Sometime in the early 1980s, I visited Ernest Dichter in Peekskill after reading the chapter on him in The Feminine Mystique and as it turned out, I worked for him for about a year. Active since the 1940’s, Dichter was a psychologist who developed the field of consumer motivation—that is, the technique of applying psychological principles to advertising to influence consumer choices. Forest Lawn hired Dichter in 1952 to do a study on the desires and fears of the living when faced with the dead. Dichter hid a microphone behind a coffin and recorded what mourners were saying when they came close and he determined that the living wanted to make sure the dead were comfortably still and would not rise, and relegate vampire lore to the confines of literature.
To bury the dead ‘6 feet under’ is a salve to the living and Dichter’s study led to an ad campaign for the comfortable, sleep inducing resting place that remains Forest Lawn. A mechanical waxworks at Madame Tussauds animates the dead. The striking automaton Sleeping Beauty is a dreamy figure, with a motor that makes her breast rise and fall subtly, as if she were alive and breathing. The soothing regularity of her breathing and the passivity of her pose—a classic woman to be gazed upon—but there are dangers in fetishizing this sleeper’s magnetic appeal.