death rituals, death mentalities, death

Death Mentalities in the 21st Century

Online Exhibition

Death is part of the human condition. Through time, people have tried to cope with death through rituals and arts and each age seems to have a dominant attitude towards death - the so-called death mentalities. 

Death, rituals and art in the 21st century

This Online Exhibition deals with the topic of death in rituals and art in the 21st century. Using Philippe Aries' seminal books about death mentalities, we distinguish several attitudes towards death in western culture. Aries described four attitudes or death mentalities: Tamed Death, My Death, Your Death, and Forbidden Death. Aries linked these death mentalities to specific periods of time. However, in this Online Exhibition we will show that the mentalities Aries has distinguished, are still recognizable and traceable in 21st century's expressions (art, ritual), both online and offline. For example, 'Tamed Death' is charactistic for the Middle Ages, but also in our days we see elements of 'tamed death' in diverse religious death rituals and pop songs.

Aries published his book in the 1970s, so his research does not concern the changing attitudes towards death in the 21st century. Although we still see traces of previous death mentalities, there are elements that do not fit Aries four mentalities. To understand the death mentality of the 21st century, we need to add a fifth attitude. Michael Jacobsen refers to 'Spectacular Death' to describe the characteristics of the 21st century's attitude towards death.

This Online Exhibition is an invitation to think about death in relation to rituals and art in the globalized and digitalized culture of the West. It is also an invitation to think about your own death and perhaps to start a good conversation regarding death and dying with colleagues and friends.

This "Online Exhibition" is linked to the course "Ceremonial Society" (Tilburg University, School of Humanities and Digital Sciences). The course presents rituals and ceremonies that are supposed to contribute to social cohesion or to the integration of ‘outsider groups’ into society. The course also focuses on rituals and ceremonies after death, disasters and atrocities.

Tamed Death

The attitude towards death characterized as 'tamed death' points at the use of rituals, images and words that make death part of life. Death is not frightening and people know how to deal with death due to the ritual patterns they have learned by education or tradition. Key words are: rituals, trust, transpersonal belief.

Tamed Death

Spock's Funeral (Star Trek) A 20th Century Approach to a 24th Century Death

This scene is from Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan. The supporting character Spock has died and is to be given a 'sendoff' ceremony. It is interesting to note that this is a portrayal of the future of death, as the scene is set in the year 2364. In this science fiction setting the human race is a space faring one, and part of an intergalactic government with its own customs and attitudes towards death. 

In the video the body is inside a casket draped in a flag similar to a present-day military style funeral. However, the casket itself is the casing for a torpedo with the body inside it, instead of an active warhead. The casket is lowered into a conveyer belt in which members of the crew pay their final respects and the captain of the ship sounds an order for the body to be jettisoned into space to rest. 'Amazing grace' is then played on bagpipes as the casket is lowered into the launch bay and fired out into space leaving a bright streak. 

This portrays a tamed form of approaching death. As a member of a crew in a militarized organization, death is always looming and members are always ready and charged to lay down their lives for duty. Thus death is part of life and the members of the crew know how to ritualize death. The dead are sent into space, almost as if the body is reclaimed by the cosmos to finally rest in the vastness and emptiness of space.  

the death of the other
Tamed Death

Jodi Picoult. My Sister's Keeper (novel), 2004

My Sister's Keeper is a 2004 novel written by Jodi Picoult. It tells the story of thirteen-year-old Anna Fitzgerald, who sues her parents for medical emancipation when she discovers she was supposed to donate a kidney to her elder sister Kate, who is gradually dying from acute leukemia. (Wikipedia, 2019)

Kate's tamed death mentality

My Sister’s Keeper (2004) is a meaningful story about relationships in the Fitzgerald family. They respect and love each other, and enjoy every single moment of their lives together.

It is too terrible for them to accept that Kate is dying, whereas Kate is ready for her death. Her attitude toward her own death is an example of the tamed death mentality as coined by Ariès. For Kate, death is a part of her life because she suffers so much from cancer. Therefore she accepts death calmly and is prepared for it. Thus, Kate has no fear or awe or great show of emotion toward her own death.

