Last Thursday, we took a trip to my daughter’s school, where we received a personal tour of class 5K’s recreation of an Egyptian tomb, including the kids’ replicas of artifacts and life-size murals. Very interesting it was, too.
I learned that, apparently, the current thinking on how the pyramids were constructed posits the use of internal ramps. The wee one had clearly internalized a great deal of learning regarding the Egyptians’ relationship with the afterlife, and I was also interested to learn something about the symbolism of the ankh, where my learning was previously limited to what I’d stumbled across in Neil Gaiman’s Death: The High Cost of Living. [Who knew Death was so cute? My death-dealing stroke looked like this. A bunch of them. With bats. Beating the crap outta me.] Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve been giving some thought to the idea of mortality recently, what with the whole 300/200 blood pressure in the ER and “5% chance of a good outcome” thing. Now that I’m in the hands of an excellent team of medical staff, including a physiatrist, neurologist, cardiologist and psychologist, I’m not immediately concerned about shuffling off this mortal coil, but it does make you think.
In the close aftermath of Strokefest 2012, Beth was listening to the Savage Love Podcast, one of our favorite podcasts. I’ve been familiar with Dan Savage since first stumbling across his funny and wise advice Savage Love column in the Philadelphia Weekly back in 1996. When Beth and I started dating, she, being one of the Tech Savvy At-Risk Youth that Dan is so fond of, introduced me to the podcast. It’s been quite a trip following Dan from the sarky, sweary firebrand who wanted to call his column Hey Faggot! to America’s favourite, sarky, sweary gay uncle, as featured on MTV’s Savage U, the 101 version of his column. Y’know, for kids. We even saw him on a panel at the Episcopal Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity (now, there’s a band name!) where he singularly failed to be struck by lightning, notwithstanding his best efforts. I think the openly gay head priest was quite happy.
What? Oh, yes, OK. On October 9’s podcast (episode 311), Dan received a call from a bereft young woman who had lost her boyfriend of three years and fiancee (the same guy, at least; would have been a grim coincidence, otherwise). I’ve listened to the short call a couple of times; once, because of it’s uncanny timing, and a second time in preparation for this post, and have been reduced to tears both times. Dan, bless him, quotes another old queen (the Queen, actually): “Grief is the price we pay for love,” God. Hardly bears thinking about, even if, as he mentions, the way we feel about our lovers is brought out by them, but is something within us. The ultimate advice, of course: see a bereavement counselor. Although, by all accounts [hat tip: you know who you are], they vary wildly in their utility.
Now, if the poor woman had seen watching Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, she would have been aware that death need not be the end. I’m on the wrong side of the Atlantic to be able to watch it, but, in the episode “Be Right Back”, a recently bereaved and pregnant young woman makes use of a fictional online service that lets people stay in touch with the deceased. By using all of his past online communications and social media profiles, a new version of her late boyfriend is created virtually. The show also contemplates the next, experimental, phase of the service, whereby the program can be uploaded into a body made of synthetic flesh. Needless to say, it doesn’t end happily. Nevertheless, something similar is launching in the real world next month. A new Twitter app called LivesOn will use Twitter bots powered by algorithms that analyze your online behavior to learn how you speak, so it can keep on scouring the internet, favoriting tweets and posting the sort of links you like. The tagline? “When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting.”
DeadSocial is another “digital legacy tool”. that lets you set up a series of messages to be sent out posthumously, via Facebook and Twitter. According to its creator, who has been consulting with a doctor specializing in end-of-life care, DeadSocial “allows you to… create something of value for those who are still alive.” I should point out that this is different to DeadSocial.com, The Social Network of the Dead and those with an interest in “Gothic Rock Culture” which, rather brilliantly, allows Goths to be antisocial without leaving their bedrooms or turning down their Fields of the Nephilim albums. [Disclaimerˆ: I saw The Sisters of Mercy at Philly’s Electric Factory in 1997, and they were awesome. Andrew Eldritch even did his best to antagonize the crowd by dressing in a bright yellow silk shirt and declaring: We’re The Sisters of Mercy, and we’re a RAWK’N’ROLL BAND!] Actually, I would expect the Goth scene, close knit, sensitive and death aware as it is, to be very supportive of the bereaved. See also Alexis Petridis’s brilliant Goth For Life for a fascinating insight into the lifestyle.
[I didn’t recall Whitby had a goth weekend, but it’s on my bucket list now. Or maybe post-bucket list. And while we’re in square brackets, follow Alexis on twitter; he’s awfully good. Anyway, back to the point: social media for the dead….] As you read this, you’re probably already intrigued or appalled. As one of the creative partners of the ad agency that is developing LivesOn notes, the idea “divides people on a gut level, before you even get to the philosophical and ethical arguments.” Personally, after my near death experience and had a little experience of how people reacted to my imminent demise, I’m in the intrigued camp. One might argue that much of this is not unlike people leaving letters to be read after they die, or, even more run of the mill, leaving messages for their loved ones in their wills.
Staying with death and ghosts for a second, we went to see another production of Macbeth this past week. After thoroughly enjoying Alan Cumming’s one-man version at the Lincoln Center outpost at the Time Warner Center, the gimmick of this show was that it was presented in the original pronunciation. In this case, “original pronunciation” referred to the language in which the play would have been staged, rather than the way the Scottish thanes of the historical Macbeth’s reign (1040–1057) would have talked. As always, the Scottish Play – Shakey’s shortest tragedy – zipped along at a good clip (almost as though Shakespeare had no great interest in the details of the totality of the historical figure’s seventeen-year reign) and was thoroughly enjoyable. The idea behind the production, and the OP movement in general, is that the audience is given the opportunity to enjoy the originally intended cadences of the verse, as well as the bard’s wordplay and punnery. The play was as understandable as usual, and, as I say, rattled along at its usual pace, although, what little we picked up in cadence and punnery was somewhat lost in the loss of suspension of disbelief, with each of the actors going for OP in their own different, idiosyncratic ways (some did, notwithstanding the production notes, seem to think they we in 11th century Scotland). Of course, Banquo did his usual ghostly dinner appearance, and the erstwhile Thane of Glamis was as freaked out as one has come to expect. One can’t help but wonder how he would have coped with the late Banquo’s tweet and facebook status updates: “U herd about Macduff?!! Was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped!!! LOL!!!”
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