There was once this website where you could go and look at autopsy photos. The selection on this website was modest but notable, centered on famous people who died tragically. People like Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, Kurt Cobain, Sharon Tate, the Heaven’s Gate guy, River Phoenix, Mama Cass probably, and the like. I have visited this website more than once.
Going on that alone, it looks as if I lived a free and easy life full of privilege: the privilege of looking at autopsy photos whenever I pleased. Not everything is as it seems, of course, and this is no exception. Sure, autopsy photos were floating around the internet, how you found out that they were was another matter.
First you had to have a tendency that made the prospect of looking at autopsy photos either very appealing or not a big deal. Then you had to present that tendency to others so that they might share their knowledge with you of where to find autopsy photos. I heard it from a friend, appropriately enough, during third period bio. He heard it from his older sister, who dyed her hair red with Kool Aid and wore Sketchers under over-sized black jeans with patches all over them. She would walk the halls with her friends who also wore Sketchers (or Adidas shell-toes) under over-sized black jeans with patches all over them, with the confidence that they could, within ideal conditions, look at autopsy photos on the internet. And that is how they liked it.
This is probably hard for you to understand; you’re too young, it was a different world. Autopsy photos are abundant today. You can see them without ever having to ask first or to search them out. Some of you probably gestated in the womb looking at autopsy photos. Not just of famous people, but of any random person. A grandma who died of plain old heart failure for instance. And not just autopsy photos, though, right? There are also crime scene photos, mugshots, grave but comical injuries, videos of crimes in progress. You’re living a life of which I could never have conceived. You’re living a dream.
But I have to ask myself sometimes: is the dream worth it? What are you losing by living this dream? Quite a lot, I think. Now ask yourselves: when you’re looking at an autopsy photo on your device, at the dinner table or wherever, do you feel the satisfaction of a conscious pursuit eliciting ideal results? Is there risk involved? Not physical risk, perhaps, but social risk — is there a stigma attached to what you’re doing? — and technical risk — is the source a bit shady? Have you, in other words, worked for it?
I would think you’d have to answer to yourselves: No. I want you to think about that, and to think about what this says about you. It might say that you lack a certain degree of class, of dignity, of respect for yourself or others. Which, of course, so did we, but we at least had standards. Never did we look at autopsy photos without first asking “What is this going to do for us?” Will they offer glamor? Mystery? Thrills? Would they fill a hole that polite society left open? Made by, let’s say, the neglect of our parents? The death of God?The humor of post-Phil Hartman NewsRadio? If the answer was no, then we dispensed with them without a second thought and never looked back.
Do any of you retain the capacity to feel? Just wondering really; I don’t. Not anymore. Not in the way that I used to. When I was your age, I spent hours doing nothing but feeling things. I’d feel everything. Sometimes I’d feel everything in a very careful sequence: one and then another and then another and then another, and so on. Other times I’d feel everything all at once. You know, I’m not sure why I ever listened to my friend’s sister. She wasn’t very nice. I remember this one time I got this L7 Screeching Weasel Operation Ivy Five Iron Frenzy t-shirt — in the city — and I wore it to school the following Monday. I was very stoked. Then when I was getting ready for class, shutting my locker, there she was, waiting for me with her friends flanked behind her. She held up the straw and launched a spitball right at my forehead. It was the size of a jelly bean. I never wore the shirt again.
But life is kind of complicated like that. I, like you are now, was young. I was starving for authority in a world almost totally bereft of it. It was a world where you had to wait a week at least for online orders to be delivered. It was a world where writing poetry about spectral cats with eyes of ruby was “not optimal time management” and when writing poetry about spangled sabers that flew on their own accord meant a trip to the school shrink. Then just the nurse. I kind of liked that, now that I look back on it. But it was a different world.
One of the most common mistakes that generations collectively make is that they are to be the final generation. Not the final biological lineage, but the final word on cultural expanse. Everyone who comes after it are like shadow people: malformed approximations of humanity with no consciousness or reference points of their own. They are a backward-looking breed, to whose forebears they give untold awe. If only! They do look back, this much is true, but they also talk back, with such whimsical sayings like, “What was with all the autopsy photos?” I’m not sure why that will be. Maybe autopsies will be outlawed or innovated out of recognizable existence or there will be no internet somehow. Maybe the future generations will have regained respect for themselves and others. Whatever the case, they are probably not ones to lean on rhetoric. This will be a conversation, an inquiry for which answers of some sort are expected. You could give a bad answer and that will be fine, but that is our answer, and they’re not going to ask us. We will be too busy doing whatever dead people do when they are not on the internet.
These are things worth considering as soon as possible. Pretty soon it’s going to be a different world.