Playing Dead (Review)

Have you ever wanted to run away from your life, assume a new identity, and live somewhere else in the world?  Some people actually follow through and leave their old lives behind. One day, they just pick up and go away to a new area or a different country without telling anybody. They invent a new identity and live their lives anew.

While the fantasy of this scenario has a certain romantic and tempting appeal, the playingdead-01logistics of actually disappearing are quite complicated and difficult. The first order of business is figuring out just how you’re going to vanish from society.  It turns out that one of the most common ways of doing this is by committing pseudocide–faking one’s own death.

This way out led Greenwood to investigate the possibility of actually faking her own death and a trip to the Philippines to see a “fixer”. As it turned out, Greenwoods desire to go through with the act of disappearing ended up with her obtaining a death certificate.

Writer Elizabeth Greenwood shines a light on this method of disappearing because she had once considered vanishing by actually faking her own death.  Greenwood had accumulated massive student loan debt, so she thought pseudocide was the answer.  It was the seed that produced Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud.

Greenwood met and interviewed some individuals who had actually committed full-on pseudocide. One individual bought a cadaver to pass off as his own. There was a cremation.  A priest and mourners were hired as part of the evidence to submit to the insurance company.

It turns out that most men have different reasons for disappearing than most women. The men who fake their deaths want to get away from mountains of responsibility. Women tend to vanish in order to escape from abuse. Regardless of why someone fakes death, in the end, their ruses eventually fail.  The pseudocides fail either because the authorities catch up to the perpetrator or the person slips up by caring about their old life too much.

When everything is said and done, pseudocide is the worst way to disappear. There is just too much baggage to consider. To fake a death requires the commission of at least one actual crime, be it insurance fraud, destruction of property, or perjury. People who are caught generally end up serving a prison sentence. Pseudocide is the least intelligent way to go about vanishing.playingdead-02

Playing Dead is  fairly interesting, but its meandering style made me take her stories with a fair amount of skepticism. The tales are engaging but feel almost like urban legends. For some peculiar reason, Greenwood wasted a lot of ink on Michael Jackson truthers.  The death of the “King of Pop” seems irrelevant to the subject of pseudocide, but would make a good topic for a different tome.

When this reader set aside the book’s strengths and weaknesses, I came to the conclusion that Greenwood’s main question is, “What does it mean to want to disappear?” There is some psychology about the actual act of pseudocide that is only hinted at in this book. I found out that disappearing from a messy life only makes life messier and more complicated.

Playing Dead should be read by anyone who has contemplated disappearing from society. It outlines some of the complications involved in pseudocide as well as some of the motives of people who have faked their deaths and have been apprehended by law enforcement. The book is a fairly good read.

Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud by Elizabeth Greenwood; 247 pages, published 2016 by Simon & Shuster; ISBN: 978-1-4767-3933-5  }

1984aThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Jimi Hendrix. “It’s funny how most people love the dead. Once you’re dead, you’re made for life.”


About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
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