Fishgazing and Death Positivity || Donuts & Broccoli

For a primer on Donuts & Broccoli, please go here!

On this our third Sunday edition of Donuts & Broccoli, it is time to chill out with some fish. Sorry, some Amano shrimplettes. And maybe after you’re done with that you’ll be up for talking about death just a little!

Donut: Fishgazing with Foo the Flowerhorn

Foo the Flowerhorn first started posting to their YouTube channel in December of 2015. The channel was mostly used to document the growth of Foo, their pet Flowerhorn aquarium fish, for whom the channel is named. But the videos for which we are gathered here today are from Foo’s “NO filter, NO CO2, NO Ferts” series—God’s tranquil gift to the tire fire that is the internet.

Foo’s series follows the Diana Walstad method for setting up a self-sustaining aquarium, wherein fish, plants, and other organisms live in harmony without the need for a filter or too much chemical interference. If you’re not interested in setting up a 10-gallon tank in your living room (I’m certainly not), then you don’t really need to get bogged down in the technical details, although Foo’s videos could walk you through the process if you wanted.

The draw of Foo’s channel (which has received around 20 million views and swelled to nearly 150,000 subscribers in just a few years) is not just for aquarium aficionados, but for anyone who gets enjoyment out of a little nature-gazing. Foo’s quick-cutting time lapse videos, silent except for the classical score, let you peek into their tank the way that Foo does—focusing in tight on the hatching of new baby shrimp, or zooming out to see the change in color of the water over the course of a few months. Foo shows you what they find interesting, with brief annotations that provide explanation or personality.

The videos are slow, tranquil, and above all, charming. You are watching as much for Foo’s careful movements and insights as you are for the fish.

Foo is mostly faceless and nameless as far as the series goes. You might often see hands—clearing out overgrown brush, dipping in a thin paintbrush to clear the algae out from around a dying plant. But their voice can be found everywhere throughout their channel. (Not literally—one of the only videos of Foo’s with voice narration is said to be narrated by Foo’s friend “Cleo,” leading to playfully disappointed comments from faithful viewers who await a face or name reveal.)

Still, Foo’s personality chimes through, even with all the painstaking efforts they have taken to hide their identity from their subscribers. Foo cares for these fish, these plants, and this tank with all the meticulousness of a dollhouse builder, and all the love of a worried mother.

Broccoli: Caitlin Doughty’s Death Positivity

Caitlin Doughty is a mortician, author, and activist who makes entertaining and educational videos about the topic she’s made her life’s work: death.

Doughty is part of a growing number of professionals in the funeral and death care industry who question the things a lot of us take for granted when it comes to caring for the dead. She along with others seek to educate and inform the public about the options they might not know are open to them when their time comes.

Doughty runs a YouTube channel called “Ask a Mortician” where she makes videos answering viewers’ questions about anything and everything related to death—what happens to bodies during cremation? What happened to the dead from the Titanic? She has a degree in Medieval History as well as mortuary sciences, so she’s full of weird and morbid facts about all the ways we’ve dealt with the dead throughout human history, from the time of mummies to the era of Victorian death portraits (look it up!)

I think a lot of us have thought about those questions at one point or another. Caitlin Doughty’s channel is there to tell you that it’s natural to be curious—death is maybe the most natural thing there is. And if you might not consider yourself a person who’s brimming with curiosity about the Great Beyond, you might consider yourself actually pretty anxious about the thought of you or your loved ones dying. (Or you’re neither of these things and think this is all kind of weird, in which case I say go back and watch another Flo video.)

Doughty and the other members of “The Order of the Good Death,” a movement Caitlin founded in 2011, believe that a lot of that anxiety comes from the bottled-up way that our society deals with death: it’s something to talk about when it happens but to avoid at all costs the rest of the time. “The Order” supports an open and comfortable relationship with Death (capital d), as well as finding ways to make caring for the dead more healing, respectful, and environmentally sound. This movement falls under the label of “death positivity.”

If you’ve never heard the term before, “death positive” might sound like something out of a doomsday cult, but nothing about the movement encourages anyone to die faster. The purpose of the movement is to get people to accept that death is an intrinsic part of life, and by doing so to make the end of your life or a loved one’s something less scary.

Taking time to think honestly about death is not only important for your own peace of mind, but also because the way we treat our dead is an important lens through which to see our society’s values — to avoid the topic of death is to avoid thinking about its economic, environmental, and societal ramifications.

If you’re doubtful about the movement itself, I’d encourage you to take a look at The Order of the Good Death’s mission statement, and see if anything on that list doesn’t hold true for you:

  1. I believe that by hiding death and dying behind closed doors we do more harm than good to our society.
  2. I believe that the culture of silence around death should be broken through discussion, gatherings, art, innovation, and scholarship.
  3. I believe that talking about and engaging with my inevitable death is not morbid, but displays a natural curiosity about the human condition. … Read the rest here.

That’s been your Donut and Broccoli for the week, thanks for stopping by!

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