Edmund Burke stated once, “There is no spectacle, we so eagerly pursue, as that of some grievous calamity” (Ross, 411). As I see it, this means we humans, as a species, seem to thrive upon pain, accidents and the misfortune of others. I believe this statement, although said nearly 250 years ago, still rings true today. There is a beast living inside all of us, one of curiosity, fed by the blood, failure and misfortune of others. It manifests itself in different forms, and levels, but it does exist. Consider these three examples:
1) You are driving along the highway, and you see an accident ahead, you slow down, even crane your neck a bit, to see.
2) You see a commercial for a movie, with explosions, guns, or the promise of violence, bodily harm, or death of some sort. The next time you go to a theater or video store, this title catches your eye.
3) You purchase a newspaper or magazine, or tune into a newscast, or reality-based TV show, simply due to the possibility of seeing a murder, or crime, or something of a violent nature. I believe that we can all relate to one, if not all of the above situations.
We see the lights, hear the sirens, notice the line of cars and we have to slow down “rubberneck” (as it is affectionately called) and see for ourselves. Whether it is genuinely out of concern for potential victims, or the fact that we may know someone involved, we still cannot help looking. I believe that it comes from our morose sense of wanting to see death, blood and dismemberment. A selfish act of human nature, we enjoy basking in the possibility that someone may be in a situation worse than our own.
Hollywood is also guilty of feeding this obsession. During my eight years of working in the movie business, I noticed a frightening trend. As a rule, happy, comedic, “feel-good” movies and gentle passionate love stories do not sell, or rent, as well as violence-laden, or action packed, intelligence-absent shockfests. These movies are filled with an excessive amount of guns, knives, bullets and blood, but are devoid of any plot or cinematic redemption. It seems that people would rather have everything spoon-fed to them, without having to think. The reason why we are like this has bothered me greatly for sometime now.
My conclusion is that we see the world as such horrible, scary place, that we need to escape to a place where someone is in more dire straits than we are. An alternate state of living, where we can cheer and revel and the misfortune of others. Now do not get me wrong, I am sure that there may be some redeeming value to the movies, and that there may be a message to what the filmmaker was saying. It is unfortunate that Hollywood feels it has to lure us in with the curiosity of violence and pain, just to show us the message of their movie.
It also seems to me that the news media is just as guilty as anyone of fueling this fire. “Bad news” stories gain more notoriety and attention than human interest or “good news” ones. Honestly, you would be more likely to tune in and watch if the teaser was “31 dead in local freeway shooting spree” than if it was “Man donates million to alleviate world hunger." The media knows this. They spoon feed like you, string you along like an owner with a dog biscuit luring a pup to the veterinarian. They know what you want to see, so they continue to gas can this societal flame. The unfortunate part is that all of this will get worse before it gets better. It is all going to blow up in our faces. It has in the past. Think of how many times you have seen reporters “in” the story, become the story, or even are injured or killed just to feed this beast. Society’s focus has degraded from making ourselves better by actually being better, to gaining the advantage by a law of the jungle type attrition, Only the strong survive and the weak are killed an eaten. Watching as our superiors fall by the wayside, mockingly laughing at them, and then gleefully stepping over them, and awaiting the next victim in the gauntlet.
Burke’s statement holds true and stands the test of time. Our society as a whole is circling the drain towards self extinction. There are too many good things in the world today, the beauty of a sunrise, the innocent laugh of a child, the smell of freshly baked cookies. Yet, we choose to focus on the tragedy of an accident, the pain and misfortune of others. We have sold our souls to feed that gruesome beast dwelling on inside all of us.