The German news organization Spiegel reported on a new phenomenon. In Germany this fall, a new 24/7 TV channel will join the line-up of food TV, home improvement TV, sports TV, and news TV — welcome to death TV.
The channel will dedicate itself to “aging, dying and mourning.” They believe that there is no end to the fascinating stories of death and tragedy. People will have access to documentaries about cemeteries, nursing care, the culture of funerals — “death and dying… right in your living room.”
Advertising should not present a problem. Looking for a nursing home or health-related facility, need one of those “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” panic buttons linked to 911? Soon there will be ads for the paraphernalia of aging and dying. Like those who need to show off expensive running shoes and stylishly aerodynamic suits — hundreds of dollars — to go for a run, the ranks of the ostentatious dyers may emerge as the stylishness of the funeral becomes one with the living room.
In terms of a business model there are distinct advantages to bringing death out of the closet and outing it to the living. There is a constant audience. People just keep on dying no matter what. There are the dead ones and the survivors who will soon be able to buy a 30-second obituary for 2400 Euros that will be broadcast 10 times and archived on the channel’s website.
Check out The Internet Cemetery which will put the name of the dead one on their website with up to three photographs for $15 and allows visitors to “plant flowers” and send flower e-cards to the family. There is still a lot of room in that server in the sky.
The German National Association of Funeral Homes declared that there has been a movement away from traditional funerals toward “forest cemeteries” and Internet graveyards and away from as much reliance on the church in the “death industry.”
The death industry remains strong. Evelyn Waugh described it in his sardonic novel, The Loved One. Now it is going to be beamed or channeled directly into the living room, on to your big, flat-screen entertainment center along with the nightly news (more death, normally), the cooking channels, and streaming movies. That Ingmar Bergman vision of Death playing chess will come with commercials and, perhaps, infomercials with canned keening and crying from the audience. There could be book reviews of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, interviews with Dr. Kevorkian, and sales of that great book Winona Ryder found in Beetlejuice, Guide for the Newly Departed, let alone broadcasts of that movie along with: D.O.A., It’s A Wonderful Life, Daisy Miller, and a raft of everything from war films to melodrama. The supply of death-related movies in this world is grist for the TV mill.
Think, too, of the possibilities for the do-it-yourself brigade. How to build your own coffin, choose a cemetery, practice little-known rites for the dead, and how to boost performance in your favorite hearse.
Wolf Tilmann Schneider, the founder of this new channel, was right when he pointed out that Germany had 150,000 more deaths in 2006 than births. Even here in Latin America where birth rates remain strong, the death rates are not going to drop precipitously. This is the time, Mr. and Mrs. Entrepreneur, to invest heavily in the coming boom in death. You can hardly go wrong.
I know how hard it is to be serious about such a diverting subject, but Growth House is a real reference to a helping agency for those dealing with death. They provide a “… portal … international gateway to resources for life-threatening illness and end of life care. Our primary mission is to improve the quality of compassionate care for people who are dying through public education and global professional collaboration. Our search engine gives you access to the Internet's most comprehensive collection of reviewed resources for end-of-life care.”
There are serious issues in the most serious of subjects. I would not be surprised if a TV channel that offered high-quality programming about this once-taboo subject would not both succeed and offer people information and assistance on the difficult chore of being left behind. It remains to be seen what will emerge in a world of vastly different levels of programming.
Some years ago crossing by ship from Miami, I met a woman who worked in a hospice (a non-hospital, supportive environment for helping people on the final leg of the journey). I was impressed enough at the fact of offering one’s life to that kind of work. Then she told me she had given a massage to someone while they died. What a selfless thing to do! TV has never been noted for its selflessness but maybe a TV channel will help some grieving people between the ads and infomercials.
Schneider is actively searching for partners in his network in both Europe and the United States. He reported that the response has been “lively”.