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Death on our screens and in our cultures

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A woman sitting on a couch looking at a wall with green lettering that reads "Welcome! Everything is fine."
Justin Lubin
"The Good Place" dealt with the topic of death head-on, focusing on a group of people navigating the afterlife and what it means to be a good person.

The topic of death is a constant source of contemplation, a deep and intricate subject that has fascinated and puzzled us since the dawn of our existence — so much so that it’s reflected in our films, shows and other elements of pop culture.

But how does the media we consume play a pivotal role in molding our perceptions of mortality? How do these portrayals influence our fears, hopes and, most importantly, our approach to the inescapable conclusion of life? In the first part of this episode, you’ll hear me pursue answers to those questions with help from Jonathan Gray, a media and cultural studies professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

While popular forms of media undoubtedly wield significant influence in shaping our cultural outlook, culture extends beyond our screens. It’s our core beliefs and values. It’s how we communicate and pass down these tenets from one generation to the next.

When individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds find their final resting place in a foreign land, it begs the question of how we honor their native culture and uphold their cherished traditions. For those answers, I turned to Kerri Balliet, office manager at Pinelawn Memorial Park, who shares insights on the integration of cultural traditions in Milwaukee cemeteries and underscores the importance of thinking about death well before it’s upon us.

Listen to the full episode using the player at the top of the page, and check out the bonus interview with Paa Joe, a Ghanian fantasy coffin artist who talked about how he started in this unique field and why his work isn't a good match for America's general attitudes toward death. You can find that conversation below, along with a few examples of his craft and links to our previous episodes so you can catch up on this month's topic:

Interview with Paa Joe, Ghanian coffin artist

Audio Storyteller / 88Nine On-Air Talent | Radio Milwaukee