Death is probably the most feared word in the English language. Its undesired uncertainty threatens society's desire to believe that life never ends. Don DeLillo's novel White Noise tells the bizarre story of how Jack Gladney and his family illustrate the postmodern ideas of religion, death, and popular culture. The theme of death's influence over the character mentality, consumer lifestyle, and media manipulation is used often throughout DeLillo's story. Perhaps, the character most responsive to death is Jack Gladney. In fact, he is so consumed by his fear of death that his ordinary thought processes are often interrupted by the question: "Who will die first" (DeLillo 15)? In Jack's 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 very noticeable and real, and he relies on his consumer lifestyle as an escape from his fear of death. Jack uses the supermarket as his base for his consumer lifestyle and a place to escape, which is validated by the interpretation of his friend and colleague Murray Siskind. Murray views the supermarket as almost a holy place, an atmosphere with rays and "white noise" everywhere. It's full of psychic data...
Everything is concealed in symbolism, hidden by veils of mystery and layers of cultural material... The large doors Irlbeck 3 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...
We don't 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 don't 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 DeLillo's White Noise," believes that "Murray's interpretations become Jack's convictions; Murray's speculations, Jack's experiences" (143). Drawing on Murray's speculation's, Jack embraces Murray's analysis as a truth and uses the supermarket as security, a place where colors and names always in the same place, a place where he can escape death. Jack also uses credit as a way to escape using a consumer's lifestyle.
After one random instance of thinking about death, he says: "MasterCard, Visa, American Express" (DeLillo 100). Duvall notes that "forms of credit... are crucial to Jack's function as a consumer," and Jack stops thinking about death by thinking of it in terms of a credit card: a way to delay the payment process (136). Furthermore, Jack uses his credit to create a sense of power over his fear of death.
"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 I'd forgotten existed... The more money I spent, the Irlbeck 4 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 DeLillo's Law of Consumption: that people expend money in direct proportion to their fear of death or dishonor" (102).
Again, Jack would hide the idea of death through shopping by purchasing items that gave him a fresh, new look; a look that death would not give because death is old and bland. During the attack of the "black, billowing cloud," a man holding a television with a blank screen talks about 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? Don't those people know what we " ve 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 contamination's and wastes? Do they think this is just television... ? Don't they know it's real" (DeLillo 161-162)? The absence of media attention stops the immediate terror from the citizens, making the whole event seem less important, 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). According to Duvall: The heart of the TV man's 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). Irlbeck 5 Consequently, the rumors of death if you are exposed to the black could could not be accepted as truth without media saying that the event was a disaster; meaning "that somehow a media apotheosis assures immortality... (Conroy 101). DeLillo also displays the postmodern thought that religion is a joke, and media is better form of a religion.
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 false tracts of literature as some sort of god, consumers can escape the reality of death since the content is not in day to day, ordinary life. Death is a fear that has attacked the minds of man since the beginning.
For years people have treated death as a unspeakable occurrence, and White Noise shows 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. Irlbeck 6 Works Cited Conroy, Mark. "From Tombstone to Tabloid: Authority Figured in White Noise." Critique 35. 2 (1994): 97-110. DeLillo, Don.
White Noise. New York: Penguin Books 1999. Duvall, John N. "The (Super) Marketplace of Images: Television as Unmediated Mediation in DeLillo's White Noise." Arizona Quarterly 50. 3 (1994): 127-153.
Maltby, Paul. "The Romantic Metaphysics of Don DeLillo." Contemporary Literature 37. 2 (1996): 258-277.