Semi-persistence of memory
Arturo Ramirez of Cathedral City, Calif., who expressed his grief over the death of his friend Ernie Zamorez in a car crash in October 2004 by having 50 car decals printed at $5.50 apiece, said he sees the tributes primarily on cars of people with Latin American backgrounds. Trips around the Coachella Valley and Los Angeles freeways, however, turned up other backgrounds as well. “In Loving Memory of Rocco DeJoseph” read one decal on the back of a blue Saturn, positioned next to a decal proclaiming “Italian Princess.”
Those who study the way societies process death see the decals as yet another iteration of an increasingly mobile and transient America. “We try to keep track of our dead,” said Thomas Lynch, an undertaker and poet in Milford, Mich., who has written two books on the culture of death. “We’re the only species that does. There’s a need to name the loss, to give it some texture.” The decals, Mr. Lynch said, are “bringing the cemetery to the freeway.”
Gary M. Laderman, director of the graduate division of religion at Emory University in Atlanta and the author of two books on funeral customs, said the decals bring a do-it-yourself mentality to memorializing death. “It’s part of the post-60’s consumer empowerment, where everything can get caught up in commercialization,” Professor Laderman said. “Before, it was left to the funeral home. Now you take the production into your own hands and have it your way.”
In Southern California, where so much of life is conducted in cars, many people say it makes sense for death to be reflected there too.
Leanne Fuller, the girlfriend of Ernie Zamorez, said decals were the most efficient way to get word out about his death. “He had friends from high school who didn’t hear anything in the news, and they see the car and know he died,” she said, adding that she will keep the decal on her Honda Civic until it falls off.