Hoy gives us a five part template for 'good' grieving, or for good funerals. These are: symbols, rituals, cultural traditions/heritage, community and respect for the corpse in transition.



Let's use these as template to guide our interpretation.

When we get the remaining three.



I am going to propose something contentious and perhaps unpleasant to hear. I have heard, here at ADEC, a good deal of  talk with which I agree, to the effect that the way funerals and memorial services go really matters to the bereaved family and friends.  Funerals need to be, and as I have learned here, generally are, if not 'satisfying' experiences - that word does not quite fit here -- meaningful and important. This idea transcends cultures and locations. Wherever we look, we find elaborate trouble taken in caring properly for the corpse. One of the central responsibilities funeral directors, cemetery managers and grief counselors incur is to handle what can only be called problematic deaths, those whose suddenness or manner strains the capacities of normal rituals and symbols. The 9/11 deaths present an especial problem. They are extremely difficult to locate, culturally and morally, and it is my contention that, to the degree that they cannot be properly located, they will continue to haunt the culture, and the formless, free-floating anxiety such unresolved deaths can cause will continue to torment us at the edges of our awareness and concern.  






Reading about Holocaust spectres reminded me that in the case of the CSI dead the images we see on the screen are doubly removed from what I claim they represent. On the first level these are images, without tactile or olfactory properties. But this seems appropriate because the original 9/11 event was also entirely visual for most people. We saw what we did not see. We saw blurry, very brief clips, generally taken with minicams (cell phone cameras did not yet really exist), of spectral falling bodies, bodies without clear features, without names, who also disappeared from Being as soon as they fell out of camera range. These were completely visual events, and wholly lacking in detail, but they represent about all we have of images of the dead of 9/11. In some ways they are worse than no images at all because they are so fleetingly incomplete, like things half-seen from the corner of one’s eye, like momentary hallucinations that disassemble before one gets any kind of look at them. Were those really people jumping or falling from the Towers? Regular people, working people, like me? What would make me do something that terrible and terrifying? How bad must it have been? Why can’t I see how it was? Why can’t I see more, see through the impenetrable smoke and flames, see past the papers and tiles and other unidentifiable detritus falling, with the spectral bodies, from those buildings? This was bad enough without the imposed blindness, without the disappearance of those specters. 

So, what we get back, all we can get back, are replacement images that implicitly address the worst parts of those spectral visions. In place of genderless, indistinct, momentary images we get the steady camera, not hand-held, focusing, lingering, over the surface of the new substitute body. Here is a three dimensional stable body that stays in place and allows itself to be photographed and, as important, handled by the actors whose images we also see. We cannot ever touch these replacement bodies but they can be (virtually) touched, and what we see is the filmic record of the people playing  the bodies, or the wax/neoprene figures ‘playing’ them, being touched by the actors who play the crime scene technicians. Thus, we see real or putative bodies that are not ever really  corpses filmed as corpses and treated as such by people playing at being the kinds of people charged with examining and analysing corpses. And I am claiming, as an added layer of interpretation, that these sogenannt corpses, these seeable but only apparent corpses, are themselves replacements for the lost, spectral corpses of 9/11 which can never ever be seen or touched or loved again. A virtual corpse inserted in a filmed story to seem like a real(though filmed) corpse stands in for a real corpse or corpses briefly, unclearly glimpsed on another film, then utterly lost. What is not really a corpse substitutes in our psyche for a real coprse that has been lot — but not the same corpse as the filmed one in the show putatively represents.

There is no real person whom the CSI corpse represents because this is after all a script; but I say that there is another real dead person to whom this virtual corpse always already refers, only it isn’t the one the story would like you to believe it represents. A virtual corpse created to represent a fictional character now gestures as well to a real dead person or persons who never appear as characters in the script. 

