White Noise and the Fear of Death

As the proverb says, “Fear of death is worse than death itself.” But  What is it that we have to live for? The modern culture is destroying the real meaning of life. Why do humans live? What is their purpose for living? Why should we or why should we not be frightened of death?I.                    IntroductionEncounters with the day-to-day problems and struggles in life are big challenges that human beings need to overcome. If these challenges are not handled very well, humans may resort to unorthodox ways in solving them, causing another problem instead of making a solution. However, how can humans survive in this modern world where conformity and harmony is very difficult to achieve?The case of J. A. K. Gladney, “a professor of Hitler studies at the College-on-the- Hill and the originator of Hitler studies in North America” (Phillips, 1985) is one big resemblance of the challenges of living a “life”. Although Professor Gladney is only a fictional character, it gives big resemblance to the real world that is happening around: especially the modern America! How can human beings resist a world full of temptation, full of conflicts and chaos? All human beings are ”receptors, receivers of stimuli, consumers” (Phillips, 1985) making it hard for them to deal with life sensibly. Advertisements, media,  peer factors and influence are all there to make humans act as they do. In fact the story White Noise cannily depicts “a society defined by materialism and brand-name consciousness.” (An Annotation, 2005)What is the significance of the title, White Noise to entire story? It is actually the confluence of various factors, such as modernism, materialism, lost culture and values causing difficulties for humans to achieve their “self-actualization”- all of  which are  metaphoric to the white noise, “a noise produced by a stimulus containing all of the audible frequencies of vibration; which is also a good masking agent” or “electrical or acoustic activity that can disturb communication” (white noise, n/d): very obvious connections with the story.II.                 Handling Death and the Fear of ItHumans would actually “fear death more if they are psychologically immature, or if they have few life activities in which to engage; and, lastly, that death anxiety, both conscious and unconscious, is related to neuroticism” (Yalom, 1980, p. 54). This is the psychological explanation why humans fear death. Getting back to the story, White Noise, the main characters, Jack and his wife are obviously immature. This can be seen in many unsuccessful marriages that they both have had and the way they handle the problems that they encounter. Immaturity, further represented, is with Jack’s son Heinrich whom they named so thinking that the authority of Germans would save him. In fact, even this son of him has “little faith in the self-determination of human beings” (Phillips, 1985).And how about neuroticism? It is something that is related to neurotics, or “persons prone to excessive anxiety and emotional upset” (Neurotics, n/d). And this is what Jack and his wife are! They have severe anxiety of death leading the couple take the drug “Dylar” to make them feel better about this particularanxiety. However, the solution that the couple has found becomes an obsession, and any obsession is unhealthy.And what is Dylar and how it helped people with death anxieties? As fictionally represented in the story, this brand name is psychoactive drug that is intended to remove the fear of death. However, Dylar does not work properly and extended use sometimes results in insanity causing users to interpret metaphors as well as spoken words as true events or actions- just like some real addicting drugs that cause humans to hallucinate and do bad acts.The fear of death or  commonly known as Thantophobia is “quite a natural phenomenon” (Hill, 2006). Is it healthy or not? Since it it normal, it is not really unhealthy and due to the fact that none of the living individuals are aware what really lies ahead and what is really there after death. The bad side, however is when one is morbidly afraid of death, like in the case of the characters in White Noise, their anxiety of death became  unhealthy and detrimental to their lives. These facts have prevented the couple from enjoying life to the fullest due to their unnecessary worries and anxieties.According to Hill (2006), “most of our images of death in the modern world have been distorted by our culture’s preoccupation with unnatural violent death: daily news stories of shootings, abductions and suicide bombings. Brutally violent movies and computer games. Also scare mongering news stories regarding types of food once perceived to be healthy, but now putting you at death’s door”, which are all represented in White Noise making the couple and other death anxious individuals shiver at the idea of dying.III.              America in “White Noise”Although adults are projected “negatively” in the materialistic America of the White Noise, most of the children are still attuned to the natural unpolluted world. Not similar to what the adults act and believe,  they are “more competent, more watchful, more in sync than their parents; emotionally, they constitute a kind of early-warning system” (Phillips, 1985) These realities can be observed by the presence of handwritten signs – ”homemade signs concerning lost dogs and cats are posted on telephone poles all over town”. However, the children are growing older, and what is next? They would be the next consumers, the next targets of massive advertising and the next victims of the “death anxiety”.How can children resist becoming victims if they have televisions at home? How can they if television is ”the primal force in the American home, sealed-off, self-contained, self-referring . . . a wealth of data concealed in the grid, in the bright packaging, the jingles, the slice-of-life commercials, the products hurtling out of darkness, the coded messages . . . like chants. . . . Coke is it, Coke is it, Coke is it.”  (Phillips, 1985) This is a sad reality that needs to be accepted, where children eventually becomes adults and repeat what the bad experiences their parents had and also be bad or misguided adults themselves, full of struggles, full of temptations, full of anxieties.The following is in fact portion of the story (“White Noise”, 1985):’WHAT good is my truth?” Heinrich asks Gladney early in the novel. ”My truth means nothing. . . . Is there such a thing as now? ‘Now’ comes and goes as soon as you say it.” Babette has observed of her husband that it is his nature ”to shelter loved ones from the truth. Something lurked inside the truth.”The lack of relation and association to the real world has devoid humans of the truth, especially the American family of Gladney where evasiveness and apprehension became an epidemic. According to the author of the book, DeLillo, (White Noise, 1985) “the nature of modern death is that it has a life independent of us” that forever altered ”man’s guilt in history and in the tides of his own blood.”The relation and association to the real world is an important element of staying healthy, both in mind and in spirit. As previously stated, one of the causes of having fear of death or the severe anxiety of death is the lack of or “few life activities in which to engage” (Yalom, 1980, p. 54). This does not literally mean activities per se because Gladney has a lot of things to do regarding his teachings on Hitler studies. This also means proper interaction with fellow individuals, harmonious relationships with family and friends and participation in worthy and interactive activities.Lastly, consumerism, materialism, modernism and everything related to money are all depicted to be bad when they are excessive, which, is in reality not only a symbolism but is actually happening.IV.              ConclusionTo live is not merely to exist. Death is another matter to worry about and as long as humans have chance to live, they can leave death aside and enjoy life to the fullest. Life is too short to be lived and if life itself would be spent worrying about death, it would be a life wasted, or a life that is “death” in itself.To appreciate life is to accept that death is there. That is why, human beings have to value their lives. This is the importance of death and this is the good result of having fear to death- the preservation of life which is a sacred thing and what humans can call their own.The life of Gladney as depicted in the White Noise is a lesson for all the humans, reminding them the importance of having a family, to trust, to love whom one can spend life with without doubts and inhibitions. Humans have to remember that material things and modernization, more often than not, cause them to loose their values and correct path in life. The presence of too many things that create recreation actually make humans “sadder” than ever.Lastly, children are still the hope of the world. Children have inherently innocent character and unpolluted, uncorrupted minds that make the difference from what adults are doing. With children properly guided, this world would be a better place to live in the future and will be a harmonious world that anxiety cannot easily destroy, especially the anxiety to die. This is because the “fear of death is worse than death itself.”