The Fitzgerald family's emotions and attitudes toward the death of Kate

However, the rest of the family does not accept the fact that Kate is dying. This is especially true for her mom, who quit her lawyer job to take care of Kate and to do everything to keep Kate alive. This was also a reason why Anna was born. She was the “designer” baby. She was born with the mission of saving her sister by donating all parts of her body to Kate, “I wouldn’t even be alive if Kate wasn’t sick, I was made in a dish to be spare parts for Kate,” says Anna. Although Anna went through many of operations and was tested as a “medicine product” to cure her sister of cancer, she still loved her sister endlessly. Anna wanted to sue her parents for the right of her own body due to Kate's requirements. She did everything that Kate wanted even though that would make her seem like a bad, selfish kid.

Your Death - The Death of The Other

The whole family shows the great fears of “the death of the other” – the Your Death/ Thy Death mentality. "The death which is feared is no longer so much the death of the self as the death of another, fa mort de toi, thy death” (Ariès, 1974). They show a lot of emotions toward Kate's death. Additionally, they mourn for Kate’s death and can not accept the death of their family member – the death of the other. “Behavior and ceremonials were directed towards showing the deep sadness and despair associated with the loss of a beloved” (Jacobsen, 2016). Moreover, Fitzgerald’s family kept the ritual that every year on Kate’s birthday they would go to Montana – “Kate’s most favorite place.”


Wikipedia contributors. (2019, March 14). My Sister's Keeper (novel). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:48, May 12, 2019, from

Ariès, P. (1975). Western attitudes toward death: from the Middle Ages to the present (Vol. 3). JHU Press.

Van Gennep, A. (2013). The rites of passage. Routledge.

Jacobsen, M. (2016). “Spectacular death”—Proposing a new fifth phase to Philippe Ariès’s admirable history of death. Humanities, 5(2), 19.

My Death

As 'My Death' implies, this attitude is quite individualistic. Death is about a person's identity, the 'self' of a person. "What will be left after my death?", is one of the urgent questions. For some people, this attitude is informed by religion: how can I live my life in such a way that I will 'earn' a good and happy afterlife? Another expression of this attitude is the focus on the 'good death' and the careful preparation of one's own funeral.

My Death

Beyonce, I was Here (2011)

"I was Here" was recorded in 2011 by Beyoncé, from her fourth studio album 4.  “I was Here” is a reflective R&B ballad, in which Beyoncé expresses her feelings about how she wants to be remembered when she dies. She sings about how she lived and loved, that she did everything she wanted and that she will have no regrets when she leaves this world. When her life comes to an end, she wants to leave her mark so everyone will know: I was here. 

This song is best placed within the ‘my death’ attitude towards death, as coined by Aries. This death mentality focusses on the person's own life and his or her own identity. This song is the answer to the question: “Do you want to die with good deeds and go to heaven?” She hopes that she “Left this world a little better just because, I was here”, the song is all about good deeds, for yourself but also for others. 

The individual is the center of this song, the “I” is important, just as in ‘my death,’ it is about the individual.

My Death

John Mellencamp, If I Die Sudden (2008)

From the Middle Ages to the present, cultural attitudes toward death have been distinguished into the four periods by the French historian Philippe Aries. These periods are stated in his book, "Western Attitudes Toward Death from the Middle Ages to the Present (1974)." They are described as the Tamed Death, My Death, Thy Death, and Forbidden Death. However, these periods are not fully independent from one another. It is also possible to see the influences of these attitudes toward death in today's world.

The "My Death" or "One's Own Death" period emerged at the beginning of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, but we can see its influence on many songs that have been published during in 20th and 21st centuries. The correlation between the “My Death" period and the song "If I Die Sudden" by John Mellencamp (2008) will be analyzed below. During the "My Death" period, people were not afraid of death. They felt themselves near to death and they believed that Christ would judge the dying person according to their good or bad deeds. Moreover, in this period people strongly believed in heaven, purgatory, and hell.

"If I die sudden,

… Just put me in a pine box

Six feet underground,

…And the rest of my family

Will be waiting there for me too,

… I'm not afraid of dying."

 The lyrics of "If I Die Sudden" are stated above. We can see many influences from the "My Death" period in the song by John Mellencamp. He has mentioned heaven, fearlessness of death, and burial places. 

 To conclude, the song "If I Die Sudden" expresses the "My Death" attitude towards death mentalities from the middle ages to the present.

My Death

Over Her Dead Body (2008)

The romantic comedy “Over Her Death Body” concerns a woman who dies on her wedding day. After her death, she becomes a kind of ghost who haunts her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend, a psychic.

