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BONES: When Do People Lose Their Identity After Death?

In modern American culture, death and human remains are not typically discussed.  Despite this, Fox’s very successful television series Bones, just began its eleventh season.  This show follows the cases of a forensic anthropologist and FBI agent who identify human remains and determine what happened to the person. 

The show’s main protagonist, Dr. Temperance Brennan (also known as “Bones”), is a world renowned forensic anthropologist who is often criticized for her logical, rational, and unemotional demeanor in addressing human remains.  However, Dr. Brennan devotes her life to identifying the deceased and telling the story of the individual’s life and death based upon his or her bones.  She also recognizes the importance of identifying all human remains.  In Dr. Brennan’s eyes, it doesn’t matter if it is someone who died last week or hundreds of years ago, all bones are human remains that have an identity and a story to be told.  Her job is to tell their stories for them.

The show frequently points on the juxtaposition of society’s distaste for talking about human remains in such an objective, scientific manner, which is devoid of identity or personality, with the commonplace practice of forgetting that all human remains were once people with identities. Specifically, the juxtaposition between Dr. Brennan and the others on her team highlights the societal disconnect between human remains and individual’s with identities.  

For example, in Season 1, Episode 9, Brennan’s team members want to attend the work Christmas party and do not see the importance of rushing to identify human remains, which had been sealed up in a fall-out shelter for fifty years.  Everyone, other than Brennan, seemed to think that the age of the bones meant the person was not entitled to the careful attention of his story being told like someone who was recently murdered.  However, Dr. Brennan was insistent that she wanted to determine his identity, even if it meant missing the party.  Interestingly, after the others had learned more about his life – by opening up the suitcase that was found with the remains, which offered clues to the story of his life and who he left behind – the others on the team became increasingly interested in not only identifying the remains, but in determining what happened and informing the surviving relatives. This reaction highlights people’s tendency to dissociate bones from the person they once were. society’s tendency to dissociate human remains and one’s identity.

Even though on the surface it seems that Dr. Brennan confronts death in a sterile, scientific way, she actually treats human remains with more reverence than most people. Because unlike society who devalues human lives if they do not recognize the person, Dr. Brennan always recognizes that bones are never just bones, but instead represent an individual with a story to be told. 

Katilin Price


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