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  • Susan Elaine Jones

The Marathon scale of progressive acceptability

Sorry I've been so quiet recently. I had a long rest after Dying for Life, then a push to write up the final bits for my photography degree and Arts Council grant. And now I'm converting some of my dissertation (and yes, that's a link to my actual dissertation - if you fancy a read) into a 20 minute whirlwind tour of death in visual art in the past 1000 years for the Death and the Maiden conference.

I am currently wrangling with quite how much I should venture my personal theory that the depicting death in visual arts has slowly progressed in the past 30 odd years from Damien Hirst's "shocking" shark - which is now so widely accepted and tame it is hard to remember why it was shocking. Then tracing how he had to move from outsides to insides, and animal to human to continue to evoke the same level of shock in progressive years.

Progressive acceptance of shocking images - Damien Hirst

A test of this theory is whether we are finally ready for full colour, frank photographs taken in a morgue, such as Sue Fox's superb work (far ahead of its time). Could that be exhibited now without protests, complaints and worries about our moral fibre?

Bearing in mind the sombre subject matter of the conference, I'm currently deciding how far to go with making the topic a bit lighter and more fun. Specifically, in presenting my theory that we are slowly accepting more and more frank imagery of death, and that much of this progress is just that we get used to new things with time. This is my "Marathon scale of progressive acceptability". This is based on the breathless shock and horror evoked in 1990 by the change in name of a chocolate bar from "Marathon" to "Snickers". After many years of not being able to buy the bar without having someone comment about the name change, and complaining about the demise of society and that nothing is sacred; slowly, it became accepted.

Marathon scale of progressive acceptability

And when we had gotten used to that, in 1998 they changed "Opal Fruits" to "Starburst". I think the world (well, the English Daily Mail readers) coped slightly better with that, because they had already lived through the Marathon days. But still it took years before all mention of "Starburst" did not elicit a tone of outrage and an unasked for comment on the depravity of the world and the lack of education of the young who didn't even know what a Marathon was (apart from a long run, made slightly longer by the British royal family).

And now, we are waiting to discover if we can all cope with the new shape of Toblerone, with less peaks of chocolate in it. I propose that we will endure! And maybe, someday soon, I will be able to see Sue Fox's Morgue photos displayed in a gallery again.

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