Monday, 4 March 2013

Death and Doughnuts

By Nigel George. For more from Nigel see

Back at the beginning of December – the time of year when I was more man and less mince pie! – I saw a poster advertising an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, entitled ‘Death a Self-portrait’.

Walking round the exhibits, I was struck by the reoccurring image of the skull and skeleton. Yep, that was death, something out of a Stephen King movie, it could give you nightmares for weeks.

Perhaps its just me, but when I see a skull and cross bones my first thoughts are not of death. Unless it’s being used to put those old ‘scarey death frighteners’ on me. Visiting Rouen last year, I came across a building festooned with pictures of skull and cross bones. I thought we’d arrived at a Pirates house. It turned out to be a House of the Dead.

If I think of death it doesn’t involve the Grim Reaper or the Danse Macabre (‘Dance of Death’). My thoughts are a work in progress. They don’t though involve a bunch of bones doing the hokey cokey in and out of a grave, however egalitarian the imagery is meant to be – we all look the same when we strip down to a ‘plate of spare ribs!’

The Black Death I read is much to blame. Something which started as a nasty cough, before it got rapidly out of hand and wiped out half the population of Europe. Death and decay were everywhere and its representation became very much the imagery of the day.

The Church was fairly keen on it. Memento Mori (‘Remember your mortality’), “in all thy works be mindful of thy last end and thou wilt never sin” The message for many centuries has been fairly clear; “if you are not a good boy or girl those cackling skeletons are going to get you and its fire and brimstone time for you”
So they have always been fairly happy with some of the negative imagery.

In the 21st century we still cling to our Black Death iconography. Is it any wonder we don’t want to talk about death?

Death, the Grim Reaper. It’s not a big sell is it. Who in their right mind wants to think about facing a grinning skull clutching a giant sword? (well its a scythe, but its large and sharp and in my book that makes it a sword!) when they die? Let alone talk about it. “So just how big is that scythe? and what’s he going to do with it?

If when we die, we met someone with a warm smile holding a cup of coffee and a plate of doughnuts, we’d be far more willing to talk about death.

Wouldn’t it be nicer only having to wonder whether you can get sprinkles on your doughnuts as opposed to being scared of having a red hot pitchfork inserted somewhere unpleasant – not that there is any where pleasant you could insert it!

So when we die, is it Death or Doughnuts? I know which I prefer to think about. And, lets face it, you don’t have to worry about your weight when you’re dead!

1 comment:

  1. I love that image!

    Black Death is still the shuddermaking theme colour of most people's funerals.

    The horror is periodically updated. Those who promote healthy living target the terror of death.

    Bring on the doughnuts!!!!


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