And what effect might this additional covert reference have on the way the virtual corpse looks and gets treated? Here we have to be bold. We cannot know whether any of the script writers or directors or producers of the CSI and cognate shows ever had any of this consciously in mind. I assume they did not. But if it is plausible that there is a collective cultural unconscious, that is that certain images impress themselves on individual awarenesses, and that these iages have a great deal in common (the televised sight of the burning towers, the falling bodies) then we might also speculate that the writers and producers and directors are no less susceptible to begin occupied by, even haunted by, both these images and the unseen, and unseeable, Other - the 9/11 dead -- that the spectral images and Tower images stand in for but also, perversely, both present and obscure. And in producing images of dead bodies who have been discovered and tended to and interrogated for the meaning of their deaths, might they not, as citizens, unconsciously include references to these lost and as yet unassimilated dead? Are Poles, fort example, in the 21st century, still haunted by the specters of the dead Jews whose bodies can never be recovered? When one travels to the onetime Jewish section of Krakow, the Kasiemirz, one finds Poles and Belorussians and Ukrainians playing Jewish music and running quasi-Jewish restaurants. These people are performing, with their own bodies, the lives of the missing Jews. In a sense they are allowing themselves to be possessed by Jewish specters. I doubt they think this consciously -- playing klezmer music and singing 'Yiddische Mama' produces lucrative gigs for otherwise impecunious graduate students -- but they are nonetheless allowing themselves to represent these lost dead.

Is it any more of a stretch to suggest that the lost dead of 9/11 come to occupy the stories we tell about other, fictional, dead people, all of whom are represented as victims of sudden and unexpected violence? These fictional dead offer perfect openings for the secret reappearance of this other group of dead people who, without this medium of expression, would remain as inarticulate sources of cultural anxiety. 

As we wrote in another connection, these dead are always already the moral dead, that is, people whose deaths requirte a response, a redoing because of some misdeed in the production of their death. 

Let's go back to presentation. The CSI corpses hover between macabre and repose. They incorporate elements of the Grand Guignol, "Faces of Death" aesthetic with elements of the funeral scenes from "Six Feet Under". 



When we consider the CSI dead we discover that they are idealized dead. More than their necessary Hollywoodification, they also have a certain unexpected level of perfection. They are laid open in autopsies, shown covered in blood, subject to the most invasive investigative procedures, but they remain somehow pristine and untouched. What is always missing is the litter, the meaningless detritus that always accompanies sudden, violent death. Anyone who has seen the aftermath of a serious automobile accident knows that one of the most unnerving aspects of such scenes is the sad litter strewn on the highway and its shoulder. There are always fast food containers or tennis shoes or coloring books or backpacks, plus small items from glove boxes and seat tops - pens and combs and cell phones, the ordinary things that every car contains. Every crime scene is replete with such leftovers and the 9/11 site was virtually nothing but such detritus, now, though, usually shredded and melted into a uniform glop. Murder scenes are messy.

But the CSI scenes are never, ever that. One of the most striking things about these scenes is that the corpse always, after its first discovery, appears entirely out of context, safely stored in a pristine, low-lighted morgue. These sites have an almost religious aura, and certainly suggest a funeral home, with their indirect lighting and preternatural quiet. Again, anyone familiar with hospital and morgue settings knows that in both there is a lot of metal equipment, much of it with wheels, and such things cannot help but rattle and squeak and bang. Hospitals are also never quiet. There are endless announcements and calls and warnings and requests, plus intermittent patient noises and the steady hum of worker’s conversations and family discussions. Lights are bright and florescent.

But never in CSI. That world is one in which corpses are segregated from the ordinary noise and heat and light of hospitals, in which they occupy a privileged place and time, a space of silence and discreet movement and respect. It is almost as if the dealings with the dead in CSI have a memorial, honorific character, as if the tests that are run and the probing cuts that are made are forms of tribute rather than searches for evidence.

When we switch attention abruptly to the shows like Medium and Ghost Whisperer and others we find that the dead live in the logical space of justification. That is, the television dead in these series have always been mistreated in some way, and in their death need the living to set things right, or to help the dead set things right. Being dead always means needing justification, and help in this from the living. It never just means being dead. Death and moral action are coimplicative, and this more than any other factor has led me to speculate that these dead bear more meanings than meet the eye. 



