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Rest in PeaceA Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth-Century America$
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Gary Laderman

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195183559

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195183559.001.0001

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Final Frontiers: Into the Twenty-First Century

Final Frontiers: Into the Twenty-First Century

(p.170) 5 Final Frontiers: Into the Twenty-First Century
Rest in Peace

Gary Laderman

Oxford University Press

One of the most easily recognizable characters in American consciousness—the Grim Reaper—has recently been resurrected not by leaders in the church but through advertising. The figure of the Grim Reaper is a pervasive iconic fixture in American popular culture today, found not only in advertisements, but in comic strips, films, music, professional wrestling, books, cyberspace, and other settings that entertain, as well as educate, the masses. The “danse macabre”, or dance of death, displayed a cultural fascination with rotting corpses at various stages of decomposition interacting with the living in dance, and proclaimed a basic reality in life: the triumph of death. Another barometer of American interest in death is the reappearance of undertakers in public culture. On the other hand, a few more humane, sympathetic portrayals of funeral directors have appeared in film as well. Cremation catches fire after Jessica Mitford's 1963 book The American Way of Death, which opened the crematory door for consumers disenchanted with the mythology emanating from the funeral industry, and gripped by a combination of practical and deeply religious concerns.

Keywords:   Grim Reaper, death, advertising, films, popular culture, cremation, danse macabre, undertakers, funeral directors, funeral industry

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