This movie is clearly an example of the “My Death” attitude as discussed by Phillipe Ariès. The woman who dies finds out she has unfinished business in the world and that is why she is still there. Therefore, the biography of her life is laid out and there is a sense of judgement about her deeds in life. The personalization of the woman’s death is the subject of the movie, which is also a characteristic of the “My Death” attitude. The last main characteristic that binds the movie to this death mentality is the way heaven and hell are portrayed. The overall conclusion is that one should be prepared for death in order to go straight to heaven. Otherwise, one might go to hell or to the world 'in between', as the main character of the movie experiences.

Overall, the death mentality as described by Ariès is clear in the movie by the judgement of the biography of the main character's life, the personalization of her death, and the importance of preparing for a ‘good’ death.

Your Death

‘Your death’ is characterized by the intolerance of losing a beloved one. The fear of death lies in the fact that people are physically separated from the deceased. However, death is also a desired state in which people are finally reunited again with their lost beloved. The incapability of accepting the death of the other is displayed in the intense mourning and grief shown by those left behind. 

Your Death

Extremely Wicked: Ted Bundy's death

The story of serial killer Ted Bundy is not one from the 21st century, however, Netflix has made it into one. In the film “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”, this story is told once again. The story is about Ted’s path of trials that eventually lead him to death after he is sentenced to the death penalty.

The film is based on the true events that took place in the 20th century. This makes this example into an interesting one, as there is a change in how the death of Ted Bundy is perceived.

Originally, Ted’s death was a ‘spectacular death’. Not only was his death a spectacle, but his trial was also broadcasted live on American television. The whole country was able to see everything that happened in court, and also live announcements of his execution. In this video you can see people cheering as they leave the building in which Bundy was executed. The rest of the people also respond to this in a festive way. They hold banners, cheer, and even set off fireworks.

The attitude towards death in the film, however, has been reframed into the “your death” mentality. The whole story is filmed through Elizabeth’s perspective. Elizabeth (Liz) was Bundy’s girlfriend at the time he was first arrested, and she held onto his innocence for quite some time. Liz does not want him to die: there are a lot of emotions and there is a real fear of losing him. The film is made in such a way that you empathize with the main character Ted, although he is a sinister murderer. You as the viewer do not want him to die. This also causes emotions and fear to the viewers, which is a whole new dimension.

The movie is an excellent example of how the society's view of death keeps changing and how this feeling can be changed merely by the way in which you tell a story.

Your Death

One Tree Hill, 'Get cape. Wear cape. Fly.', 2008

The episode “Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.” of the TV series One Tree Hill, shows the character Quentin’s funeral. All his friends and their families attend his funeral, mourning his death. They are visibly distressed and sad about his passing. The funeral takes place in a graveyard. The casket is displayed next to different flowers and a cross. Towards the end, we can see Jamie, who was like a nephew to Quentin, lay a cape on the casket.

The voiceover at the beginning of the clip explains: “Grief is like the ocean, it’s deep and dark, and bigger than all of us”. This quote from the episode perfectly describes Ariès’ third attitude towards death. The third death mentality in his book is called ‘your death’, and is solely concerned with the death of the other. As depicted in the video, friends and family are grieving around the casket, mourning the death of their loved one.

According to the author, this behaviour is a critical index for the grave culture. People bury their loved ones in graveyards they can visit and pay their respects. At the end of the video, we can see how Jamie puts a cape on the casket. It is a sentimental object which connects him with the deceased. It forms a link, so the survivor stays connected to and does not forget the dead.

This episode from 2008 shows that Ariès’ different death mentalities, especially ‘your death’ shown in the video, are still traceable in the 21st century. Families still bury their loved ones in graveyards, so they can stay connected and have a place to mourn the deceased. This behaviour indicates that the different death mentalities are still relevant today.

Your Death

Brigid Kemmerer, Letters to the Lost (2017)

To see whether Ariès’ death mentalities are still visible in the 21st century, I analysed the novel Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer. This book tells the story of Juliet Young and Declan Murphy, but for the sake of interpreting death mentalities, I will solely focus on Juliet’s story, as she is the one who is dealing with the loss of her mother.

Juliet’s mother was a famous photojournalist, and when she was still alive, Juliet would write letters to her when she was away on distant journeys. When her mother passed away, Juliet kept up this tradition and started to leave the letters at her mother’s grave. This is Juliet’s only way to cope with the loss of someone close to her.

