World, Editor's Choice

How Death Brought Us Our Favorite Entertainment

This is a complementary piece of our August 2017 Issue: Death

Sorrow. It is the first thing that will come to your mind when you hear the word death. Sometimes fear even creeps in.

However, if you’re one of the few people who dread this topic, then some amazing facts about how this can be viewed amusingly will surely leave you stunned.

In case you didn’t know, there were periods in history when death was used to tick off one’s boredom. This was probably caused by people’s fear to confront death; but because it is inevitable. In an attempt to overcome it, some individuals turned it into a thing of entertainment. Therefore, in the old days, death has come to be seen as something that is controllable.

If it is controlled, it comes with one’s power to rule and to mourn. Hence, a person’s social class would determine if he is going to die an honorable death or an entertaining one.

With this, we can look at how an inconceivable and dreaded concept such as death has evolved from a biological condition to a display of wealth and power, a fashion statement, and eventually, a mystery game.

Death Under Wealth and Power

Gladiator

When we say that death has come to a point where it entertains, one thing has already entered your mind — thanks to modern movies — and as such, we can look at one of the most exhausted types of death by recreation: The Gladiator Games.

We know all too well how this goes, with tons of Hollywood films that try and depict a gladiator’s life or simply touch it. Given this, what most of us still do not know is that Gladiator games were viewed in two ways: first, as a sport, second, as a death sentence.

There are three types of gladiators: the Autocrati or the ones who cannot pay off a debt thus sold themselves to the battle; the Rudarius or the free one, the honorable one who is probably doing it as a sport; and lastly, the Noxii. Yes, these are criminals sentenced to death.

Since capital punishment is something that would seem obligatory to perform, the people back then thought of actually either making money or pleasuring themselves by betting on people fighting until death.

Though the Autocrati and the Rudarius were given respect when they got injured by being carried out on a stretcher, the Noxiis were not. If they did not die during the fight and just got heavily wounded, a person would get into the arena and smash them on the head while the ever excited crowd cheered on. Then they would get hooked on the heels and dragged outside the area. All this seems unbearable for us, but for the ancient Romans, a horrible death was equal to manhood.

Though it may sound ironic, the gladiator games stemmed from religious beliefs, death rites, and as a commemoration for fallen figures. Later, it evolved to become a display of wealth and power.

Nonetheless, it is not only the Romans who found joy in death.

Victorian Fashion

Well, we can’t honestly say that people have been fascinated by death during the rule of Queen Victoria. It took the lives of thousands of children then, but the Victorians found a way to uplift their spirits from its blows.

For instance, curable diseases today were the plagues of this era. As such, towns were vanquished of children and death would happen every day.

When Prince Albert died, Queen Victoria mourned him for the rest of her life, in a way that she set the trend for mourning. Yes, death had become a fashion statement back then.

It all started with a mourning code, wherein the length of bereavement was defined by a person’s relation to the dead. Then, the mourners were required to wear a particular set of clothing until a certain number of months or years had passed. It became cultural and controversial. But, inasmuch as sorrow was concerned, people had gotten used to looking at bereavement as a grandiose display of character that they didn’t even mind if their fabrics and head dresses even caused health concerns.

Moreover, Victorians also started to take photos of and with their dead relatives and took pieces from them to turn into heirlooms. Though these things may sound like sentimental practices, they somehow turned death into a business venture.

Take the sport of grave digging for example. Not that it was entertaining per se, but cadavers were dug up to be sold in medical schools. A lot of people made use of their creative minds to guard their dead due to this newly emerged threat.

Aside from that, they spent their nights in cemeteries with a campfire, they planted flowers or did some landscaping in tombs or graves so that movement or digging of any sort was immediately evident.

When the grave diggers finally gave up, they apparently resorted to killing sprees.

Death and Crime Games

There came a time when death had become the interest of many. Not because they still wished to understand what Syphilis was and how to cure it — though it could have been a reason too — but because death had grown to involve patterns.

