Home / Comment / In brief

Another one bites the dust: flashmobs, funerals and facing our mortality

Another one bites the dust: flashmobs, funerals and facing our mortality

Wendy Appenteng Daniels unpacks our societal taboo around death. 31/07/2023

Flash mobs are the embodiment of surprise, a form of modern exuberance that revive otherwise mundane spaces, interrupting ordinariness, welcoming the unusual. They seem to be an “only in movies” type of scenario. One of the most unlikely places a flash mob could take place in? At a funeral.   

Earlier this year, a 65–year–old woman secretly organised a posthumous flash mob for her funeral at the Bristol crematorium. The hired dancers for the occasion joined in the funeral service disguised as mourners, then unexpectedly began their choreography on the notes of “Another one bites the dust” by Queen. It is curious that most media outlets reported the unusual funeral mainly as a headline followed by a few lines. The death itself was mentioned only in passing, a kind of pretext for the fun video.  

 The so–called “death taboo thesis” favours the idea that there is reluctance to talk about death as we’ve lost first–hand experience of dealing with the dead. As a result, we face life with the prudish superstition that death is too disturbing and threatening to even be mentioned.  When spoken about in public, death is a series of statistical breakdowns, such as the daily death toll updates during the pandemic. Death then is condensed into an episode that is attention–grabbing enough to report, but too fear–provoking to merit more lines.

That thesis doesn’t seem quite right. On the one hand, death is receiving more media attention than ever, yet that may not be translating in our day–to–day actions and decisions: research has shown that around 54% of adults do not have a will and that only one fifth of UK respondents have made financial arrangements for their funeral. This is despite around half of these indicating they intend to communicate and plan for their end of life with their loved ones.  At the mention of death, you may be met either with painful reticence or dismissive humour.  

Conversations around what people want when it comes to their own death are one of the areas covered in our recent report Ashes to Ashes which explores public attitudes towards death, dying and the afterlife in the UK by re–centring faith. It is against this backdrop that our research spotlighted and interrogated the role of faith communities around those themes. Throughout our report we highlighted both the strengths and shortcomings of faith communities in dealing with death. We also captured a range of perspectives, experiences, and insights: from gravediggers to academics. We engaged with the themes of death, dying and the afterlife cross–generationally, and with the richness of different faiths (or the lack thereof).  

Although there is a general unpreparedness towards death, people are more thoughtful about memorialisation practices because they leave room for personalisation. In fact, even though mortality is tightly tied to our humanity, as beings who create meaning, memorialisation is ultimately a defiant longing for immortality. In the face of death, we recall life: we want to remember, and we want to be remembered. In line with what social psychologists call “terror management theory”, we create lives that give us a sense of order, significance and permanence to curb our death anxiety. So, whether it is Greek epic hero Achilles choosing to die a glorious yet premature death in order to gain eternal praise from posterity, or obsessive transhumanism striving to make us digitally immortal through mind uploading, we try to find pockets of life in death.  

So, is there a taboo? The cues in our contemporary society, with cemeteries on the outskirts of town – away from view, and countless age–reversing remedies suggest that we repress death and are in unfair denial about it. This broadly aligns with what our interviewees shared. Death does not surface during discussions, and it is met with discomfort and friction. There is therefore a need for death to be integrated at all levels of society. However, death is increasingly becoming a topic of public fascination. The idea of a “death taboo” may be turning into a platitude. In fact, death has garnered new visibility through the vast range of different media platforms. Just a quick surf on the internet of the names of prominent people who died in the past few years, and you’ll be inundated with hashtags cross–referencing content with floodgates of tributes and waves of condolences, as we re–ritualise death via social media. 

To what extent death is visible or invisible can be hard to pinpoint and is somewhat subjective, especially as we individually and collectively still grapple with the aftermath of the death stories in our lives.  Ultimately, we don’t want death to be a siloed topic. We want to stare into the abyss of death by foregrounding engaging and impactful conversations, no matter how tedious, no matter how glorious.  



Interested in this? Share it on social media. Join our monthly e–newsletter to keep up to date with our latest research and events. And check out our Supporter Programme to find out how you can help our work.

 Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels

Wendy Appenteng Daniels

Wendy Appenteng Daniels

Wendy was formerly Research, Communications & Events Intern from May 2022 to February 2023. She is interested in the relationship between culture and religion, education policy and the African diaspora. Wendy studied Religion, Politics & Society at King’s College London, including a semester abroad in Washington, DC. She holds an MSc in International Social and Public Policy from the LSE.

Watch, listen to or read more from Wendy Appenteng Daniels

Posted 31 July 2023

Death, Funeral


See all


See all

In the news

See all


See all

Get regular email updates on our latest research and events.

Please confirm your subscription in the email we have sent you.

Want to keep up to date with the latest news, reports, blogs and events from Theos? Get updates direct to your inbox once or twice a month.

Thank you for signing up.