BURNING MONEY: Consumerism in the Afterlife
BURNING MONEY: CONSUMERISM IN THE AFTERLIFE, a documentary feature shot in Singapore’s Chinese community, explores the thousand years plus tradition of burning paper money and facsimiles of everyday objects in order to deliver a happy life in the hereafter. Although today, objects may be made with more mass produced materials, the atavistic and deeply felt obligation continues in order to provide for one’s ancestors and appease and feed those hungry ghosts who come back to haunt in the seventh lunar month.
The younger generation may decry the practices as superstitious and a waste of real money but entire villages in China do nothing but manufacture paper bank notes and folded paper offerings that are burned to honor spirits who have died. People continue to burn representations of current consumer lifestyles to address the karmic and spiritual debts owed by family members. It is this paradox that our film explores.
Weaving stories by Singapore’s Chinese community, the questions asked reverberate far beyond burning iPads for media savvy users in the afterlife to the very question of who are we, what are we doing here and where do we go after Death. Has this ancient tradition been appropriated by a consumer world with a bottomless pit appetite for the material world? Does society define itself by objects?
These questions are explored through the gaudy, sometimes hilarious artifacts, poignantly captured as they burn in heaps over the endless hills of graves in Singapore’s surprisingly wild graveyards. For this city-state of 5 million, a shrine to government intervention and brand name shopping, a surprising depth of ritual and tradition emerges. The brand names are merely appropriated in more and more inventive ways as paper copies. To what degree rituals will be changed by mass production of paper contemporary objects underpins the exploration of consumerism in the afterlife and the burning of paper objects as it unfolds and adapts to the 21st century.