Mystery Deaths

If you are a Sherlock Holmes wannabe, then you have probably heard of a lot of unsolved crimes throughout history. This is possibly the line where the “old death” meets the modern one: unsolved and intriguing deaths.

So, what makes death in this context interesting is the idea that an origin of someone’s demise has never been unfolded.

Take a look at these stories for example:

Case Number One: The Somerton Man

He was found dead on a beach one morning. And get this, it happened way back in 1948, and his identity is still unknown. All his belongings were stripped off of labels. His body didn’t even show of struggle but suggested being poisoned. The only thing certain was that the death was “professionally” done.

Was he a spy? A drunkard in a suit? All hypotheses.

The only thing of value found around him to solve his identity was a ripped page from a book titled Rubaiyat, which linked him to a Cold War nurse. She owned the same book but denied knowing the Somerton Man. However, her reaction to seeing the dead man’s bust made investigators believe otherwise.

Espionage. Probably. But uncertain.

Case Number Two: The Black Dahlia

Her story could be considered as the most gruesome ways a person could die.

The victim was 22 and was found naked, mutilated and drained of blood with her face slashed from ear to ear mimicking a smile.

Just imagining it is bothersome on its own. No matter how much investigation went into it, her killer was never identified. No suspects were pointed out, and the no motive was speculated. People started rumors that she was probably a prostitute, murdered by one of her customers. She was a budding actress.

Until this day, no particular result came from the investigation; nevertheless, a modern day writer has claimed to have solved her mystery death by claiming that his father was her killer. Interesting enough, huh?

Though it may be a source of relief, this writer is not the first one to have claimed solving Dahlia’s death. As such, her story still counts as a mysteries.

Death and Cult

OK, so before you freak out regarding this cult thing, you first need to understand that in today’s vocabulary, cult describes something of entertainment value that gained unexpected widespread acceptance.

With that clear, if you would go and dig up all the unresolved cases there are, you would find more than a hundred. And the idea that even the best forensics teams have worked together but remained futile gives us this fascination towards the other side of life we have not explored yet: the mind of a killer, the life story of these victims, the secrets they held.

What happened is, we have used this curiosity to build books and scripts that we, later on, turned into inspirations for plays, TV series, and movies.

We have used death to develop a new formula for entertainment purposes.

And who was probably the biggest inspiration our crime stories had? The series of murders by Jack the Ripper.

Rings a Bell Anywhere

In all honesty, this Whitechapel Murderer was a menacing story back in 1888 East End London. Though he was never particularly named, it was believed that a series of letters admitting the killing were sent and published in a newspaper and authored by someone who called himself Jack the Ripper.

In his bloody portfolio are the bodies of five young women whose organs were carefully removed in such a precise manner, as if a medically inclined person did it. And what is even amusing was his killing spree lasted for a mere twelve weeks and boy did he make it to international and, possibly, immortal horror fame.

Since he did all of these clean, with no trace of evidence, educated and famous personalities became suspects. Among them were aristocrats and diplomats.

Nevertheless, we can assume that one of the reasons people never really caught who he is, is that maybe, just maybe, as my particularly playful mind told me a while ago, the Victorians were victimized by classical conditioning.

What if “He” Was a “She”?

Some say the killing was so careful a surgeon could have possibly done them. And you know what they say about female surgeons. Though at that time, women’s education could have been impossible, still a mind of a serial killer is something nobody could fathom. What if The Ripper was self-taught?

Fast forward to today. The uncertainty of death still draws people in. It has a tantalizing effect that, though we are scared, we are also interested in it. In fact, it has become an underlying theme and an inciting factor in most of our arts.

But questions will always remain: Where is the killer? Who is he? Why did he do that? How did he know how to scheme a perfect crime? Why that person?

And probably the most chilling question you could wonder about:

Could I have also been a potential target?

Oh, no. Of course, that is too much!

We will never know. Or will we?

In any case, it is death that sparked our modern day’s creativity.

Think about “Jigsaw.”

Feel entertained yet?