2013-05-13

Origins of the American Funeral

    The American funeral has an interesting history, which is unfortunately difficult to follow and mostly based on rumours and anecdotes.  It is not a new idea by any means, but is one which has changed over time.

Previous posts:
Defining the American Funeral

    Many think the Americna funeral is a new concept, however this is not the case as there is evidence of it as far bask as the 1950s (Jalland, 2006).  Stories by celebrants from the time are a good example of this as they express their concern for how the American funeral will negatively influence the Australian industry.  That it will remove and reduce the personal aspects of funerals, making them in-authentic and products of mass production.  Furthermore, these statements often explain how the American funeral is too alluring to the Australian industry as it will increase their profits easily and quickly (Jalland, 2006).

    We can also find cemeteries referred to as part of the American funeral in the 1960s, notably with Pinegrove.  Pinegrove was one of the first lawn cemeteries in Australia, and many saw it as an American thing with a lack of individuality and higher profits.  Despite the fact it originally came from the UK ans was imported to America as it was to Australia.

    So the idea of the American funeral, and event the specific terminology we use to describe it now date back to the 1950s within Australia.  But the idea of the American funeral did not really take hold within Australia until the 1980s to 1990s.  Two large American corporations, Service Corporate International Australia (SCIA) and Stewart Enterprises arrived in Australia during the 80s-90s and sparked a wave of fear and negativity about the American funeral.

    Many were concerned with the new American funeral companies, how they were buying up many Australian companies and converting their practices to a more mass-production and less personal system all with the aim for greater profits.

    The spread of the American funeral was greatest at this time due to the way these American companies spread around Australia.  I have heard some argue that the "greed is good" mentality of the 80s-90s was also a factor, but that is too big an argument to even think about here.  I put it down primarily to the speed and spread of the American companies.  For many within the industry there was a feeling of inevitability and take over, that their little Australian company would be overrun by the American giants.

    This was a rather lagitimate concern, or so it appeared at the time, as many companies were bought out by the Americans.  Big Australian names such as Simplicity, White Ladys, Le Pine, Guardian, and more were all owned by American companies (mostly SCIA) within just a few years.  Adding to this was that the American giants then changed the Australian funeral homes, centralising and condensing how and where they dealt with bodies.  To many it appeared as though the Americans giants were forcing themselves upon an almost defenceless Australia and irrevocably changing the industry to a colder and more profit system.

    The American funeral was an older concept, easy to find in the 1950s (and even earlier), but most notably refined and spread in the 1980s and 1990s.  It is not a new concept, but it is a current one which continues to change as time moves on.  In the 1950s there was more concern about how the American funeral would reduce personalisation and lead to in-authentic funerals.  Then in the 1980s and 1990s the aspect of the American funeral as dominant and almost unstoppable was added.

Previous posts:
Defining the American Funeral


References:

Jalland, P., (2006). Changing Ways of Death in Twentieth-Century Australia: War, medicine and the funeral business. UNSW Press, Sydney. p.406.
http://books.google.com.au/books/about/Changing_Ways_of_Death_in_Twentieth_Cent.html?id=3GALw2tzJ7MC&redir_esc=y

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