In 2013, Caitlin Doughty, an author, YouTube presenter, and funeral home owner, coined the term "death positive" after questioning on Twitter[i] why there were numerous references online to being sex positive, but none for being death positive. This tweet sparked the birth of the death-positive movement, which led to the founding, by Doughty and others, of the Order of the Good Death (OGD), one of the most visible organizations within the movement. The OGD believes that a culture of silence and denial surrounds death and aims to break this through discussion and other artistic means.[ii] The organization has eight tenets that describe its beliefs, derived from its declaration that society's way of dealing with death is broken in many ways.[iii]
My Ph.D. research project explores death positivity within the wider field of death studies and questions whether death positivity is leading to a ‘tivolization’ of death, as described by Jacobsen[iv] – an ‘otherwise inconspicuous normality of certain events or themes, transformed or even exaggerated into a playful, carnivalesque, commercialized, entertainment-based, self-propelling, unserious, and often rather superficial kind of spectacle’. Doughty's YouTube channel,[v] which presents information on death from the perspective of a practicing mortician, has 1.9 million subscribers, and she releases around one video per month using humor and graphics to convey information on her chosen death-related subject. Her humor and exaggerated style (and the fact she makes money from her content) might be interpreted as an example of tivolization. As part of my work, I interviewed death doulas, and mortuary and funeral workers, all of whom identify as death positive. Interview participants were recruited via social media from various countries, including the US, UK, Australia, and Canada.
The compilation video presented here includes a clip from one of Doughty's videos[vi] and follows this with screenshots from a selection of her other videos, overlaid with comments made by the interviewees on Doughty and her work. They reflect the diverse opinions on both the content and style of Doughty's videos and provide insight into the broader death-positive movement, as expressed by those working within death-related professions.
[i] Doughty, C. (2013) Tweet. Available at: https://twitter.com/thegooddeath/status/328636776367415296?lang=en-GB (Accessed: 30 November 2022).
[ii] The Order of The Good Death (2016). Happy 5th Anniversary, Deathlings! On the past, the future, and living death positive. Available at: https://www.orderofthegooddeath.com/article/happy-5th-anniversary-deathl... (Accessed: 10 November 2022).
[iii] The Order of the Good Death (n.d.) Death Positive Movement. Available at: https://www.orderofthegooddeath.com/death-positive-movement/. (Accessed: 3 January 2023).
[iv] Jacobsen, M. H. (2020) Thoughts for the Times on the Death Taboo: Trivialization, Tivolization and Re-Domestication in the Age of Spectacular Death. in Death in Contemporary Popular Culture (eds. Jacobsen, M. H. & Teodorescu, A. 15–37 (Routledge, 2020).