In this manner of dealing with death, we can clearly see the ‘your death’ mentality seeping through. Juliet mourns her mother, and in order to process the loss, Juliet keeps writing letters to her. This shows that she does not want to accept the fact that her mother is really gone, and this fits the ‘your death’ mentality perfectly. Juliet also kept a lot of her mother’s photographs, which is also in accord with this particular death mentality. Juliet wants to remember her mother as much as possible, and she does this by keeping what remains of her.

So, this example shows that, although the ‘your death’ death mentality already existed hundreds of years ago, this way of coping with death can still be seen in the 21th century.


Kemmerer, B. (2017). Letters to the Lost. London, England: Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Your Death

Maaike Ouboter, 'Dat ik je mis' (2013)

Dat ik je mis (that I miss you) is a Dutch song written by the Dutch singer/songwriter Maaike Ouboter. Maaike auditioned on the Dutch tv program De Beste Singer/Songwriter van Nederland (The Best Dutch Singer/Songwriter) with her original song. The song was inspired by the loss of her parents when she was only in secondary school.

Dat ik je mis contains just an acoustic guitar, and is about missing of a loved one in a broader sense. Lyrics such as ‘I can’t help but miss you’, ‘I have to go on on my own’, ‘you stay close to me but in my mind you’re at rest’ and ‘I keep searching for you in everything around me’ point to the topic of missing someone.

When looking at death mentalities as mentioned by Philippe Ariès , the song Dat ik je mis by Maaike Ouboter expresses the attitude of ‘thy death’ the best. Thy death was an attitude towards death which was most common during the 1700s and onwards. In this period of time, death was seen as a break between loved ones, and there was an intolerance of this separation. People wanted to remember and commemorate loved ones who had passed away. Love, emotion and remembrance was made very clear in the emerging grave culture during that period of time, cemeteries were the perfect place for people to remember their loved ones.

The song Dat ik je mis by Maaike Ouboter  makes clear that this attitude towards death is also visible in the 21st century. It expresses the missing of someone who passed away and the emotion that comes with it. 


Ariès, Philippe. (1974). Western Attitudes Toward Death: From the Middle Ages to the Present

Your Death

Sam Smith - Lay Me Down (2013)

'Lay Me Down' as a death mentality

In Sam Smith's song Lay Me Down, he explains the death of a loved one. 

"And it's hard, the days just seem so dark
The moon, and the stars, are nothing without you
Your touch, your skin, where do I begin?
No words can explain, the way I’m missing you
Deny this emptiness, this hole that I’m inside
These tears, they tell their own story"

These lyrics from the first verse show feelings of sadness, depression, and loneliness regarding the death of another. Therefore, I connect this song to the third death mentality discussed by Philippe Ariès, Your Death. Ariès is a French historian who wrote two books regarding death: Western Attitudes toward Death from the middle ages to the present (1974) and L'homme devant la mort (1977).

This death mentality is about the death of a loved one and the love we have for this person. There is mourning instead of separation, and lots of emotion is involved. This can be seen in the lyrics above, where he sings about the "this emptiness" he feels,  and how he is missing this person. There is an intolerance of the separation between him and the person who has died, as he cannot live without his loved one. 

"You told me not to cry when you were gone
But the feeling’s overwhelming, it's much too strong
Can I lay by your side, next to you, you
And make sure you’re alright
I’ll take care of you,
And I don’t want to be here if I can’t be with you tonight"

Here again, Sam Smith sings about the feeling of being overwhelmed with the person's death, and how he wants to be with this person. He feels like he does not want to live on this earth anymore if this loved one is not with him. 

The song perfectly shows the mourning and sadness that is also seen in the period of the third death mentality that Philippe Ariès explains in his literature, where the death of the other is seen as an emotional and almost unbearable period of time.

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Forbidden Death

The 'forbidden death' or 'denial of death' makes death into a taboo. People are ashamed of dying and see it as something dirty and as a disease, e.g. the body is deteriorating and needs to be cured. This mentality leads to the medicalization and denial of death and influences the surroundings in which people die. Death no longer occurs in the private of people their own bedrooms, but in elderly homes and hospitals that are far away from the young and living. The shame emphasizes that life should only consist out of happiness and therefor the condition of dying is ignored till the very end, not only for self-preservation but also to protect the community.

Forbidden Death

Defying death

The question of whether people will become immortal in the future is an eternal one. Throughout history people have always thought about the possibility of becoming immortal. Maybe immortality is in the hands of god, or perhaps science will one day invent a way of becoming immortal? 

