“Working with death, connects me with the living”: with the Bizarreum, Juliette Cazes popularizes the funeral

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What is it like to investigate death every day of your life? Juliette Cazes is an independent researcher in thanatology and creator of the site Bizarreum, where she dissects the rites and customs surrounding the funeral. Interview. Lady. In your job, you wear more than one hat. How would you introduce yourself in a few words? Juliette Cazes. I’m Juliette Cazes, I’m 32 years old and by day I’m an independent researcher in thanatology… In addition to other assigned missions that allow me to feed and lodge! But most of my work and thinking is focused on death and certain sciences that revolve around it such as archaeology, anthropology and of course history in general. Lady. How did you get into this sector of thanatology? I’ve been passionate about funerals since I was little. Like many children, I became interested in classical archeology and that interest stayed with me over the years! I accordingly studied archeology and anthropology, because I was interested in how the ancients buried others, for example, how to read skeletons and bones… When I finished these studies, I understood that given the current state of research, particularly in the human sciences, it would be difficult for me to continue as a researcher. Immediately after that I graduated in tourism and worked for five years in this field. In my spare time, at the same time, I continued to do what I am passionate about: working in funerals, but I was no longer in academia. I was a free spirit, which isn’t always easy when it comes to recognition, but that’s what I wanted to do! Lady. How was the Bizarreum born? Basically, the Bizarreum was a private Facebook page for my friends. I had worked in museums, done internships and wanted to share what I saw, but my friends weren’t very receptive! In 2017 I thought to myself, “Why don’t you try a YouTube channel?”. I had never considered becoming a videographer, but I knew that video would allow me to reach a wide audience. I asked about what was in France, I wanted to create a French medium that talked about death, with archeology and history. Little by little it became a transmedia with videos, articles, podcasts, a site… Everything about death and the rites that surround it. In 2020, when the Covid crisis hit the tourism sector hard, I lost my job. To recover, I reconciled my two professions: I set up a travel planning agency and went freelance for my freelance thanatology activities. The Bizarreum, which was the name of my site, has become a trademark. I have focused my work on writing books or specific content, I work as a university professor, and for the general public, I offer podcasts, online courses, videos… It took a long time to create my identity: talking about the done death people expect to see the occult, voyeurism and dark stuff in my videos. But today things are clear. The Bizarreum is anthropology, history, archeology and a touch of news around the funeral! Lady. Funeral or mortality themes can be a support for anxieties, projections. How do you live the vision of others about your profession? The question about my job is often the one I dread the most, and I’m also very happy when people don’t ask me! There are different kinds of reactions when I talk about it. I suffered quite a lot of teasing, there are also people who are afraid of my proximity to the subject of death, it depends on each person and their beliefs. Sometimes they also ask me very personal questions like “Have you ever had traumatic experiences? to explain my interest in these questions. It is extremely inappropriate! Researchers are not always intimately connected to their research topic. I experienced a difficult bereavement, but I never considered thanatology to relieve me of the pain, I separate the research from my personal life. My experience and affection are not intended to justify the existence of my work. There are also people who have a very false image of me: they think I’m super dark, that I have very macabre tastes, when in reality, I’m not! Just because he works with death doesn’t mean he’s dark. It is a constant task to show that there is nothing strange or unhealthy about dealing with the funeral, and that it is a relatively classic subject of the human sciences. But most of the time it goes very well: I try to gauge whether people want to talk about it or not, I turn it off by making jokes or, on the contrary, listening to them. I was raised by parents who were very supportive, whatever my interests, and who above all taught me not to worry about other people’s opinions. I’m pretty tight-lipped about it, though I don’t take kindly to gratuitous evil. And then, I can’t blame people for curiosity or fear: these are subjects where there is a lot of affection. Lady. You study funeral rites from around the world. Does this lead you to question the relationship with death that we have today in continental France, and perhaps more so in the West? Comparative studies are at the heart of my work, and it is very important not to be ethnocentric. This raises many questions! In the West, after the end of the Second World War, death began to be talked about much less: in the past mourning was part of the home, the social circle, the village. There was a transition that made the hospital much more present later, in the 1960s, and that pushed death away. It is relatively recent while in the funerary history of the West, death is very present in everyday life, and in a natural way. Today we also have an image of male-run funeral directors. But when you dig a little deeper, you realize that in funeral history, in France especially, women played a very important role in rituals in rural areas, for example! Screenshot from Bizarreum Madmoizelle website. Do you also have a diploma in funeral counseling? yes quite I passed my National Diploma of Funeral Director and Master of Ceremonies in 2020. I was often told that I should work for a funeral director as my job was related to funerals, so I decided to go and see what it was like ! I really valued this experience and, above all, I learned a lot on the ground. Although I didn’t want to be a full-time funeral director, working like this ended my studies in archaeology: making certain gestures, understanding how to handle a body or how to turn it delicately while alone, it makes me open my axes. of vision and reflection on technical gestures that have probably not changed for 3,000 years and more! Photo provided by Juliette Cazes Madmoizelle. Do you recognize yourself in the Death Positive movement in the United States? The positive death movement was born in the 2010s and was popularized by Caitlin Doughty. He is someone with a strong online presence who works in the funeral industry in the United States. He once said in a tweet that death was as taboo as sex and that we were talking about positive sex. Why not talk about positive death? Thus was born the movement, which accumulates millions of views all over the Internet. Caitlin Doughty’s tweet mentioning positive death When I discovered the existence of this movement, I wondered if it would come to France a few years later. I participated to a certain extent since my work is about death, and I think it is important to get out of the taboo that surrounds it. But today, in the United States, I have the impression that it is not only positive: behind the term, there is a whole new breeding ground for files, but also the goal of selling commercial services. This has given rise to new professions of death, not necessarily legislated, and it is complicated… Because we are still talking about a clientele in pain, grief, or in total loss of direction. We are beginning to see the premises of this in France as well. I’m not claiming it because whatever happens, American funeral history is very different from French funeral history. The social issues, the laws, the context are very different. Lady. Are there topics that particularly affect you in your research? Juliette Cazes With the Bizarreum, I mainly try to offer things to discover. I propose a rather neutral and scientific tone, but I try, in my own way, to be engaged. For example, when I work on the issue of aboriginal peoples, I try to publicize cases like the one in Canada, where the remains of aboriginal children were found in a residential school. These are important topics, and people are often afraid to address them in mainstream popularization. Lady. How would you describe working in funerals and death? Sometimes there are horrible stories that I have to deal with that make me think that humanity is horrible. But I fight against this feeling because above the topics, even if it is not easy to talk about death in everyday life, I see a lot of beauty in the gestures of care, in the people attentive to the deceased, in everything very strong expressions of feelings, even if sometimes they are diametrically opposed to ours. Some stories are out of the ordinary, others are quite banal, but what I often say is that even if I work with death, for me, I am surrounded by the living: even if these people are no longer there, their lives are. they exist and continue to exist through research. It is not because we are dead that we no longer exist, and I know that with this job I connect with others, much more than in another job perhaps. Also Read: Who Will Inherit Your Knots and DMs? 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