Thanatos meets Eros on an electric flower car

Charles 7 Comments

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.



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Pat McNally
12 years ago

If we try to look with an open mind at what shapes a funeral takes in other cultural contexts we can understand our own traditions so much better. If we simply judge the actions of others based on our own mores, we just end up painting ourselves in to a very small corner of existence. Have I mixed enough metaphors?
Very interesting find, Charles!

Charles Cowling
12 years ago

You have mixed them to excellent effect, Pat. Or to put it another way, my feelings exactly. There’s something elemental going on here, and it’s important.

Jon Underwood
12 years ago

Great find! Thank you. Jon

12 years ago

If you’re going to have a stripper at my funeral, please will you make it a living funeral?

Rupert Callender
12 years ago

Early on in my career I was prank called by a friend who left a very convincing message on my answer phone pretending to represent a community of nudists, one of whom had died, asking if I would conduct the ceremony in the nude. I mulled this over all night, it was November and to be held outside at a NBG, but I decided I would. My charge on top for naked celebrenting? £70.

Kathryn Edwards
Kathryn Edwards
12 years ago

Rupert, you are — as ever — FUNNY. I am interested in Moskowitz’s highlighting the tensions between rural tradition and urban modernity. These tensions seem widespread: my direct experience is in West Africa. I’d say we should hope that a sufficient vestige of folk culture will endure while modernity blows itself out, so that there will be some wisdom available when we have the sense to revert to it. Which would you prefer: three days’ cathartic singing and dancing, weeping and wailing, eating and chatting, charting the genealogy and celebrating the trade of the dead person? Or twenty mins in… Read more »


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