Especially since mid 20th century, attempts to defy death by freezing bodies have developed significantly. In 1967, the first human being was frozen with the intention of being brought back to life. This procedure was performed by the scientist Bob Nelson. After that many bodies or even just brains followed, all hoping to be unfrozen at some point.

In 2016 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology made a breakthrough in this area of science. The first mammal brain, a rabbit's, was successfully unfrozen and investigated. After carefully investigating, researchers stated that the connections between neurons stayed intact. These connections are vital to preserve personality and memories. Although this rabbit brain was not functional, it showed that the delicate structure of the brain can be preserved. It was a big step towards reviving a functional brain in the future.

This research is strongly connected to the forbidden death or denying death attitudes described by Aries. Death is highly medicalized to the point that scientists believe they can in some way defy death. The condition of dying is ignored by freezing the body with the belief that this body can be revived and the person can live on.


Sutton, C. (2017). Human bodies frozen in desert facility waiting for science to wake them up [Web Article]. Retrieved from:

Thomson, H. (2016). Mammal brain frozen and thawed out perfectly for first time [web article]. Retrieved from:

Forbidden Death

Mark Romanek, Never let me go (2010).

Mark Romanek's film ‘Never let me go’ (2010) is based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005). It tells the story of friends Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, who have spent their childhood at a boarding school called Hailsham. After years of secrecy, a new teacher illegally tells the students about the actual fate of Hailsham students: they are destined to be organ donors, and will most probably die in early adulthood (Wikipedia, 2019). As the movie continues, we see the three main characters grow up and what their life looks like after Hailsham.

The way that Kathy, Tommy and Ruth cope with the news about their destiny and with death in general fits with the death mentality of the forbidden death. In his book ‘Western Attitudes toward Death: From the Middle Ages to the Present’, Ariès (1974) describes how in this mentality, we do not want to see the dead person or talk about death. We avoid the ugliness of dying because sadness does not belong to modernity. In the movie, the students of Hailsham do not want to talk or think about their destiny as well. For many, it is too painful to realize that death is closer than they would like, and thus they ignore the topic altogether. Most of them pretend they do not even know that they will die at a young age. Especially for Ruth, death is taboo to talk about, because she thinks it prevents her from being able to enjoy the present. The main characters are only briefly willing to talk about death when the possibility to postpone their organ donations arises, but even then they still do not tolerate their fate.

The movie also shows the medicalization of death, which is another characteristic of the period of the forbidden death. Death has turned into something technical: we do not see death as a part of life, but as a failure of the doctor. In the movie, the students of Hailsham pass away in hospitals. For example, the movie ends with Tommy dying on the operating table. Every death includes no rituals and looks business-like, functional, and clean. This, again, shows how the characters in this movie want to avoid death, and are trying to hide it during their lives.


Ariès, P. (1974). Western Attitudes toward Death: From the Middle Ages to the Present. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.  

Wikipedia. (2019). Never let me go.


Spectacular Death

The ‘spectacular death ‘ refers to the mindset of being obsessively interested in aspects involving death and at the same time preferring to keep death at a safe distance. Through the use of media and the Internet people are more exposed to death than ever, since death is being used as an instrument for political and entertainment reasons in order to provoke, draw attention or increase sales. Another characteristic is the re-ritualization of death. Ceremonies and rituals surrounding funerals are being personalized by re-inventing traditions, practices and beliefs.  These developments have also led to more specialized academic studies surrounding death and dying.

Spectacular Death

Livestreaming a funeral

The 21st century is characterized by a new form of death mentality, namely the spectacular death. The previous death mentality, the hidden death, was characterized by ignorance of death. Dying was seen as something technical and it lacked rituals, but now we have entered an age in which our traditions, ceremonies and beliefs are reinterpreted and adapted to modern society. The rituals during a funeral have gotten a modern twist, characterized by digitalization. 

An example of the digitalization of funerals is the possibility of a livestream. Beside audio and video recording, it is now also possible to livestream a funeral. A livestream can be used when the room is not big enough to fit all people, when someone has difficulty walking or when someone lives abroad and cannot join the funeral. It is also possible to watch the ceremony another time if the livestream is saved. Likewise, it is also possible that someone does not want to join the funeral in real life. This person might want to witness the funeral at a safe distance and does not want to get too close to it. 

