“A Real Stiff�

Hollywood has a long-standing history of misrepresenting “real life.� In general, people are more attractive and more successful and seem to have a lot fewer problems than the rest of us. Hollywood’s representation of “real death� is no different. With few exceptions—the movie Seven, for example—Hollywood tends to give the impression that only beautiful people die.

The actors that are cast to play “dead end roles� are usually just as appealing as the live actors. The only time an unattractive person is used is when the role requires that look. This practice is certainly understandable. Hollywood is no different than any other business that seeks to provide a product that appeals to the “consumer.�

Here’s a typical Hollywood image:

A body lies flat on a tray in the morgue with the head and shoulders exposed under a sheet folded as though they had just been tucked into bed. The face has an almost blissful look on it as it lies there. If it weren’t for the stab wound or gunshot wound, the body would look as though it had been prepared for viewing at the mortuary.

Here’s a more realistic image:

The only way a person is going to lie perfectly flat in a morgue is if the died perfectly flat. In most cases, a cadaver assumes nearly the same posture it had when it died—with the exception of any areas of rigor that were “broken� as the body was moved, examined, and strapped down for transport. More often than not, a person’s legs are bent at the knees and the hands are not straight down at the sides and the sheet covering the body is usually stained with whatever substance is present on the body.

In reality, the eyes and mouth are commonly open or at least “ajar� and the hair is a rat’s nest. “Bed head� has nothing on “dead head.� I’ve seen bodies on TV that were recovered from a wooded area, but that same body lying on a slab in the morgue doesn’t have a single leaf in its hair. I can only assume that the experts in the crime scene unit meticulously collected every leaf and twig from the hair—to the tune of a classic rock song—and that one of the leaves was traced back to a rare breed of ficus located in the lobby of the building where the killer’s dentist’s office was located.

Hollywood cadavers are in fairly decent physical shape and have the same level of hygiene as an actor in a body wash commercial. In reality, here are some of the more common findings underneath the sheet:

–a person with morbid obesity
–a person with neglected toenails (a.k.a. “Fritosâ€? or “Free thoseâ€? corn chips)
–a person with questionable personal hygiene
–a person with nonexistent personal hygiene
–a person unaware that the concept of personal hygiene even existed
–a person that assumed water was only meant to be taken internally

All of these elements are commonly found but rarely portrayed by directors. I’m sure there’s a valid reason for this disparity between fiction and reality. Playing devil’s advocate, I would argue that portraying death too accurately is probably taboo. If that’s the case, then it must be the last taboo. After all, we live in a world no longer afraid to broadcast reality television, presidential sexcapades, and images of Sipowitz’s bare ass.


12 Responses to “”

  1. November 11, 2005 at 12:44 am

    Bravo! Another excellent post. It’s funny, informative, critical, and condescending all at the same time. Kind of like Sipowitz’s bare ass!

  2. November 11, 2005 at 3:58 pm

    A very informative post – though I already knew that no dead body could ever look the way they do on television, it would just be waaaay too spooky. I recently found your blog, and have added it as one of my favs. You write in an interesting, informative manner. Highly enjoyable. Keep up the good work!

  3. November 11, 2005 at 4:09 pm

    This blog is AMAZING!!
    drop by mine sometime (although, obv. not as interesting as this one!!)

  4. 4 ajanney
    November 11, 2005 at 6:28 pm

    Have you ever noticed that they never have one that you can smell outside of the cooler either.

  5. November 11, 2005 at 10:16 pm

    i really appreciate your informative posts. i admit i am a csi fan, & enjoy other ‘hollywood made’ programs as well, but being able to delineate between entertainment and tragic reality is important in these times of so much fantasy. if i were homeschooling my own children right now, i would add ‘coroner stories’ as a study requirement……thankyou!!!! shanna

  6. 6 Jen
    November 12, 2005 at 12:21 pm

    I always wondered about rigor mortis and the “perfectly flat” bodies on TV. Thanks for clearing that up! You have the most interesting posts…

  7. November 15, 2005 at 8:52 am

    I’ve been wondering for a while (and this post prompted me to comment) whether you have heard about the Crime Lab Project? http://www.crimelabproject.com/

    They are trying to raise awareness about the real state of American Crime labs and to try to dispell the CSI-effect myth that crimes can be neatly solved in one hour intervals.

    Anyway, I thought it sounded like it was your cup of tea.

  8. 8 Bren
    November 15, 2005 at 1:34 pm

    I can only assume that the experts in the crime scene unit meticulously collected every leaf and twig from the hair—to the tune of a classic rock song—and that one of the leaves was traced back to a rare breed of ficus located in the lobby of the building where the killer’s dentist’s office was located.

    You crack me up.

  9. November 22, 2005 at 11:41 am

    I had always assumed that the body ‘relaxed’ back into a straight position. How wrong I was. So do you ever get people who are so curled up or tangled up on themselves that you have to force them apart? :S


  10. November 26, 2005 at 5:40 pm

    Recently found your blog and added it to my blogroll. Interesting stuff.

  11. 12 Terri
    January 11, 2006 at 11:26 am

    I’m not saying that death is funny, but I had to laugh aloud at your realistic descriptions of what you often find “under the sheet”…

    Love how you say things. You’re very talented.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: