Even as people in the United States are inundated with information -- much of which is trivial and forgotten the next day -- certain topics are purposely omitted from discussion. These topics are taboo and generally met with disdain should they be brought up in everyday discussion. One in particular is death. Within the U.S. culture, people are traditionally uncomfortable with the concept, sometimes so much that they face anxiety and fear should it be brought up, even though death is an inevitable part of life’s cycle. Funeral trends, the grieving process, and even the concept of death in media signal shifts in how the U.S. culture views and copes with death. With this in mind, the following paragraphs will address these four questions:
1. What is an overview of U.S. culture in relation to death and grieving?
2. What beliefs about death has the culture traditionally held?
3. What rituals concerning death are traditional and how are those trending?
4. How does the culture cope with death and are new trends affecting this?
What is an overview of U.S. culture in relation to death and grieving?
The United States is an increasingly diverse country. Indeed, the U.S. as it is now would have never come to be without the myriad of immigrants in the first century of its existence. In 2012, the Census Bureau (2012) reported a projection which stated the ethnic diversity of the U.S. is expected to become a plurality by 2060. In other words, currently the majority of the U.S. population is non-Hispanic whites, but by 2060 this will be no longer be expected to be the case. Because of this, it would be remiss to think cultural beliefs and funeral trends are coherent throughout all of society. This text will specifically address the traditional funeral being superseded by more convenient rituals, such as cremation.
What beliefs about death has the culture traditionally held?
Death is a complicated issue within society. On one hand we are exposed to forms of death every day, particularly in media. Whether it is fantasy books, shows such as Bones or NCIS, or the latest news of a local or national tragedy, people witness the concept and reality of death on a frequent basis. As early as Vietnam, media began causing shifts in people’s attitude towards death. Cynthia A. Peveto (2005) notes in Cultural Changes in Attitudes Toward Death, Dying, and Bereavement how the Vietnam War was the impetus for awareness of death because, “media coverage of the war featured regular ‘body counts’ of dead soldiers and news footage that showed dying and dead people on daily television newscasts” (p. 60). She continued shortly after, making notes of the pervasiveness of death in television, music, and other popular fiction to the point of morbid fascination, even as death is portrayed superficially in many of these cases (p. 60-61).
Even as society is bombarded by death, bringing it into everyday discussion is still taboo; often from a young age, people are taught...