The hidden death mentality is characterized by seeing death as a taboo. In the 21st century, death is not invisible anymore nor is it a taboo. We are exposed to death on social media, where we can grieve and pay our respects, but this all happens at arm’s length and is distanced.

The Passion in Dordrecht
Spectacular Death

The Popularity of "The Passion" and what it means for the Modern Death Mentality

“The Passion” is an annual Dutch Easter event where celebrities re-enact a modern musical version of the biblical story of Jesus’ crucifixion. It is held in a different city each year and broadcast live on television and radio. Interestingly, even though some might say religion is becoming less popular, this event is produced on an enormous scale and watched by millions. For some (even non-religious) people, it is seen as a cathartic event and as an opportunity to heal from any (emotional) damage.

This event fits the spectacular death mentality perfectly as it represents the mindset of being obsessively interested in death. Additionally it lifts a certain taboo on death, stemming from the era of forbidden death, while at the same time keeping death at a safe distance. The event focusses on (Jesus’) death and the suffering surrounding it, but it creates a comfortable distance by never actually showing Jesus’ death. The actor portraying Jesus comes back to sing after the crucifixion, and the show emphasizes his life instead of the death itself.

Further, it fits most if not all characteristics of spectacular death. Death is made increasingly visible because of mediatization. Death and the emotions and drama surrounding it in “The Passion” are shown across multiple media platforms without any hesitation (except for the hesitation necessary to keep a distance). It is more visible and thus less taboo.

The commercialization of death is also very present in “The Passion”. Not so much the aspect of of capitalizing on memorial services, but more so using images and the idea of death to make a profit. “The Passion” is a great example of death being used as a source of entertainment in contemporary popular culture. While this breaks a certain taboo, it also means an increased interest in death, such that in many respects it is fuelled by commercialized and consumerized interests.

“The Passion” is also relevant for the re-ritualization if death. It is an annual ceremony concerning death, adhering to old traditions while also creating new ones. While it does not necessarily re-ritualize death itself, it re-ritualizes people’s interaction and mindset with death.

Because of this, “The Passion” is a great example of the spectacular death mentality.


M.J. Jacobsen, ‘Spectacular Death’. Proposing a new fifth phase to Philippe Ariès’s admirable history of death, in Humanities 5:2 (2016) 1-20.


Spectacular Death


Tim Bergling, known as Avicii, was a famous and successful DJ and producer. After a long period of dealing with health problems as well as mental issues, Avicii committed suicide at the age of 28 on April 20th 2018, in Oman. The talented Swedish DJ has left behind many successful hits such as “Wake me up" and“The nights.”. Additionally, he also contributed to creating songs for other famous artists. 

As Jacobsen mentioned in his article regarding the 21st century death mentality, we are in a period of “Spectacular Death". One of the main characteristics is the “commercialization of death.” After Bergling's's death , the single “SOS” from his almost finished album was introduced, and the full album “TIM” is also expected to release on June 6th this year. Further a biography about Avicii's life and career will be released in 2020 to celebrate the “musical visionary”, focussing on the difficulties that he experienced. However, all the money from these events is said to be donated to the Avicii Charity Foundation. This is an example of how his death is being commercialized. 

Another characteristic of “spectacular death” that Jacobsen discusses is the “mediatized visibility of death.” Before the official announcement of Avicii death, the news already spread through social media platforms. On Twitter, many famous DJs and artists shared their thoughts and feelings about Avicii, and paid tribute to him.  

Finally, the “re-ritualization of death” characteristic is also visible. In Stockholm, people gathered at the Sergels Torg square to hold a moment of remembrance for the DJ and to play his music. Around the world many public memorials and ceremonies were held to express respect and love for the talented DJ. For example, the Dom Tower in Utrecht rang its bells with a famous song from Avicii. At many big festivals such as Tomorrowland, DJs also played his tracks as a tribute to him. 

The death of Avicii is a typical case of “spectacular death.” 


DJ Mag staff. (2019). A posthumous Avicii album will be released in June.

DJ Mag staff. (2019). An offical Avicii biography will be released in 2020.

Harriet, A. (2018). Avicii death: Family reveals he " could not go on any longer" and " wanted to find peace".

Jacobsen, M. H. (2016). “Spectacular Death”—Proposing a New Fifth Phase to Philippe Ariès’s Admirable History of Death. Humanities, 5(2), 10-13.  

