eFunerals: The New Reality TV
By Judy Yoo '14
Nearly 200 of Michael Jackson’s closest friends and family members came to the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California on Thursday, Sept. third to mourn for his death and commemorate his legacy. After an unexpected heart attack, Michael Jackson died, leaving a legacy of glittered silver vests, fedoras, electrifying dance moves and timeless songs.

It is no surprise that Michael Jackson’s funeral, like those of many other famous stars, received little or no secrecy. From The New York Times to Time to USA Today, the media reported every detail of Michael’s death and the events that were to be unfolded at his memorial service. Social media websites such as Youtube have made it easier to stream videos of live events, even events as private as funerals, for public view.

Such invasion of privacy is unfortunate for close family members who would have wanted Michael to enjoy a peaceful and quiet environment to rest in. But at the same time, however, we realize that it is unavoidable for famous celebrities to receive that much attention. They were, after all, the focus of both love and harassment by the fans and media during their lives.

It is a different story entirely when funeral services for the average person are choosing to go online. According to the Times, several software companies have created easy-to-use programs to help funeral homes service bereaved families. One such company is FuneralOne, a one-stop shop for online memorials. It offers webcasts and also sells recorded services in the form of DVDs. Similarly, Event by Wire, another company, is offering funeral homes the ability to stream their services in real-time on the Internet.

Decades ago, if not a few years ago, funerals involved a series of rites that were observed and carried out by the family of the deceased. Funerals varied according to different culture amd religion. However, despite the differences in funeral services around the world, all sought to honor the deceased and support the bereaved family members.

The existence of such software companies, offering live webcasts and videos online, makes the funeral awkward and lacking in traditional etiquette. Attendance itself acts as a sign of deference and support. Streaming a video while sitting at a desk in front of a computer erases much of the meaning behind a funeral service.

Of course, there are cases in which one could absolutely not attend the funeral — a close relative may be living in a far away country or become stuck in a snow storm while traveling. For cases such as this, there are more private ways to offer a look into the funeral service. Instead of posting the streamed funerals and allowing anyone and anybody experience a private funeral online, you can create webcasts that are open by invitation only. For example, when Ronald Rich, a volunteer firefighter in Wallace, N.C., received news that his friend died unexpectedly, he could not make the drive to the funeral because a snowstorm had closed the roads. The mother sent an e-mail invitation to watch the service online.

In a generation of vastly expanding social media and online interactions, it seems almost wrong not to stream funeral services via online. However, a funeral is a rite of respect intended to honor the deceased. Online streaming, if any, should only be offered through private invitations, lest funerals lose their significance as a last respect to the deceased.

Issue 12, Submitted 2011-01-26 03:31:00