Pocket Cemetery, the Breakfast Bar of Grief

Bereaving the latest celebrity death, or perhaps your dog? Need an on-the-go cemetery for your on-the-go life? Want to pay $2.99 to type “RIP” and click send into an unread utter void, also known as the Prayer function? There’s an app for that.

Pocket Cemetery for the iPhone allows you to inscribe virtual tombstones for dead celebrities (including Michael Jackson!), and even people you actually knew, or pets you had one time. Creator Wayne Perry calls it the “little virtual heaven in the palm of your hand.” I call it crap.

Okay, okay… it’s easy to rip on this — tear it up, that is, not let it rest. But the immediate ridiculousness aside, I am curious about the nature of the demand for the product (Perry boasts over a 1000 pixel tomb hungry customers since his YouTube MJ pitch above). If placing real flowers on a real grave is a symbolic expression of mourning, missing and honoring the dead, what does it mean to enact this symbol… symbolically, sending nothing to nowhere? Is it a matter of convenience, as so many cell and web apps tout? Perry himself cites not being able to visit his grandmother’s grave — and most people will never get to visit their favorite celebrities’ final places of rest. Or is it reluctance to do the real thing for real, and the need to have a familiar technological, commercial wrought-and-bought interface by which to mediate grief?

If you need a phone app to remind and assist you in feeling sad, you’re doing it wrong. Yet, we’re not just comfortable with such simulacra, we rely on them to provide simultaneous detachment and engagement — distance from things unsettling while providing the feeling we’re doing something meaningful. Unlike other web and communication tools, however, with virtual memorializing, the parties with whom we are obliquely interacting happen to be dead. It’s hard to say how much that complicates the matter, though it does seem to underscore the long understood: mourning and grief is all about us.

I can also see shock-factor irony taking part in its popularity. If I were hip enough for an iPhone, I might throw down for a Pocket Cemetery to celebrate its bad taste, just as I’d love to have a Snuggie to parade around parties in the wee hours of lesser sanity. The PC has already attracted some unintended use, such as people creating graveyards filled with people they wished were dead. “I didn’t design it for that,” laments Perry as IPhonePocketCemetery on YouTube.

Fair enough — but I hope he’s not surprised he’s hard to take seriously, especially after his follow-up pitch with Billy Mays, whom he credits his own talent, and Farrah Fawcett: “I have a lot of memories of her. I was a 15-year-old boy with that sexy poster hanging on my wall.”

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think eulogic sincerity — or pitchman integrity — exactly comes through with the fond reminiscences of being a horny teenager.

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