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Why we need to talk about death


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Transport for London have recently banned a series of adverts for funeral service Beyond, whose new campaign featured unusual ways of approaching the subject of death.

One of the posters broaching the subject of cremation was designed to resemble a luxury holiday advert, advertising an "all-inclusive" one-way trip with "roasting temperatures of 870°c". 

The campaign was hit by immediate rebuttal, and has been branded by TfL’s advertising partner Exterion as "likely to cause serious and widespread offense".

Death isn’t pleasant to think about, we all know that, and seeing a reminder of your mortality on the morning commute isn’t the happiest way to start your day but why do we fear the topic so much in the first place?

The subject of death is easily pussy-footed around, and funeral services often choose to remain minimalist, simple and subtle in their advertisement.

It’s far too easy to place too much emphasis on the tragedy of death without considering the inevitability of having to address it; at some point in our lives, we are all going to require funeral services.

Ultimately, we all die.

Some people don’t like to think about that, but it’s only going to feel more threatening if we avoid bringing it up at all.

Just like with Voldemort, where fear of the name only increases fear of the thing itself, ignoring the idea of planning your funeral makes death a whole lot scarier.

Majoritively, Beyond’s adverts appearing on the tube sparked backlash on behalf of the recently bereaved, being branded as ‘insensitive’ and failing to address the issue in an ‘emotionally intelligent’ way.

Although gallows humour is something celebrated as being intrinsically British, many seem to feel it’s gone too far in this particular instance.

Beyond's co-founder Ian Strang is reportedly ‘disappointed’ in TfL’s decision to scrap the campaign, claiming that the UK is ‘not healthy’ for how it avoids dealing with death and loss head-on.

By tackling costs head-on in their campaign, Beyond shake up the occasionally exploitative ways that funeral services that extract money from the bereaved.

Cremations can cost upwards of £3000, and burials can be closer to £4000.

By remaining vague, sympathetic, and failing to tackle the facts up front, some funeral companies are able to charge disproportionate amounts under the safety-blanket of the mourning family being unable, or unwilling, to shop around.

Beyond claim this is largely what they seek to change, noting that their campaign coincides with the CMA investigation into funeral costs and bring more transparency in this realm of conversation.

Their intent isn’t to upset the grieving family, as much as it is to protect them from being ripped off by other corporations.

Initially, normalising the idea of death is always going to be met with criticism.

Loss is poignant, and people who have recently suffered bereavement are going to be far more sensitive to the bluntness of these adverts.

However, even if this particular campaign proves to be a step too far for the British public to handle, we still need to open up the conversation about funerals before it becomes a completely forbidden realm.

In this case, I completely agree that shock tactics are the right way to start the conversation and it’s up to everyone else to consider how to continue it.

Beyond have worked alongside TfL’s advertising partner to create new, more palatable adverts that you might see popping up on your daily commute.

A final quote from co-founder Ian Strang summarises his intentions; “we’re turning up the volume to 10 in the hope it paves the way for everyone else to at least make it to five; planting a flag and saying, ‘Here’s permission to talk about death.’”

So here’s your flag, people. Let’s talk about death.

Image: Beyond


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