Death is probably the most feared word in the English language. Its undesired certainty threatens societys desire to believe that humanity is infinite. However, postmodernity treats this idea with no sympathy and exploits definition of mortality as seen in todays industrial world. Don DeLillos novel White Noise tells the bizarre story of how Jack Gladney and his mixed family illustrate the postmodern ideas of religion, death, and popular culture. The theme of deaths uncanny influence over the character mentality, lavish consumer lifestyle, and ultimately media manipulation is one prevalent throughout DeLillos masterpiece.
Perhaps, the character most responsive to death is Jack Gladney. In fact, he is so clearly consumed by his fear of death that his ordinary thought processes are often interrupted by notions of the unknown and haunted by the question: Who will die first (DeLillo 15)? In Jacks mind: This question comes up from time to time, like where are the car keys (DeLillo 15). Jack finds the aura of death to be visibly realistic, and he relies on consumerism as an escape from his torment. Jack uses the supermarket as his sanctuary of consumerism and escapism, which is validated by the interpretation of his friend and colleague Murray Siskind.
Murray views the supermarket as a nirvana, an atmosphere radiating immortality. Its full of psychic data. Everything is concealed in symbolism, hidden by veils of mystery and layers of cultural materialThe large doors slide open, they close unbidden. All the letters and numbers are here, all the colors of the spectrum, all the voices and sounds, all the code words and ceremonial phrases. It is just a question of deciphering, rearranging, peeling off the layers of unspeakability. We dont have to cling to life artificially, or to death for that matter. We simply walk toward the sliding doors. Waves and radiation.
Look how well-lighted the place is. The place is sealed off, self-contained. It is timeless. Here we dont die, we shop. But the difference is less marked than you think (DeLillo 37-38). John N. Duvall, author of The (Super)Marketplace of Images: Television as Unmediated Mediation in DeLillos White Noise, believes that Murrays interpretations become Jacks convictions; Murrays speculations, Jacks experiences (143). Drawing on Murrays prophecy, Jack embraces Murrays analysis as a conviction and relies on the supermarket as a form of security, a place where colors and names remain consistently located, a place where he can ultimately elude death.
Jack also uses credit as a form of escapism through consumerism. After one random instance of dwelling on death, he sputters the words: MasterCard, Visa, American Express (DeLillo 100). Duvall notes that forms of creditare crucial to Jacks function as a consumer, and Jack represses death by thinking of it in terms of credit: a solution to delaying payment (136). Furthermore, Jack uses his credit to create a sense of power and dominance over mortality. I sent clerks into their fabric books and pattern books to search for elusive designs.
I began to grow in value and self-regard. I filled myself out, found new aspects of myself, located a person Id forgotten existed. The more money I spent, the less important it seemed. I was bigger than these sums (DeLillo 83-84). According to Mark Conroy, author of From Tombstone to Tabloid: Authority Figured in White Noise, this illustrates what one could call DeLillos Law of Consumption: that people expend money in direct proportion to their fear of death or dishonor (102).
Again, Jack would repress the idea of death through shopping by purchasing items that gave him a fresh, new appeal; one that death would not seek so readily because of its newness. Likewise, DeLillos postmodern ideals represent the idea of novelty through mediation. During the terror of the black, billowing cloud, (or airborne toxic event) a man holding a television with a blank screen complains of the lack of media coverage on the event. No film footage, no live report. Does this kind of thing happen so often that nobody cares anymore?
Dont those people know what weve been through? Is it possible nobody gives substantial coverage to such a thing? Half a minute, twenty seconds? Are they so bored by spills and contaminations and wastes? Do they think this is just television? Dont they know its real (DeLillo 161-162)? The absence of mediation hinders immediate terror, temporarily making the episode seem slightly insignificant, and because the evacuees are attuned to the forms, genres, and in fact the larger aesthetics of television, they experience a lack, a sense of emptiness (Duvall 130).
The full effect of this terror cannot be understood without the validation of mediation to place the event on postmodern societys scale of catastrophe. According to Duvall: The heart of the tv mans anger is that for those who experience disaster, the presence of the media makes the experience real; that is, as part of our cultural repertoire, people know, like the tv man, that the media is supposed to be interested in marketing disaster. Therefore, the airborne toxic even cannot be a real disaster if the media shows no interest (133).
Consequently, the allegations of eventual death due to exposure to toxins could not be readily accepted as truth without media confirmation of the event as a disaster; meaning that somehow a media apotheosis assures immortality (Conroy 101). DeLillo also displays the postmodern thought that religion is a fluke, and media is a more credible form of religious expression, reiterating the suggestion that mediation verifies immortality. Another postmodern critic, Paul Maltby, implies this perception in his article The Romantic Metaphysics of Don DeLillo.
In White Noise, the tabloids are seen to function as a concealed form of religious expression, where extraterrestrials are substituted for messiahs and freakish happenings for miracles. In short, on a wavelength of which we are virtually unconscious, the tabloids gratify our impulses toward the transcendental; they ask profoundly important questions about death, the afterlife, God, worlds and space, yet they exist in an almost Pop Art atmosphere (268).
By treating these fabricated tracts of literature as some sort of prophecy, consumers can elude the reality of mortality since the content is not confronted in daily, ordinary life. Death is an ancient fear that has attacked the mentality of mankind since the beginning. For years people have treated death as a farfetched occurrence, and White Noise exemplifies those desperate attempts through postmodern imagery. According to Don DeLillo, death is an assailant that creeps its way into the subconscious of society but is prevented from tainting the gratification of life by way of the postmodern army- technology.