What is it about the human psyche that just can't turn away from train wrecks, car crashes and trashy talking magazines about celebrity lives or aliens landing on Earth?
First, I had forgotten that back in the late 1970's, a stock broker company called E.F. Hutton had commercials on TV using a phrase cleverly. Two business type men in a room full of noisy people when one would say to the other, "Well, my broker is E.F. Hutton, and he says, ...." The whole crowd would go quiet, straining to hear what he says and the commercial ended with, "Inquiring minds want to know" going across the screen. Hey, at least they spelled inquiring correctly.
Then in 1981, The National Enquirer tabloid, trademarked the slogan, "Enquiring minds want to know." For the record, enquiring is also spelled correctly, just the British preferred way. Both are in the dictionary with the same meaning. Trust me, I checked that out right away.
A bit of digression here, however, I believe that you get my point. It is a feeling of being drawn in to some horrible scenes or news due to the excitement of it all and wanting to know all of the details. Somehow there is a delight in the problems and misfortunes of others that makes us wish to look.
Researchers, such as Michael Stevens explains that often we find uncertainty more unpleasant than unpleasant certainty. He says that if we look, at least we know. His book studies the question of why it is so hard to turn away from such scenes both in real life and on the screen.
Eric Wilson has a book out called Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can't Look Away. Somehow, we are drawn to gloom. There are many examples that he gives such as the replay of the 9/11 towers collapsing, a Hollywood Tour company called 'Dearly Departed' adding the Beverly Hilton Hotel where Whitney Houston's death occured to the itinerary of places where celebrities passed away. They also give a three hour tour of the site where the Manson Family carried out their murders. Want to buy a ticket? They take thousands of visitors there monthly.
On a normal drive through cities, when there is a slow down of traffic, you can rest assured it is due to 'rubber-necking.' This common behavior often causes other wrecks to happen due to the distraction. In the United Kingdom, as well as a few other countries, special screens have been used to block accident scenes just in order to help the flow of traffic.
Eric Wilson was mentioned above and has a lot of research out there on why humans seem to have a hidden dark side. After interviewing many scientists, he came to the conclusion that most believe it has an evolutionary value. There are many reasons why we are attracted to the morbid which includes sometimes a weird physiological arousal and an animal stimulation. He concluded that if we approach darkness in the right way, it can lead to light.
He believes that there is a fine line between looking at destruction and empathising to becoming obsessed with it. In other words, if we look at a car accident by the road, hopefully we will think about the suffering of others and feel relieved. Nothing to dwell on or to seek out other accidents. This could lead to a very bleak future life and depression.
Final note is that we should not always suppress this human instinct, just realize that we need to look for the light using empathetic eyes. Realize that there are different degrees of needing this type of attraction. Let's not judge others based on what their needs may be. I for one, can't watch the Reality TV shows. Too real for me? Maybe! I am no 'goody two-shoes.' It is just that I don't care for them any more than I do reading about others in the tabloids, especially when someone is going through something so personal and private. If you are a celebrity, then you apparently are automatically signed up for the world to know all of your business. That has never been secret news.
Until checking this topic out for writing, I had no idea
just how heavily researched and written about this topic was. Please do note that I will not be on a sight seeing bus called 'Dearly Departed.' When there is an accident on the road, I must admit that I look and tell myself that I am looking in order to figure out just how it happened. This I do believe. I won't judge you if you don't judge me. We all have some level of morbid curiosity. Let's just help each other get through it when we need assistance. The best way is to be a listener and do not judge.