By Alexander T. Riley
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Additional resources for Angel Patriots: The Crash of United Flight 93 and the Myth of America
The work done by those on a terminal ward in a hospital to avoid taking too seriously the humanity of the patients under their care sheds a penetrating light on death in its mundane appearance in our world. Once persons are socially ascribed as dying persons, they enter a special status, and a specific kind of cultural work is required to place persons into this category. This might seem counterintuitive; do we not know objectively when someone is or is not suffering from some illness or other malady serious enough to categorize him as “dying”?
The cinematic version of the narrative does not include any discussion of the social help Gardner got in his effort to pull himself out of the street. Gardner has been vocal in his praise especially of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in the San Francisco area, which provided him with temporary housing and other material resources when he was homeless. The film also fails to give us a sociological context for considering Gardner against the backdrop of the many thousands of others who were more or less in his same situation in America during the Reagan administration, occupying the same structural place and possessing the same skills and tenacity, who did not become millionaires, and who in many instances met dismal ends in lifelong poverty or prison.
2 In the centuries since the Spanish conquest, Mexican culture, imprinted with a Spanish Catholicism itself centrally concerned with the meaning of death, has retained a focus on death that is absent in much of Europe and the West. 4 Some other kinds of societies have worked hard to efface death from popular consciousness. Philippe Ariès’s history of European death traces the emergence of la mort apprivoisée, or “tamed death,” in the Middle Ages, where death came to be seen as something that could be sensed in advance and prepared for by those with the proper vision.