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Death as Entertainment

I’m really struggling with the place death has, and does not have, in our society right now – in the USA in the year 2009. So I’m going to think “outloud” here for little while.

On the one hand, I think that Americans try our best to avoid serious, real discussions about it. We’d like to pretend that death is not an inevitable part of life. Trying to look and stay young and healthy has become a religion in itself. And I suppose the reason is that we’re uncomfortable with the uncertainty of what lies Beyond, and with what the ramifications are of whatever lies Beyond.

For all the dogmatic positions on it out there, both religious and non-religious, no-one living actually knows, empirically or experientially, what happens when you die, or afterward. Many say they know, but it’s always a matter of faith. It’s one of those things you can’t prove scientifically. You can’t send scouts ahead to collect stories, photos, and artifacts to bring back.

But on the other hand, death is everywhere. It’s depicted in increasing detail and gore in movies and on TV. It’s celebrated on Halloween. It’s trivialized in the many games we play, especially in online and electronic gaming. How is it that we are so uncomfortable talking about death as a real event in a person’s life, but yet we will play at it all day long?
(Image from the Playstation 2 game “Death by Degrees”)

I was taken aback when my 6-year-old returned from playing at the neighbors’ and reported his 8-year-old friend created him a character named “Death” for some wizard PlayStation game.

Our family has faced death. For real. In our home. It is final and it is serious. A person who was an integral part of you and your life just disappears one day. Never ever to return. It’s actually nearly impossible to wrap your brain around.

Maybe I’m totally off-base. Maybe playing games and making up wild and gory stories about death is our society’s only comfortable way of actually acknowledging it. Maybe I should just chill out and stop analyzing the effects on my kids, especially since they have experienced the actual death of a sibling.

But no. I don’t want my kids to play in such a cavalier way with the concepts and words surrounding death. While I want them to be familiar with the real thing and not intimidated by visitations, funerals, and the cemetery, I think there’s such a thing as too familiar, too casual.

I want my children to be sobered by death, grasp it’s permanence, and accept the reality that we only have a limited amount of time in this life. If they shoot dozens of characters on a video game every day and watch movies in which people are slaughtered in myriad creative ways, won’t they loose that important soberness and seriousness? In a game and in the movies, people “miraculously” resurrect. You can always start over. Not so in real life. Once you’re dead, you’re dead. There’s no restarting the game or replaying the movie. If you can at least begin to grasp that, I think you will be equipped to live well.

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