The point of displaying a corpse in a church or funeral home is to soothe the bereaved by conveying an impression that the deceased is (a) sleeping peacefully and (b) well groomed and well taken care of, not just in this realm but perhaps in the one beyond. It’s a ritual meant to allay fears about death. It can be jarring to look at a loved one lying in a casket, obviously, but it also brings mourners to an acceptance of what’s happened.

So if the point of displaying a body is to help the living cope with the inevitable, what’s so ghastly about a photo of a deceased celebrity in a casket being circulated to the general public, which obviously includes thousands of stricken fans? Is this an exclusivity thing? As in “it’s totally cool for people invited to the private memorial service in Newark to contemplate the physical remains of the departed for the last time, but it’s not cool and in fact tasteless and revolting for tens of thousands who bought the celebrity’s music over the past 20-odd years to be given a glimpse of same”?

We all know what the National Enquirer was up to in publishing this photo, but there’s nothing inherently terrible about it being shown and seen. People want to see proof of the finality of things, to irrevocably face the fact that a person’s life has ended. There was the Elvis Presley casket photo, the John Lennon lying-on-a-hospital gurney photo, the JFK autopsy photos, etc.

Incidentally: Kevin Costner‘s eulogy for Whitney Houston was touching and quite eloquent. But there was one passage at the end that made me go “whoa.” Costner refererred to “all the young girls who are dreaming that dream” of performing and fame, and said “I think Whitney would tell you [to] guard your bodies and guard the precious miracle of your own life, and then sing your hearts out.” Costner surely intended irony. And yet the sincere tone with which he delivered these words didn’t convey this. Not to me, at least.