I've been to a lot of a funerals. Never once did it occur to me to consider I might rank one "better" than another. After all, someone has died. But some people consider death a time to celebrate gaudily and that's where Dallas' Golden Gate Funeral Home comes in. And TLC's new show, “Best Funeral Ever” is positively frightening.
To be clear, I'm not passing judgment on anyone that chooses to make their funeral a big, even if ridiculous event, but those events are private. A television show that effectively trivializes death for the purpose of a party is not the direction that we need to be moving in as a society.
Listen, I get it. Absurd reality shows have become the backbone of television programming, in the way that game shows once littered the landscape. And as I said before, even in the face of seemingly obvious dysfunction, not all of these shows (such as “All My Babies’ Mamas”) are without merit.
But for “Best Funeral,” the problem is that there is absolutely no payoff. The show seems to highlight the fact that people think these forms of "mourning" are weird. The idea of inserting a reality show into the business of death is more ghoulish than I care to ever see again.
Some might say this is another program in a long line that makes black people look bad. Between the Real Housewives series, the Love & Hip Hop shows, the aforementioned “All My Babies Mamas” and so on, there is no shortage of programming that seems to capitalize on highlighting how some people of color tend to operate. But this show is worse than that. This show makes America look bad.
The employees of the home are all black and everyone they go to for commercial help is white. The show isn't some commentary on race relations, but you can't help but notice the obvious juxtaposition of seemingly confused white folks to the funeral home hijinx of the negroes celebrating death.
At one point, we are informed by John Beckwith, Jr., owner/CEO, that his company has a little secret: professional mourners. In his class – yes, they have a class to instruct their employees how to feign grief — Beckwith says, “not all families know how to show their emotions. Some families need someone else to start crying, before they can start crying.”
He then stresses the importance of proper alligator tears. “A mourner can make or break a funeral,” Beckwith instructs. “This family has one time to celebrate their loved one’s funeral. We must get it right.”
Seriously, TLC? In a time when we're forced to witness funeral after funeral due to the ills of an allegedly civilized society that finds people senselessly taking lives, you're airing a show where people are faking misery for money in real life?
In one show scenario, the original singer of the Chili's Baby Back Ribs song is being celebrated. The funeral features a BBQ-sauce fountain, a casket that looks like a smoking pit and a Flinstones-sized prop of a side of ribs. There is a ceremonial dipping of a rib into the barbecue sauce as some sort of commemoration.
Another is a Christmas-themed event, complete with double-digit farm animals as part of some sort of Nativity scene. Lastly, there's one service in which Golden Gate holds a funeral at the Texas State Fair. They bring the urn to the fair and let the family ride the rides with it. The cause is noble enough: the deceased lived with a physical condition that prevented him from ever enjoying such a pleasure while he was alive.
I understand that moments of levity can be helpful, even cathartic. I remember when an aunt of mine passed in 2004. She always had a knack for finding the fun part of life. And during her service, when a man nobody recognized found his way to the pulpit during the remembrance portion and loudly longed for a person of a different name, the comedy of the gentlemen's obvious confusion broke up the tension in the room.
It was exactly the kind of unplanned, irreverent moment befitting of who she was. "Of course that happened," we all said to each other afterward. And not in a bad way. Nobody likes funerals, but they are a part of life. I have no issue with Golden Gate Funeral Home doing what they do to make money, but TLC's exploitation of how families mourn their dead is shameful in an era in which we can barely focus on keeping each other alive.
Clinton Yates is a columnist for The Root DC.
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