The dead who appear in the CSI shows come from many cities -- Miami, Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles -- all archetypically American yet all liminal, either coastal port cities or, in the case of Vegas, tourist entry points with a lot of foreign visitors. Every one of these cities is multicultural and multiracial and all have large Hispanic populations. All have to do with different iterations of the American dream. New York is finance, Los Angeles the entertainment industry, Miami luxury recreation and Cuban reinvention, Las Vegas, striking it rich amongst versions of the other cities.

These are open geographies, alluring and inherently unstable and dangerous, sites of unexpected violence. Las Vegas and Miami actually are dangerous; Los Angeles is moderately so, though much less so than in the past. And New York has become positively benign, its murder and assault rates having plummeted during the last 20 years to make it America's safest large city. But in the world of television New York has not caught up to its mundane reality. It is clearly more gentrified than in the past but it is still represented as dangerous.

Note: There is almost no connection between crime-fictional reality and real-world crime rates. Note the striking popularity of Scandinavian police procedurals, in print and on film. In these, Norway and Sweden are awash in murderous biker gangs and the home to a disturbing number of brilliant serial killers and corrupt government officials sitting on dirty secrets. But aside from the horrible mass killing in Norway two years ago, Sweden had 91 murders in 2010, Norway 29.

Miami had a murder rate of 15.4 per 100,000, far higher than Sweden's 1.0 and Norway's normal 0.9. Los Angeles and Las Vegas both have murder rates more than twice the US average, in the 7.5 range, while New York's murder rate hovers at 6.4. All of these cities are violent by Western European standards, but Philsdelphis, Buffalo, Oakland, Milwaukee, and Kansas City all have murder rates as high as or higher than Miami's. Los Angeles is much safer than Tulsa, St. Louis, Pittsburgh or Minneapolis. But in the world of fiction Vegas and LA and New York and Miami serve as ideal sites for interesting violence.


Returning to the fictional dead. If my hypothesis is plausible we see the discovered dead of CSI as a form of revenant, by which I mean someone dead who comes back. But the CSI revenants are outliers in the revenant tradition, which includes ghosts and zombies and vampires and such. The CSI revenants are dead bodies.

First question: how can a dead body be a revenant? Almost by definition dead bodies are not coming back from anywhere. They are not yet even on a journey. They are 'remains', what is left, not 'revenant', what has come back. My argument is that the CSI are never just remains, but reminders, indices, stand-ins, signs for other dead people who cannot come back because they have been vaporized by evil. In my construction, corpses stand in for other, absent corpses which are absent because they have been obliterated. They were ripped out of being into non-being; the CSI corpses - fictions, after all, that can be made to serve many purposes -- are entities created partly to plug an ontological gap, an unbearable hole in the fabric of the real. This hole is truly black: it leads nowhere, produces no meaning. It is just a pointless, painful absence. We look to the dead, we turn to them so we can tend them and make sure that they are properly buried so that they will not come back to haunt us. But in the case of 9/11 there are no dead to turn to, so we cannot tend them. Will they come back to haunt us? We have no idea. We do not know what obliterated bodies can or cannot do. Maybe the worst thing that can happen is that the dead cannot return even as haunts, so that the imbalance can never be set right and we will forever carry the burden of not having buried them properly. And our punishment will not be that we are haunted but that we are not. We will end up in Kephalos' unresolved anxiety, worriedly sacrificing over and over, never sure that what we are doing is the right thing, because the world beyond never gives us a sign, cannot, perhaps, givie us a sign.

So, I say, we manufacture a new set of corpses, leave them lying around conveniently where the authorities -- our surrogates -- can find them easily. Now we introduce a new idea loosely based on the work of the Hungarian psycho-analysts Abraham and Torok -- that ghosts can lie. The dead bodies that CSI discovers have been planted there and made to look like conventional murder victims, typical fictional 'stiffs' whose job it is to be found, to provoke the mechanics of detection, to produce a killer and his or her apprehension.

