar.

For example, a toothpaste commercial ostensibly sells a product, but just beneath the radar it sells other ideas. The Ultra-Brite commercials of the period sold ideas about what sex appeal was, that white, bright teeth were sexy, that to be sexy people needed help from the stuff, that natural wasn’t good enough, thank God for cosmetics, buy something to be sexy.

Most of us live in a world constructed from ideas we picked up from childhood till now. Most of us have composited a personal version of reality from all of our life experiences which includes all the input we have ever received from any and all sources. We sometimes have difficulty agreeing on things because we each had different experiences in life, often quite different.

When someone says you’re nuts about a belief you have, that person is looking through an entirely different background than you. That person could be missing key life experiences to be able to see what you see.

We each have vastly different experiences with death and all the things that can be associated with death including whether or not spirit life exists.

My casual observations (which is to say not academically studied) is that many of us live in a world characterized by the death porn we consume. (Talk about a collision of two powerful words—death and porn.)

WHAT IS IT?

We don’t normally think of how we worship/fear/exploit death as akin to pornographic material, but I recently had the thought: don’t all the ways in which we confront and portray death in our media constitute a type of pornography?

What we normally think of as porn creates a distorted, fictionalized version of human sexuality for entertainment purposes for its audience. Sexual porn creates a fantasy world based on erotic desires and behavior, but it’s mostly an illusion version of the real deal. Sexual porn creates a lot of unrealistic expectations for how “real sex” should be designed and experienced .

See where this is going? If death is just an illusion—a working soul phone would indicate that it is—then most people have spent an awful lot of time in life paying attention to what amounts to death porn. It’s just not outed as porn because much of the world still believes in the illusion of the finality of death and besides, porn is usually thought of as sexual media.

Yet think of how much of our media culture features death—from horror movies to murder mysteries, from news to documentaries, from conspiracy theories to telethons, from medical sagas to talk shows? Society in general still plays the death card over and over, relentlessly, beckoning us to absorb ourselves in the main message that death is awful. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

One must wonder what happens when a soul phone eventually proves that most of what we learned (and feared) about death—at least insofar as mainstream media portrays it—is, uh, dead wrong. It’s as damaging to the truth about death as typical porn is to the truth about sex.

HAPPY METAPHOR

While there’s a serious streak to this observation that our collective fascination with death is a type of porn, it’s an amusing metaphor as well. It’s fun for me to think of people gathering around their big screen HDTVs to watch the latest news about traffic fatalities, murders, natural disasters, and war casualties.

If death isn’t as gross as we’re led to believe, then everything created to portray it as sad, horrific, tragic, and dog-eat-dog is a lie.

Thinking of it as porn casts a whole new light on life on Planet Earth.

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