By PAULA CHRISTINE SCHULER
The remains of a cremated adult can be turned into about six carats of diamonds.
This and other trendy facts were included in a lecture Nov. 7 at the Witte Museum, just down the hall from dead people still telling their stories through multimedia and interactive technology in Mummies of The World, The Exhibit.
“The dead are in,” Dr. Michael C. Kearl, a sociologist and author, said.
He said that in the last 40 years of his research in death, dying, time and other issues, he has seen a shift in trends regarding beliefs about immortality created by two major changes — the mobility of the American population and technology.
He said the trends are clearly visible in the arts of popular culture.
Tim Burton is just one of the media personalities bringing death into entertainment with films such as “Corpse Bride,” “Edward Scissorhands,” and “Frankenweenie.”
Digitizing historical music lets living musical artists join with popular dead artists on new music, such as Nat King Cole and daughter Natalie Cole in the song “Unforgettable.”
Technology allows movies to combine dead with living actors, such as in “Forrest Gump,” a June 1994 movie set in the 1960s where living actor Tom Hanks playing Forrest Gump shakes the hand of President Kennedy.
He also noted the prevalence of skulls on T-shirts, shoes, jewelry, posters and more.
“Belief in immortality is higher now than the last 40 years,” he said.
Belief changes are shifting, such as changes in funeral traditions, he said.
“How you deal with the dead is at the core of moral belief systems,” he said.
Egypt is famous for its mummies, but he said the motivation behind their rituals is common to many cultures and time periods throughout history.
He said death was considered permanent and the vast majority of the dead were usually not remembered by name in a few generations.
Even today, most people do not know about their great-grandparents.
This created the desire in many cultures for tombstones and other items that would create remembrance.
He said since families generally stayed in the same area, this made sense.
Today tombstones are not that successful at helping people remember. Families are on the move, away from family gravesites.
He said the message has changed. Instead of simply wanting to be remembered, he said the dead and the living are hoping to continue to interact somehow, some way.
Without a grave to visit, Americans are trying new things empowered by technology.
Now, services are offering the dying choices to arrange for videos and birthday cards or other kinds of messages to be sent in the future to their families and career audiences.
He said the living and survivors are creating new ways to feel connected with the dead.
The dead actually have their own manager in Hollywood, Curtis Management Group.
“The dead can continue to work, as long as earnings continue,” he said. Examples he named included Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein.
This desire for connection is the motivation behind new trends including turning cremains (cremation remains) into diamonds, sending cards and videos or calling someone after death.
Tombstones are able to post the deceased Facebook page, he said. Curtis Management Group and families can authorize the use of voice-cloning technology so voices of the dead can still read scripts for new movies and commercials.
Some plan to continue their legacy in other ways.
In life, James Doohan played Scottie in “Star Trek” television and movies. Kearl said Doohan chose to be launched into space.
Kearl said Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto and is on a space vessel headed there now.
The inventor of the Frisbee had his ashes added into the creation of several Frisbees after death, and Pringles snack inventor Fred Baur wanted his ashes resting inside a Pringles can.
Maybe a diamond is not so unusual.
Kearl said 35 percent of funerals in the United States were cremation in 2010, and states such as Washington and Hawaii have a 70 percent cremation rate.
Websites for LifeGem, DNA2Diamonds and Cremation Solutions suggest a diamond would be a kind of portable tombstone able to be taken with survivors wherever they go.
They offer dozens of choices for memorial jewelry for diamonds and ashes, urns and FAQ pages for questions about the process and other aspects of cremation.
Questions, answers and comments after the lecture were diverse.
The first audience member said she had donated her body to science and would never allow her family to have it.
Another talked about touring the huge cemeteries on the East Side of San Antonio.
“In the Texas Hill Country, there is a Republican only cemetery,” Kearl said.
The audience responded with laughter as they did several times throughout the presentation.
Kearl ended by saying, “It is a democratization of the afterlife that is happening now.”
The exhibit at the Witte Museum is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and noon-5 p.m. Sundays. Call 210-357-1900.