The local. (2018). Swedish Avicii fans pay tribute to star DJ at Stockholm event. 


Spectacular Death


As Jacobsen puts it, “spectacular death’ is a death that has for all practical intents and purposes been transformed into a spectacle. It is something that we witness at a safe distance but hardly every experience upfront” (Jacobsen, 2016, p. 10). This period of ‘spectacular death’ is characterized by an expanding public fascination with celebrity death. 

The death of Avicii – Tim Bergling – is an example of a “spectacular death”. Avicii took his own life on April 20th, 2018, in Oman. Although Avicii was still making music in the period before he died, he retired from playing live in 2016. 

Since we live in the 21st century, news can be shared very quickly and easily via the Internet. Because of this, right after Avicii passed away, many celebrities (Calvin Harris, Madonna, Rita Ora, marshmello, etcetera) posted tweets about Avicii’s passing to pay their respects. 

A few months after his death, fans joined his family in a church in Stockholm to pay tribute to Avicii. At Tomorrowland, in 2018, multiple tributes were paid to Avicii; “a massive Swedish flag with Bergling’s image imprinted on it […] was spread out in the crowd during Nicky Romero’s set. Meanwhile, a heart shaped tribute to the ‘Wake Me Up’ producer was also displayed.” In the months after Avicii’s passing, many of his colleagues (DJ’s) played his music in their sets. This desire to publicly celebrate and commemorate a person’s death is characteristic of the ‘spectacular death’. 

A few months have passed since his death, but Avicii’s family is making sure that his music does not go unheard. Universal Music announced the release of the new album "TIM", with music that Avicii had nearly completed when he died in April. “His collaborators picked up where he left off ‘to get as close to his vision’ as possible.” "Since Tim's passing, the family decided not to keep the music locked away – instead they wanted to share it with his fans all around the world" (CBS News). Avicii’s death and the attention given to it by the media led to a new appreciation of his music, and because of this an increase in sales. Because of this, Avicii’s death has become commercialized.

DJ Mag Staff. (2018, July 23). Multiple Avicii Tributes at Tomorrowland Honour The Latest EDM Star

Jacobsen, M. J. (2016). ‘Spectacular Death’. Proposing a new fifth phase to Philippe Ariès’s admirable history of death, in Humanities 5:2 1-20. 

Lewis, S. (2019, April 6). Avicii’s new album “TIM” will be released in June

NME. (2018, June 13) Avicii’s death reported as suicide after family say: “He could not go on any longer”

Spectacular Death

Julie van Espen

On Saturday May 4th 2019, Julie van Espen (23 years old) was on her way to meet friends in Antwerp when she became the victim of a murder. The suspect Steve B. pulled Julie off of her bike and tried to rape her, but Julie fought back. She paid for that with her life (Lefelon, 2019).

Julie's death is an example of a 'spectacular death'. ‘Spectacular death,' as defined by Jacobsen (2016) is a death that has been transformed into a spectacle, something we can view from a safe distance but do not experience directly. We are spectators and bystanders . Only hours after Julie went missing, and even moreso after news of her death broke, the media in The Netherlands and Belgium blew up. Anybody could get involved in this particular dead through the media and Internet, while still keeping a safe distance.

On Wednesday May 8th, 1500 people held a silent wake for her relatives. This shows the re-ritualization of death, which is a main characteristic of spectacular death. There is a desire to create memories of those no longer among us. Jacobsen (2016) would call the silent wake for Julie a “spontaneous memorial”; publicly marking the death of a celebrity or even an unknown person who died tragically or dramatically in a public space.

In spectacular death, death is also used for political and entertainment reasons. In this case, the tragic death of Julie is used as an instrument to provoke and draw attention to the discussion on sexual violence. There are protest marches planned and even FC Antwerp is protesting by pausing one of their games (NOS). On social media platforms, people are speaking out about how this could happen, as Steve B. was already charged in another rape case.

Julie's death is , indeed, a perfect example of spectacular death.



Jacobsen, M.H. (2016). “Spectacular Death”: Proposing a New Fifth Phase to Philippe Ariès’s Admirable History of Death. In Humanities, 5(2), 1-20.

Lefelon, P. (2019, May 8). Vlaamse Julie vocht terug. Dat bekocht ze met haar leven. In AD.

NOS. (2019, May 9). Stille wake in Antwerpen voor vermoorde Julie van Espen. In NOS.


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