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Watching bad things happen

October 13, 2008 - Steve Murch
What is it about tragedy that makes us stop and watch? You know, sort of like the rubbernecking at car accidents.

Case in point, the wildfires in southern California.

I watched (or at least had the television on while doing stuff around the house) the Fox LA station for about two hours this morning. I wasn’t watching because I wanted to see anything tragic, but was fascinated with the fire and the coverage.

Aside from the obvious — 9/11 attacks — too many of us watch these types of events that TV news shows them. How many people spent at least some time watching hurricanes Gustav and Ike coverage? What was it that we were watching for? Tragedy? Mayhem? Entertainment?

The Los Angeles stations show car chases live — the FOX station in particularly does this. For some reason it’s riveting television, watching some nut-job race through traffic avoiding cars, pedestrians and police. Eventually the person gets caught.

I don’t know if people follow fire trucks the way they used to, but it used to be a problem for firefighters. When my family lived in Caseville and then Mancelona, people would go to fires as a form of entertainment. It had to be. How else can you explain why cars would fill the road before the firefighters arrived, making it difficult for the fire trucks to make it through to fight the blaze?

We might not make a conscious effort to seek tragedy as entertainment, but somehow many of us wind up watching when it when bad things happen to people.


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