In these series of posts I will be looking informally at the taboo nature of death and funerals. This post explores how death and funerals are like sex in our avoidance of them.
Many will talk about how death and funeral are touchy or sensitive topics. That it is not something brought up in polite company, or appropriate for discussion around the dinner table. Just as we do with the topic of sex.
We are taught when it is or is not ok to talk about sex. In some situations it is not 'correct' to discuss sex. Depending on the company, the place, the time, the audience or so on. Sometimes it is not appropriate (or legal) to discuss sex. We are also taught how to talk about sex. What we can say, how open we can or should be. As a result we learn to make distinctions about discussing sex. It becomes something we give boundaries and appropriateness to. Sex becomes something we regulate, something we deliberately and consciously control when and how we discuss.
In this regard sex and death are very similar. We deliberately control when we discuss or avoid the topic of death. And sometimes discussing it causes contention or unease. It is something we avoid in certain situation, often similar ones to sex. For example this topic is avoided in front or with children.
Even when we do discuss death and funerals there is a limitation on what is said. The details of death and funerals are often avoided. While we may discuss the topic we do not get too specific. Take a few posts from this blog for example. in discussing posts with friends I found the stuff on how a transfer is done or photos of mortuaries rarely caused discomfort. However, the short essay I wrote on how we engage with the dead through their nakedness did cause some unease. Particularly the part of how genitals are a site of contention and vulnerability (as is any orifice). In other words when I talk of how a dead body is removed from a home, it is ok as long as I do not describe the dead body. However, if I talk about an abstract concept but go into some detail it is confronting.
We have learnt that certain aspects of death and funerals are not acceptable conversation. Just as we have done with the topic of sex. These are topics which we regulate the discussion of through social conventions. Yet there is a key difference between sex and death. Sex is a major part of our social system and is discussed constantly, even obsessed over, in one form or another. On the other hand death is not something we talk about anywhere near as much.
This might appear a bit odd, inconsistent even. That I have just explained how we avoid talking about sex and death to now say sex is a big part of society yet death is not. But this is the case, we do discuss sex constantly and more so than in the past. Take for example all the censorship and laws surrounding sex. Some might think the censorship or condemnation of sex is an example of our 'prudish' society. But if anything it is an example of the opposite. Whenever one speaks out against sex they are bringing it into society in doing so. They are making it a topic of discussion and debate. There are specific rulles and regulations when one can talk about or display sex in a public setting. We have people who's job is to rate and judge sexual content.
The topic of sex comes up constantly in public spheres. The news might talk of pedophiles, or we might talk about sexual partners/acts with friends, or we might have age restrictions on things based on sexual content. The list of example is endless, but basically we rate it, regulate it and discuss it, as such we are talking about it in a public setting constantly.
So sex is at once similar and dissimilar to death and funerals. We regulate how we talk about these topics and avoid the details. Yet unlike death sex is something which is heavily integrated into society. Here is where a distinction in avoidance methods needs to be made. We 'actively' avoid sex; as in deliberately and consciously regulate or censor. We make specific rules and regulations for this topic, as well as have our social conventions. Death is something we 'passively' avoid; as in unconsciously or accidentally avoiding it. There are few (if any) real rules or regulations about when and how we can discuss death. Yet we avoid doing so anyway due to general social conventions.