To start, the paper must commence with acknowledgement that there are many beliefs and traditions surrounding the cessation of the physical body. This is a topic of great discussion and emotion in all of human history. This is a topic upon which humans reflect constantly, across culture, country, language, time and distance. In the West, there is a diversity of beliefs, but the predominant beliefs by most citizens are Judeo-Christian in foundation. People in the West react to death in the same ways they react to grief (as in the seven stages of grief[footnoteRef:0]) and the ways people react to substance addiction/abuse rehabilitation. That is to say the tradition in the West is to react to death the ways they react to grief in general and the ways they react to participation in a twelve-step program[footnoteRef:1]. The paper will discuss some patterns in thinking and behaving regarding aging and death. Five factors that underlie a person's reactions to aging and death are the sex of the person, the culture of the person, what age the person is when he/she seriously acknowledges and realizes death & aging, the family history of the person, and the lifestyle choice of this person. [0: Based on the model by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the seven stages of grief are: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance. Available from http://changingminds.org/disciplines/change_management/kubler_ross/kubler_ross.htm. ] [1: The twelve steps to recovery involve admittance of a problem, seeking strength in a higher power, typically the Judeo-Christian God, making amends with those one has wronged as a result of the addiction, and experiencing a spiritual awakening as result of following the steps. ]
As far as people's reactions to aging, they are generally very negative. American culture specifically glorifies adolescence and the period of high school and college to a certain extent, as the peak or greatest days of people's lives. When the life expectancy is in the seventies and eighties that leaves people an average of six decades to twiddle their thumbs reminiscing about the good old days instead of enjoying their good old days now. American culture as presented and distributed in a variety of media representations, does not celebrate aging generally. There are examples of middle and older adults living satisfying active lifestyles. Consider though, the philosophy around aging in a cultural institution such as Hollywood. As actors age, especially women, they are not offered as many parts. This happens particularly as actors move into their forties, fifties and sixties. There are some actors that lead successful careers throughout their entire lifespans, yet that is not the norm. Consider the fashion industry. Models are recruited as teenagers in high fashion, yet there are ample opportunities available for babies and toddlers such as Baby Gap and Gap Kids. As for high fashion, how many internationally famous runway models are there in their thirties, forties, or fifties? There are not nonexistent, but they are not ample. By that age in their lives, the models have likely retired, become designers, or likely pursued some other career within the fashion industry such as event planning or marketing. Hollywood actors and high fashion models are figures that many people model themselves after physically or in lifestyle preference.
Expressed on a cultural or societal scale, Americans are fixated on youth and avoid aging at all costs. They would rather die young and leave a pretty corpse than age. Consider the trend in American culture to put elderly family members in rest homes, nursing homes, and retirement communities. Granted, there are some situations that necessitated around the clock or full time medical treatment/care that the family is not qualified or equipped to provide and placement into a residential facility may be the best choice for the elders' health. Often though, families put their elderly into nursing homes because they do not want to take care of them, see them, or think about them. People put the elderly in homes because they want to disregard them, or perhaps seeing an elderly parent, for example, brings on their own feelings of mortality and cannot handle the constant reminder.
In other cultures, the ritual or tradition that honors death is not a mournful one, but a joyous, or at least solemn one. In other cultures, households with three and four generations of family are the norm and are savored. There are other cultures and belief systems around the world that believe in reincarnation so that if a person dies they will come back as another person or animal. There are cultures that believe that death is the release of the spirit, which is more than physical, perceiving death as another form of birth. There are people who believe in no gods and believe in the law of physics that states that nothing that has been created can ever be destroyed; it will simply exist in other forms. Thus, there is a lot of variation in belief with regard to death and aging. It is a natural process. All material things mature and age whether animate or inanimate. Some objects can be preserved; some signs of aging can be deterred, but all things physically change with time. It is a fact that people try adamantly to deny. That is a main reaction to death and aging: denial (just like with grief and addiction -- the first step is to come out of denial and admit there is a problem).
Some ways Americans react to aging is to have a massive panic and/or anxiety attack. This is where the term mid-life crisis came from -- because people, mostly men at first, would have some sort of massive emotional or psychological meltdown/transformation as a transition from middle adulthood into older adulthood. Women especially are pressured to not show signs of aging in their faces and in their bodies. It is more culturally acceptable for men to age but for women to remain ageless. Consider the make up and cosmetics industries. A function of make up certainly is to highlight the features and skin of the wearer; it also serves as decoration as part of appearance. Make up primarily functions to disguise imperfections. Make up is supposed to make the wearer look better than the wearer looks without it. Most cosmetics are supposed to slow, hide, and reverse the signs of aging in the face, hands, neck, and skin. These are billion dollar industries. Mostly women are spending billions of dollars annually to retard the aging process, or at least disguise it as well as their money can buy. Cosmetic surgery is a booming industry. Again, there are practical and non-recreational uses for cosmetic surgery such as for people who have been in accidents or to have gang or prison tattoos removed because they have changed their lifestyles. Most of revenue generated in the cosmetic surgery industry is for elective, optional surgery such as breast augmentation, face lifts, liposuction, rhinoplasty, botox injections, laser hair removal and more. These are actions people pay to take to resist aging. There is a great resistance to aging, much of which has to do with how poorly people live which in turn makes them age poorly.
Let us again consider American culture because culture is a commodity that America distributes to nearly every country around the world. One of the most familiar cultures on Earth is American culture. This has to do with the strength and power of the American culture industry, which consists of aforementioned elements such as Hollywood, the media, the fashion industry, the cosmetic industry, and more. The average American is overweight. Even if the American is not overweight, the average American diet severely lacks nutritional balance. Thus, the average American is either overweight because of poor diet, underweight or height weight proportional, but internally, their bodies function…