Confessions of a Disaster Junkie
I told myself. More precisely, I told everyone I would never watch Million Dollar Baby, the Academy Award winning movie about the indigent young girl who literally fights her way out of poverty and ends up a quadaplegic who gets her new best friend to kill her because she can’t bear to live like that. See, I knew the plot line, and I still just watched it. Now, I’m all wet and thinking about how horrible life is and wondering if I should double up on my Prozac.
What is the irresistible draw of tragedy? Ever since I was a preschooler who regularly begged to be retold the story of how Job scraped his boils with a potsherd after all of his children – 10 of them, 7 sons and 3 daughters to be exact – were killed in a tornado and his 3,000 camels were carried off by the Chaldeans, I have owned my predilection for gore.
I have also come to understand that I am not alone in my sick fascinations. Somebody had to write the pilot for Jerry Springer. Maybe not a pilot, just a proposal to bring together a bunch of morally bankrupt people with no pride or teeth, and let the cameras roll. Somebody knew that millions of apparently normal Americans would stop in the middle of their otherwise normal days to watch large women admit to unimaginable perversions and then show their breasts and fight each other.
The word “rubbernecking” came from somewhere. Can you honestly
pass up a chance to see exactly how flat the driver’s compartment is.
That quick, cold pinch in the pit of your stomach upon hearing that a California man had an accident on the freeway and that his wife’s head flew out the window of his car…and the rest of her wasn’t a passenger in said car…is hard to resist.
The thrill is in the details, as many and as lurid as possible.
Which finger was in the chili?
How much finger?
In how much chili?
I am loathe to admit that as a child, I regularly pondered my father’s medical books for extreme anomalies. The picture of the boy with the elephant’s leg owing to a particular worm infestation was a favorite, along with the entire dermatology text. But then I also ate matches during that phase – lots of them – so who knows what effect that might have had on my preferences? When I got the polio vaccine at school, I saved the pamphlet that pictured a little girl lying in an iron lung, and I shivered as I silently rehearsed the name of that enormous silver trap.
I really think the appeal is in the absence of a given calamity in our own, sometimes not all together satisfactory, lives. It’s a kind of existential elitism that allows us to revel in the relief that we, ourselves, have not slept with our step father, nor would we ever. We certainly do not even personally know someone who would kill his wife and then cut her up, much less eat her. Our son is incapable of having a torrid affair with his 6th grade teacher, and we would see it coming anyway. We would certainly see it coming and jump right in there and stop it.
So maybe the check I bounced at church will go through next time.
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