O LORD, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave thou hast kept me alive that I should not go down into the pit. -- Psalms 30:3
Eulogies are written upon the cessation of life, generally celebrating the duration of life. Part of the purpose of the eulogy is to create immortality through the seemingly imperishable nature of ink and story -- words that will last beyond the last memory of the deceased. What a paradox it is, then, to find such words on the Internet. This medium is deemed transitory and ephemeral for its frustrating propensity of sites which exist one moment then disappear the next. Yet the Net contains numerous eulogy and memorial sites, recounting the existence of famous and ordinary people alike, privileging neither. It is perhaps this attraction of equality and, furthermore, the appeal of a larger audience than the crowd that congregates in a church at funerals, that draws the bereaved to immortalise their beloved through this medium. A quick tour of the Internet reveals that scribblings about the dead abound, written by a range of people -- from the friends and family of the deceased to the obsessed fans of celebrities, from the attached owners of pooches to official government representations and finally to the adversaries of the dead.
Celebrities seem to receive a great deal of attention in death as well as in life. Interestingly though, their representations in death tend to be altered, with writers ceasing their interest in dirt and mud slinging to recreating the deceased as paragons of good deeds and charm. For instance, J.F.K.'s (John F. Kennedy) sometimes dubious political dealings with Cuba and his near declaration of nuclear war are forgotten in his official eulogy. America's dead royalty receive the same political accolades, which can be found in a memorial site for Robert F. Kennedy, similarly assassinated, and more recently, John F. Kennedy Jnr, whose death has encouraged much speculation and an abundance of conspiracy theories. But of course the most famous media backflip over a royal celebrity would have to be that of Princess Diana. Within a week, she had gone from being the British royal hussy to the British royal honey. People lined the streets to watch the funeral procession and her eulogy given by Earl Charles Spencer painted a reformed picture of a compassionate woman wronged by the media. And it is this image that you will find on the Internet. Of course not all royals deserve this level of cynicism. For instance, the works of King Hussein of Jordan can be viewed complete with background Led Zeppelin music or more formally.
Lesser royal and more film star, Grace Kelly, has a number of Websites dedicated to her by avid fans. Though none knew her personally, Denny, Tasha and Vivien all provide memorials filled with pieces of film memorabilia and stories from her life. Like the Audrey Hepburn pages (http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/4084/biography.html; http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/4084/article1.html) photos of snippets of life can be downloaded onto your PC as wallpaper. These types of Websites of dead celebrities, created by crazed fans rather than family and personal friends, are a common feature of the Internet. This medium seems to provide a space in which these people can express their sorrow at the celebrity's death and build an image of how they knew the person. For instance, Kurt Cobain's death has generated a memorial page where fans can add their comments about the lead singer of Nivana. The page's Webmaster screens comments and culls the negative criticism that may be potentially generated by a drug-ridden life and eventual suicide. The more recent death of a singer, Michael Hutchence, has also conjured up memorial sites. Kylie's personal tribute seems to be the largest of these, yet again she is merely a fan of Hutchence whose closest contact with him was to catch a cup from him as an audience member at a concert.
Sometimes the death of a person results in martyrdom and further impetus for social causes and reforms. The eulogy can act as a pivotal point in this social action, spurring on followers to perpetuate the movement created by the deceased. Perhaps one of the largest and oldest eulogies still used by believers of Christianity is of Jesus of Nazareth. His life and teachings are recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which can be accessed in a myriad of Websites (http://www.bible.com; http://www.bible.net; http://www.jesus.com; http://www.gospel.com). A more recent plight such as the American civil rights movement has seen two of its leaders, Dr Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, assassinated for their work. Their eulogies, which are now available for the broader audience (http://www.dsc.edu/mlk.htm; http://home.earthlink.net/~ccblack/shabazz/eulogy.html) were highly rhetorical and influential in the continuation of this type of political reform and are still adopted today. Some more local (Australian) examples of memorial sites and eulogies of Australian civil rights activists can be found, for example, for the first Aboriginal senator, Neville Bonner (http://www.abc.net.au/news/features/obits/bonner/default.htm), and poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal. However, these tend to have smaller rhetorical strength.
Lesser known victims of politics are also paid homage on the Internet. Simon Wiesenthal, a survivor of the holocaust, dedicated his life to hunting the perpetrators of Nazi war crimes. The Website of his centre commemorates his work but interestingly also acknowledges the victims of these atrocities:
"This portion of the Wiesenthal site is dedicated to the children of the Holocaust. Each day, we'll revisit a special child's life as a tribute to their unique person."
Less tasteful is the eulogy of Matthew Shepherd who was the victim of a gay bashing in the U.S. This eulogy occurs in the godhatesfags Website and involves an image of him burning in hell, accompanied by screams of distress and a clock to count his days in hell. The people who wrote this eulogy displayed highly offensive banners outside his funeral and, unable to present a eulogy at his funeral, chose to commemorate his "sordid" life on the Internet. This is a rare example of a eulogy that is used politically without presenting a positive image of the deceased.
Thus not merely famous people's life are remembered on the Internet. Some families choose to pay tribute to their beloved on the Web, producing eulogies and memorials for anyone who will read them. For example, Louise's family wrote a eulogy upon her death that is published on the Web. A more commercial venture at http://www.funeral.net/death_notices.htm allows users to post obituaries of deceased to potentially inform the world of their death. And if you wish to write your own eulogy/memorial/obituary, the death clock site allows you to predict the day and hour of your death providing you with enough time to edit out those closet skeletons from your life story. Pets are not to be forgotten either. Rainbows Bridge, the name of both the Website and the place where all good dogs and cats go, abounds in cutsie euphemisms. This Webpage comforts the bereaved in the knowledge that their pooches and pussies are also not forgotten when they turn their little paws up.
This article has been a short tour of the type of material on the deceased that can be found on the Internet. This medium potentially provides an accessible and equal opportunity for those left behind to discuss and expound the deceased's life and works. If there is life after death then perhaps it is to be found in cyberspace -- or at least as long as the bills are paid and the site is maintained.