I seem to have committed a felony. We received in the mail this past weekend a letter with a rippling American flag printed on the back and on the front, in italics, the teaser:
Win a Free Pre-Paid Cremation!
Not only is the phrase charmingly nonsensical and oxymoronic but the appeal to patriotism plus the combined use of italics, underlining, and exclamation point left me breathless. It was more than I could resist, and I opened it. Then I discovered it wasn’t intended for me but for a woman who must have lived at our address some years ago (and perhaps the offer arrived too late for her anyway).
Inside was a form letter discussing, tactfully but enthusiastically, the benefits of cremation: “Simple, Economical, and Dignified… It Just Makes Sense!tm (You’ll note here again the well-timed use of the exclamation point, and the strategic trademarking of a phrase which otherwise was sure to be stolen by competitors.) The recipient was encouraged to pay now for her own future cremation by securing the services of the advertiser “at today’s prices,” and to enter a drawing for the “free, pre-paid” cremation mentioned on the envelope.
I spent some time considering the pitch. Personally, I prefer the idea of full-body burial and decomposition (‘What was Mozart doing in the graveyard?’ – ‘Decomposing!’). But I admit there’s something mildly poetic in the idea of spending the silent years holed up in a columbarium, another dove in the dove-cote. I’ve always loved that word, columbarium.
The deeper appeal in pitches of this sort, I think, is the prospect of your will – in the form of choices and consequences – outliving the decease of your body. Your purchase now, at today’s prices, guarantees your ability to save money from beyond the grave. It’s a disembodied immortality for the consumer. Securing this form of immortality today may also spare you from lesser forms, like the sad immortality of the mail recipient who only gets his next offer for pre-paid cremation after the issue is moot.