As we all know, the effect of media on our society is beyond heavy—influencing our every move, our thoughts, and our beliefs. Television in particular, as we have learned throughout the semester, tends to label and stereotype lifestyles through different series broadcasted. Growing up in a family who has owned and managed funeral homes for over three decades, the HBO show Six Feet Under, has played a significant role as far as media depictions that for me, just so happens to hit close to home.
“Who are these people who are funeral directors that we hire to face death for us? What does that do to their own lives—to grow up in a home where there are bodies in the basement, to be a child and walk in on your father with a body lying on a table opened up and him working on it? What does that do to you?” (Heffernan, NY Times). This statement was affirmed by the producer of Six Feet Under, Alex Ball, when asked about the concept of the program. Six Feet Under is a 6-time Emmy Award winner that aired for 5 seasons from 2001 to 2005 on HBO. The show depicts the member’s of the Fisher family and their lives running a funeral home in Los Angeles. The show stars Nate Fisher whose funeral director father dies and grants co-ownership of the family business to him and his brother, David. There are more members of the Fisher family—the widow Ruth and daughter Claire. Other regulars play big roles in the series such as the mortician and family friend, Federico, Nate’s girlfriend, Brenda, and David’s long-term boyfriend, Keith.
Like the Fisher family, my grandfather and owner (my mom’s dad), handed down the family funeral business to his two children, my mom and her brother. I have grown up in the funeral home business—from living above one of the establishments when I was a baby before my parents bought a house, to recently answering phones and being a secretary on my time off from school, helping out when they need it, I have been exposed to the lifestyle funeral directors and morticians lead.
Six Feet Under focuses on human mortality and the lives of those who handle it on a daily basis, in which I have had the opportunity to witness this first-hand. Meeting with families, making pre-arrangements, directing funerals and visitations, being on 24/7 call, are just some of the lines of work that expected from funeral directors. I have grown up with my mom waking up in the middle of the night, leaving the house to go on a “pick up,”—picking up someone who died at a nursing home, hospital, personal home, etc. I have gone on pick-ups with my mom to airports, picking up caskets that have been shipped in, and like I said, I have been working there, so have become familiar with the culture of running funeral homes. Some instances of Six Feet Under are spot on but there are also scenes and cases in the show that contribute to a stereotype of the funeral directing profession that is skewed.
Like all television, the drama is escalated and blown out of proportion but they are accurate with the depictions of the different people who die and how much of a broad spectrum there is when dealing with families. There is one episode where a porn star dies and is brought to the Fisher’s funeral home for services, and some of the characters are shocked by who comes to the wake and funeral. In another episode that related to my family was when Fisher & Sons arranged services for a gang member. My family’s funeral homes are located in Chicago, so we get some of these crowds often.
Another aspect of the show regarding stereotypes is a homosexual working in the funeral business. David is gay and throughout my family’s time working in this industry, there tends to be a substantial amount of gay mend who gravitate toward this career field.
Although I have not seen this show is a while, I remember my mom watching it while it was airing and comparing it to our lives and how truthful it was. Of course, they emphasized relationships, sex and drama, but it was interesting to actually see another viewpoint on a topic that not many people are familiar with the “behind the scenes” of. It was also interesting for me to research and look into this show and compare my views and experiences to what the media portrays.
Television offers viewpoints and standings that in ways are accurate, but for those who actually have hands on experience with what is being shown, like myself, will always be able to critique and differentiate what is real and what is not.