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Press Release - 01 February 2006

Dead sexy: the corpse is the new “porn star” of popular culture

The media’s interest in death and dying is making the corpse the new “porn star” of popular culture, according to an American academic speaking at a public lecture at the University of Bath next week (3 East 2.1, 6.30pm Wednesday 8 February 2006).

Programmes like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Desperate Housewives and Six Feet Under have made the corpse the star of the show, and are helping challenge some of the taboos surrounding death in modern society.

At the same time, pictures of coffins of soldiers have been withheld from the US media, newspapers are criticised for showing pictures of dead bodies after natural disasters and the public is outraged by organ retention scandals.

“In many ways, death is replacing sex as the taboo to be challenged by television, so the corpse has become the porn star of popular culture,” said Professor Jacque Lynn Foltyn from the National University, California, who will be giving a public lecture for the Centre for Death and Society based at the University of Bath.

“This exposes our simultaneous attraction and repulsion toward the corpse and our growing uncertainty about how to 'use' and visualize the corpse in the 21st century.

“Despite the interest in the corpse in popular culture, where explorations of eroticized and rotting cadavers are common televised fare, in Western civilization the cadaver remains the body's most polluted form, something to deny, disguise, and hide.

“While the dead body remains offensive, it also remains holy.”

In the USA the TV series Actual Autopsy, in which real human bodies are dissected, is a ratings hit. Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds, a travelling museum exhibit of sliced and ‘plastinated’ human remains, is an international sensation. .

“We are delighted that Professor Foltyn has agreed to give our first public lecture of 2006,” said Dr Glennys Howarth, Director of the Centre for Death and Society and editor of the academic journal Mortality.

“One of our aims in establishing the Centre is to challenge popular views surrounding death and Professor Foltyn, who is one of the world’s foremost scholars of human beauty and representations of death, will be able to give a forthright account of the changing attitudes to death in popular culture.”

Professor Foltyn received her Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego, and is Associate Professor, Sociology, National University, California. Her scholarly work has focused on two fields - human beauty and representations of death.

Her cultural critiques have been featured in fashion magazines, the New York Times, and network and public television.

In 2004, The American Sociological Association honoured her work about the corpse in contemporary culture with a special session of international scholars. She lives in San Diego, California.

Professor Foltyn’s lecture, ‘Dead sexy: post-disaster/terrorism voyeurism and the corpse, pop culture's new porn star’ starts at 6.30pm on Wednesday 8 February 2006 in lecture theatre 3 East 2.1.

The lecture is free; no need to reserve tickets just turn up on the evening. Refreshments will be available afterwards.

The lecture will also be podcast.


The Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath is the UK’s only centre devoted to study and research on the topic of death. The Centre furthers social, policy and health research, provides education and training for academics and practitioners, enhances social policy understanding and encourages community development.

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