Hiring young women to strip at a funeral ceremony might strike some as scandalous, but for many in Taiwan it is an important part of the grieving process.
The practice sees scantily clad women on “electric flower cars,” diesel trucks refashioned with a stage and special lighting), erotically gyrating to pop songs as a means of sending off the recently deceased — presumably with a smile.
Marc L. Moskowitz, an associate professor at the Department of Anthropology of the University of South Carolina and an expert on Taiwan’s folk religion and popular culture, has just released Dancing for the Dead: Funeral Strippers in Taiwan, a 40-minute documentary about the practice based on hundreds of hours of fieldwork he conducted throughout Taiwan in 2008.
The interview-driven film — interspersed with stripping performances, pilgrimages and other common religious practices — reveals many of the dichotomies in contemporary Taiwan: rural tradition versus urban modernity; mainstream pop culture versus marginal folk culture; global capitalism versus local identity; and the thin and shifting line between legal and illegal behavior.
Moskowitz says he made the documentary for two reasons. First, he wanted to show American audiences, who generally “have a very narrow idea of what culture is, what a proper funeral is and how to grieve,” the practice. He also wants to counter the negative perception, if not outright shame, exhibited by Taiwanese government officials, politicians and the media regarding the practice and folk traditions in general.
“As an outsider, I could lend a very different set of perspectives to a dialogue that was going on in Taiwan that was very critical of the practice,” Moskowitz said.
Interview with Marc L. Moskowitz here.