Sunday, 26 May 2013

The After lives of the Dead

Source: Wikipedia Commons
"World's Ugliest Woman" - catches your attention, doesn't it?  I had to know more simply because I wanted to see who/what would qualify for that 'title' and you know what? It's not deserved. At least I don't think so. But then again I live in the 21st C.

Until listening to a recent podcast of CBC's Q I had never heard of Julia Pastrana. The story begins with the 19th C tendency to put on display anything, or anybody, with even a hint of the exotic. Julia, born in Mexico with two genetic disorders, was bought and sold in life and death. She died in childbirth following which she, and her dead 3 day old son, continued to be exhibited.

So, this story is also about the decade long efforts of Laura Anderson Barbata, a Mexican-American artist, to have Pastrana's preserved remains, somewhere in Norway, returned to Mexico and given a decent burial. Which, considering how long Pastrana was on display, is not too much to ask. It's a story that brings up issues about otherness, exploitation, and the after lives of the dead.

Speaking of which here's another CBC podcast (yes, I do like my national radio) about a somewhat similar topic...

Nobody's Dead Anymore: Marketing Dead Celebrities on Under the Influence. This episode looks at how dead celebrities have been digitally resurrected to sell yet more stuff.  Those who are the top sellers are referred to as kidding.

"It's become a $2 billion dollar industry. The marketing of dead celebrities not only attracts lots of big brands, but lots of controversy. We'll trace the use of dead celebrities in advertising, we'll analyze "Dead Q Scores," we'll list the top-grossing dead celebrities, we'll tell some fascinating stories about ads that featured Audrey Hepburn, Michael Jackson, Fred Astaire, Kurt Cobain and Marilyn Monroe - and how their families felt about those commercials."

Click here if you want to read more about "Selling the Dead." And here for"An Artist Finds a Dignified Ending for an Ugly Story".

I'm not sure where I stand when it comes to this kind of exploitation. On the one hand once you are gone you are, presumably, beyond caring about what's done with your body or image. On the other hand, I'm not sure I'd want images of me brought together in order to sell a chocolate bar especially one with such a weird slogan...I mean, what's wrong with cotton! If you do care, or your family does, I guess you need to have things written down and notarized.

Would I want this blog to continue to exist should I get hit by a bus tomorrow? Well, given my tendency to occasionally erase traces of my online presence, I guess not...? Hmmm, this will require more thought.