Men of Mortuaries – The Calendar of Sexy Undertakers

At SocImages, illness Gwen describes ways in which morticians/funeral directors have sought to remove some of the stigmas associated with their profession:

In my Intro to Soc course I assign K.R. Thompson’s article “Handling the Stigma of Handling the Dead: Morticians and Funeral Directors” (Deviant Behavior 1991, v. 12, p. 403-429). Thompson looked at how those involved in preparing the dead for burial and planning funerals try to manage the negative perceptions they suspect much of the public has of them. Language was a major way they tried to do this–redefining themselves as “funeral directors” rather than “morticians” or “undertakers,” referring to dead people as “the deceased” rather than “the body” or “the corpse,” “casket” rather than “coffin,” and so on. The point was to try to reduce the association with death–to never blatantly refer to death at all.

They also tried to avoid what they felt were stereotypes of funeral directors. Some mentioned trying not to wear black suits, and one man went so far as to keep hand warmers in his pockets so his hands would be warm when he shook family members’ hands–a reaction to what he said was a belief that funeral directors have cold, clammy hands. Others lived in a different town than where they worked and tried to keep their careers secret.

In 2007, California-based funeral director Kenneth McKenzie went one step further to battle the stereotype of the gaunt, morbid mortician by releasing the “Men of Mortuaries” calendar. According to an Obit Magazine article about the calendar, the hundreds of applicants for the 2008 calendar were narrowed down by a mixed-race panel that included a gay older man, a gay young man, a straight older man, a straight younger man, a young straight woman and an older straight woman “to hear all voices.” McKenzie sold 20,000 calendars in 2008, and proceeds went to an organization McKenzie started to support women who, like his sister, were undergoing breast cancer treatment.

On a (kinda) related note:

8 Responses to “Men of Mortuaries – The Calendar of Sexy Undertakers”

  1. Tanya Says:

    You know, there are a few things that irk me a bit about this concept. One is the noticeable lack of any sort of variety in the calendar men – they are all so corn-fed, shiny-smiled, All-American-boy-looking (oh yeah.. and white). What bugs me even more is that there even has to be a need to shed any image. The fact that they are trying to gloss over the obvious – “(t)he point was to try to reduce the association with death–to never blatantly refer to death at all” – is the most ridiculous part. Hello – this IS about death. You can make it pretty and try to reinvent language, but at the end you are still the people who are taking a dead person and getting them ready for last rights. You can’t gloss over that. Instead of pandering to people’s bizarre notions, why not just take pride in your work? This country has the strangest relationship with death, seriously.

    That said, I’ve had several friends in the funeral services industry and “Six Feet Under” is one of my all-time favorite shows. I’ve never met a stereotypical undertaker, nor did the characters on the series seem at all one-dimensional. I had no idea there was such a dire need to “reimage.”

  2. josey4628 Says:

    I think I’d rather my mortician be creepy and morbid… that way I don’t have to worry about him trying to hook up with my widow before I’m even buried… at least they’re raising money for a good cause.

  3. Jessica Says:

    YIKES!!! Too funny, LOVE it!
    Both Jared & I had our youthful moments of considering that career path. Good thing it didn’t go that way, I don’t have the affinity for spray tanning or abs of steel that it (apparently) requires nowadays… O.o

  4. Nadya Says:

    Although I personally appreciate this calendar more for its camp value, I definitely understand why they took the beefy, all-American approach. Tanya, I see all the points you’re making, but I think they had to choose their battles with this. If they set out a calendar that challenged notions of what a stereotypical mortician is like, AND at the same time endeavored to challenge traditional notions of male beauty, they would’ve come up with something that very few people would understand. Although I’m sure there’d be a market for it amongst CH readers! (Notably, the Obit article stated that “McKenzie was disappointed that no men of color applied for the 2008 calendar, and hopes that changes next year.”)

    I’m sure all these guys take pride in their work. The effort here is to reduce the stigma that I imagine is still found in smaller communities in some parts of America. Certain professions become more linked to people’s identities in the American psyche than others. When an average person meets an accountant, for example, most people don’t really think twice about how the person arrived at this career path. But if an average American meets a domme, they immediately start spinning theories: “does she hate men? was she abused as a child?” Etc. I think that it’s the same with being a mortician: people immediately make assumptions about a person’s character based on their job choice, more so than with other jobs. They think that something morbid attracted them to doing this job. Or they look down at the person for “profiting off the dead.” This can affect the way a person is treated in their community. I think this is the reason for the need to reimage: it doesn’t seem like they want to erase the story of what they do so much as present a friendlier face to a public that still has some superstitious, taboo ideas about death.

  5. Sterlingspider Says:

    Much love for the inclusion of the Calendario Romano.

    It’s probably a good thing I wasn’t brought up Roman Catholic as I’d have ALL sorts of guilt to contend with.

    Too hot by far.

  6. Tanya Says:

    Nadya – I definitely see the discomfort, or the disappointment someone in the industry might feel because of notions the general public might have about them. I know that it can be incredible tough to be taken seriously, to be respected for this worthwhile service. I guess, my reaction isn’t so much aimed at the guys producing this calendar – they’re just trying to lighten things up, I get it – but at the general fact that there even has to be such a calendar, you know? That after all this time, people still have these stupid notions about what death is, who takes care of the dead, the supposed personality attributes found in funeral directors, etc. I have loads of respect for people in the funeral services industry. I sure wouldn’t have the emotional or physical nerve to do it. I guess I’m just saddened by the reality that no matter what you do within society, you always have to contend with other people’s discomforts over the most ridiculous things.

    I do hope that this might help them out. And thanks for clarifying that they had a lack of minority applicants. That does clear up one of my main points of contention.

  7. enui Says:

    it sure looks classier than the calendar that cofanifunebri puts out every year.

  8. SL Says:

    I kind of want to buy this calendar just for the pure hysterical value. Which is probably really not what they intended, but, still…