SMOKE: Death Is Not Cool
Originally published: 1 October 2003
I've been astounded at the amount of stories in the press recently regarding bizarre deaths, suicides, mutilation and more.
People cutting their penises off and eating them, people offering themselves to cannibals to be eaten alive, a publishing house binding its latest book with the skin from a dead murderer, assisted suicides, fellers killing their mates and washing down parts of their heads with litres of still-warm blood - the list continues for pages.
Call me old-fashioned if you must, but where I come from death is something to be avoided at all costs. It's not something you will upon yourself.
It's something you try to avoid, because unless you're totally convinced you're going to heaven, or are going to be reincarnated as Bill Gates (for the cash) or Britney Spears (so you can tenderly take advantage of yourself), there's really not much point to it, is there?
It's why I've never been a big fan of suicide - as a teen it was kinda cool to sit and contemplate ways of offing yourself, fondly imagining how concerned your parents would be if they knew you were thinking of ending it all.
Yeah - maybe they'd sit up and listen now, huh? But while it was cool to think about, the result of it was what turned me off, for no other reason than I wouldn't be around to see how much I'd hurt people.
Because that's all it was about - wanting to "get back" at the world, your parents, the perceived injustices and your oh-so-terrible life. Teach 'em a thing or two. Make them suffer just a little, even though it could never begin to compare to the suffering you have had to deal with.
I don't know if there are simply more kids around these days or their problems are getting worse or whether indeed I'm simply imagining it, but everywhere I look these days I seem to see more and more youths who think that death is cool.
I was watching Ricki Lake the other night (quite by accident, you understand) and there were some little-brat girls dressed up in vampire gear, trying to convince their mothers that they weren't going to wear normal clothes ever again and were going to walk around like freaks for the rest of their days.
They had black clothing and black make-up and false vampire teeth and piercings - just your typical messed up teens. But these girls were 13 and 14 and were raving on about how cool vampires were and how they wanted to be them.
I wanted to give them a good smack and send them to bed without their supper. No, hang on - what I really wanted to do was go out and find some vampire, take it to them and let it rip into their throats, sucking out their blood and then ask them - as they lay there gasping to death through their ragged throat wounds - precisely just how cool it all was.
I'm a passive guy - honest - but help me, someone, help me.
Of course those girls aren't going to still be dressing like that at age 50 - they'll have long since realised that you can't make a whole lot of money being a big-shot executive if you pitch up for job interviews with skulls hanging around your neck, large, red-stained incisors and goat-head tattoos on your neck.
Personnel folks tend to notice that sort of thing and aren't all that kindly disposed towards it. The blonde with the big tits gets the job in this case, I'm afraid, or possibly the sympathy vote for the fat chick.
The phrase "death is cool" is a popular one amongst teens because death is the ultimate taboo and therefore the thing most likely to freak The Establishment out. But it's just so stupid, although I guess I'm looking at it all in hindsight.
I was reading a fascinating piece by someone called Rollo Kim, on a website called the Scholtz Vitrine Collective - some counter-culture lot with way too much despair on their hands.
The article was about "Death Meme Culture", and while I didn't have the time or real inclination to find out what it was all about, one passage in the piece caught my eye.
The death meme creeps in the shady corners of the club scene. Mindless E heads dancing themselves into an early grave. Goths trying to look like the walking dead or dying. B-Boys dreaming of the gangster life. Heroin chique on the catwalks and bars. Hippies just hoping for a harem of sexy trustafari before they die, or die to their youth, their freedoms, admit defeat. Indie kids obsessed with the death of Kurt. Rap kids obsessed with guns. Death in the cinemas. Death in the soaps. Death in the papers and the magazines. Death on the news. Death in games.
Consumer society exploits our fear or desire of death. Anti-aging creams, Viagra, whitening toothpaste, CD's, clothing, cars, all offering the nation a glimpse of an eternal youth, a youth that we are barely allowed to taste in the first place.
While it's a little death-nouveau for my taste, and possibly a bit too clever for the writer's own good, there's certainly a ring of truth in there somewhere, as it's what I've been noticing of late and ranting on about here.
If death sells, then let's market death. There are enough screwed-up kids to make death big business, and all it is is Marketing finding its target demographic and making a whole bunch of cash out of it.
Hey, here's a thought: "Kurt Cobain killed himself - do I really give a continental rat's arse?"
A more popular thought might be: "Kurt Cobain killed himself - he transcended his art and life to leave his tortured soul".
Yet another thought could be: "Kurt Cobain killed himself - what a wanker". If he hadn't killed himself maybe he'd still be making good music and giving joy to millions with his talent. Now that he's dead he can't.
The simplest way to get a kid to question his beliefs about death is to take him on a trip to the Killing Fields, or let him browse for a couple of hours through the pits of rotting human flesh in Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Burma or Auschwitz.
Take him through the morgue of an evening and let him see the smashed and broken corpses that are taken there day after day, year after year. Stick an AIDS needle in him. Starve him until he develops kwashiorkor, cover him in persistent flies in the burning heat of Africa, and let him slowly die that way.
Torture him in some Lebanese outhouse for a couple of years or hand him over to the Viet Cong or let him flee down the streets of Hiroshima, skin peeling off his back.
He's bound to get some perspective.
Lose the black clothes, the long face, the fangs and the attitude. Death is not cool. Life is. And nobody gives a stuff about your problems anyway.
All Smoked Out,