And all of this does happen. The CSI dead behave exactly as if thet were written into a standard police procedural plot, in which they will, if tradition holds true, play a crucial but peripheral role. But something funny happens on the way to the conclusion. We begin to linger around this body, this accidental occasion for police action, as if it is more than a functional part of the plot. In the CSI shows and their 'relatives', the body itself becomes the focus of investigation and procedures shift from interviewing suspects, chasing down criminals, and reading reports to doing lab tests and meeting in autopsy theaters.

The dead body becomes a major figure in the plot, It does not have any lines but it does provide a steady stream of information.

Note: there are large differences in emotional tone vis a vis the placement of the dead in these shows. In CSI the tone began, in 2000, as somewhat raucous and macabre. The bodies tended to the garish, there was a lot of blood, and graveyard humor prevailed. The bodies helped but they were not treated with much reverence or care, and their settings were stark andf unappealing. Even though CSI began in 2000, a premonitory year before the attacks on the WTC, it was only gradually, and especially after 2001, that the whole aesthetic of death changed and the role the bodies played became more mysterious and richer. As Tina Weber details in her poorly translated but very useful study of television corpses, Drop Dead Gorgeous, the settings for the dead in scripted forensic shows have become progressively less realistic and progressively more beautiful and, shall we say, reverential?

The labs and autopsy theaters are expensive, softly lighted, airy, spacious and above all almost preternaturally efficient.


What all this indicates could be two different but in this case complimentary things. On one hand as we discussed in the capital letter pice ther Hollywood conventions of character presentation took over and made the dead into appropriately coiffed and toned members of the cast. But on another level, the bodies represent something else more, something further -- a visitation, if we want to say it, an intrusion from another story line, one that cannot be openly told, one that is a hidden and shameful secret -- that we could never recover our dead from the Towers and that we have never resolved their loss. The reappearance of these dead, apparent murder victims but also, always, something more, means that the scripts have been invaded and to some degree taken over by forces and emotions whose power cannot be admitted.

We need to verify this with references to episodes in which the dead act like more than the dead.

OK: In Cold Case, this something more is brought forward by the introduction of the dead as spectral characters and the inclusion of earlier version of the murderes and their victims, as if both are ontologically trapped in the present time of the crin=me. The years have added age to the killers but they are really the young persons who did the original crime and when the evidence is presented, when the dead come back as their remains, as evidence, to help unmaks their killers, time and history are undone, shown to be illusory, and the original time of the crime is reinvoked, flickering in and out of the present, finally put where it belongs, in the past, by the resolution of the cold case.

In the CSI shows something different happens. The time is always now and the dead are dead now. They do noy change the flow of time but they remake space. That is, they die into a charmed space of knowledge, an epistemological treasure trove where the technicians have all the keys needed to unlock the secrets of their bodies. Because the CSI dead do carry that clear legacy. Thry have secrets to divulge that are crying out to be divulged but which cannot be divulged without the right intervention by the authorities.

Nothing the authorities could do could match the DNA scraped from the metal remains of the Towers to the DNA found in the thousands of body fragments found, until 2011, in and around the Towers site. No forensic dentist or anthropologist or crime scene tech -- no one , and no piece of equipment -- could ever successfully read the bodies of the 1,000 people whose remains were never found or untangle even the most elementary puzzles posed by the unclaimed fragments buried in the memorial at Ground Zero. Government, science, technology, human ingenuity, time, money --- nothing worked to remake the dead. And in the CSI series the dead are always fully reclaimed, the machines always produce definitive results, the technicians always bring the right tools and intelligence and the whole sad ineffective story of the 9/11 remains gets indirectly and ' correctly' retold, over and over and over until it is almost believable and the dead are almost saved and properly buried.


We also note that funerals play no role on CSI or any of the other shows except as sites to spot a perpetrator. It is almost as if these shows want to skirt the issue of whether the CSI dead have been properly buried. The idea is that they must have been because they were properly studied and gave up every scintilla of information they had to give up.