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Twisted Pleasure

  • Posted on April 19, 2013 at 10:00 AM

I admit I read and watch fiction that creates traumatic events for characters to experience. From thrillers to Christian dramas, almost every story has some kind of trauma which characters are forced to endure.

Yet, when the news media has a feeding frenzy on the latest real-world traumatic event, I avoid it. I have seen one video of the towers falling during the 9/11. The video was only a few seconds in length and I watched it the day of the attack. I’ve seen one video of the aftermath of Katrina and a handful of pictures taken by someone who was on-site within the first few weeks of the storm.

I didn’t watch any video footage of subsequent disasters. Not the mass shootings. Not the storms. Not the endless wars across the world. And not the recent bombing in Boston.

I read about the news. I try to stay abreast of the events that shape our world. But I don’t gorge myself on the violence “Mother Nature” and our fellow human beings are capable. I don’t find real-world suffering to be entertaining. In fact, I find this trend (both on the part of the media and on the part of the viewers) to be very disturbing.

What twisted pleasure do people get from watching the real-world suffering of others that they watch it over and over and over again?

There are unfortunate parallels throughout our contemporary culture. Reality television is a profit-driven example. I don’t watch it. I don’t understand it. I mean, really, The Kardashians?!? Admittedly, I saw a few Jerry Springer episodes when I was a teenager, which was the precursor to all of this as far as I can tell. I didn’t get it then, and I still don’t get it now. I really, really don’t get why our culture makes celebrities out of people like that.

And then there’re those activities that aren’t driven by profit. I admit I find real people inspiring. People can do some pretty amazing things. And, yes, some of the people that I admire are people with disabilities. I just don’t see why people with disabilities living ordinary lives should be inspiring. I mean, shouldn’t that be the norm? After all, statistics indicated that 1 out of 5 people have some degree of disability.

Granted, I’m well aware that our society throws up a lot of barriers that keep people with disabilities from living ordinary, fulfilling lives, and that those who persevere to do so are admirable in that they don’t give into our cultural stereotypes. But that’s not the implication associated with these images and messages that are shared through so many social media sites. It’s more like, “Look at this person with this terrible disability [look at these people who have suffered this terrible disaster/war/attack], what’s your excuse?”

What twisted pleasure do people get from watching real-world suffering (or what they assume must be suffering)?

It makes me think back to ancient Rome. I think back to our fascination with Roman gladiators. I think about the twisted pleasure the ancient Romans took in watching people hack each other to death. Rome ended. Instead of learning from it, it seems we’re determined to repeat their vices and share their fate.