Monday, February 02, 2009

Curiosity Killed the Cat

My first real experience with the macabre came in the form of a book my mother had purchased when I was quite young. It was named "Infamous Murders" and was a 'who's who' of violent crimes of the last hundred years. I spent hours poring over the lurid details of each case...the Yorkshire Ripper, Lizzie Borden, H.H. Holmes. Each tale came replete with illustrations and photographs showing the murder weapons, crime scenes, and in some cases the victims themselves. Try as I might, I could not tear my eyes from the scenes of horror laid out before me.

By the age of eight I had moved on to horror films. Creepshow became the ultimate in terror for me. I owned the graphic novel and would read and re-read it every single day, as well as watch the film. The skeleton from the first segment (Father's Day) scared me to the point where I had difficulty sleeping for nearly a year, but still I found myself unable to NOT watch it.

My first foray into the more extreme was a forced viewing of the first three Faces of Death films at the age of nine. Granted, these films are largely staged, but at the time nobody knew that and they represented the harshest glimpse of reality one could possibly imagine. Much as with the previous forms, I sat, eyes transfixed, unable to look away but not wanting to see.

This was the birth, the ultimate awakening of a self-realization that has plagued me to this day. One that has tormented me relentlessly through the years. A personality trait that causes me to exist duplicitously. I am at once enamored and repelled by the media I consume.

The dawning of the Internet age allowed me to see that I was not alone with this affliction, this need to constantly see what lies behind the curtain. I am compelled by my brain, against my own better judgment, to bear witness to situations and events that dwell beyond the realms of horror for me.

I don't wish to view these things. Every time I read about a video containing 6 Russian conscripts being terminated in a field, or the blunt force trauma murder of a man in the Ukraine, I get a sickly feeling, an almost electric sense of energy. I don't want to see the devastation wrought, but I must. I must see. I must know.

In some small measure I consider it a tribute to the victims. Their life was senselessly or barbarically ended in front of the camera. Viewing their final moments affords them the ability to live on , to make their execution seem less in vain.

Without fail I feel a sense of emptiness every time one of these videos starts. A hollow pit quickly filled with cold sickness as the gravity of the situation sets in. There is an almost palpable weight to the air that I feel as the suffering of others is laid bare before me.

This isn't a feeling I crave, but for some reason it's a feeling I NEED. It's hard to say that without sounding ghoulish, but facing mortality in such a direct manner allows me to feel comfortable with life. Again, it's not for enjoyment that I seek this kind of entertainment, but for a deep personal fulfillment.

This innate need exists in all of us, I suspect. It's only the minority that feed its submersed call.

Don't believe me? What do you do when you pass an accident? Do you simply stare straight ahead or do you cast a glance to the side, secretly hoping to see some carnage? Do you watch CSI? Have you ever allowed dark or violent thoughts to linger in your brain?

The honest truth is that we all have it. Darkness resides in all corners and chambers, regardless of the person. Some of us are just consigned to embracing it.

There was a time not long ago when we as a people had to face death on an almost daily basis. A time when we lacked the luxuries and conveniences of the modern world. To the people of that time, the morbid sensibilities of the modern day would be curious, indeed.

Our culture is fixated on death, violence, and ill will towards our fellow people. How much difference is there between the multiple simulated killings one can watch on TV any given night and the true life horrors available on the internet? Not as much as you might think.

Fiction gives us safety, allows us room to relax as we know it is only an artistic interpretation of reality. The real deal sucker punches us, knocking away all of our security as we are forced to come face to face with the harsh truth of our own mortality.

Of course, in all of this I speak only for myself. Thanks to the internet I have managed to find others who share the same need to peer behind the locked door. The reasons people seek this out are as varied as the people themselves.

Some seek entertainment, some wish to confront death, some are just intrigued. For me, it depends on the video.

If I had to pick a favorite thing to view, it would be suicide videos. Again, don't mistake this for enjoying watching people kill themselves.

No, in the case of suicide, there is a certain degree of beauty that can be found. An intimacy that stems from the fact that the person committing the act has setup a camera to share this moment with you, whether it be an act of defiance, desperation, whatever.

I have written about two such videos here in the past, namely the suicides of Ricardo Lopez and R. Budd Dwyer.

In the case of Lopez, the interest stems from his tragic slide into insanity. The actions perpetrated on camera were intended to be an almost artistic statement. Here is a man who has obsessed over a singer for months, ultimately building an acid bomb in the hopes of disfiguring her due to his overwhelming illness. His final act comes as the culmination of months upon months of pain and torment. His life is ended by gun in front of a white sign proclaiming "The best of me", no doubt intended to catch brain matter as part of a final dark statement.

Similarly there is the case of Dwyer, an elected official convicted (unfairly, by his accord) of accepting a bribe. His death comes as a harsh rebuttal of the American justice system and serves as a reminder of the price of power. That he chose to end his life in such a public manner points strongly to the underlying statement he was trying to make. "YOU did this to me," his actions seem to scream. A man put in charge by the people dissolves that power in one bitter shot.

Take from all this what you will. This is not a defense of my attractions. (I am who I am.) This is not a condemnation of those who don't understand. (Different strokes...) This is simply a confession, a means of showing the world that not all who seek the dark are horrific and violent creatures.

Let me sum it up with the following:

Curiosity killed the cat.
I just wanted to know who did it, how, when, where and why.

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