Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Lunch, Shame, and The Macabre

I’m ashamed to admit this (what else is new), but I’ve just spent the last hour eating my lunch while simultaneously reading literally every article I could find in The New York Times about the Germanwings plane crash in the French Alps and the 150 people that died on it.

I found myself completely riveted by gory details like the opera singer with a seven month old baby, the 8-minute free-fall in which no communication was heard from the aircraft, the sixteen high school kids returning from a study-abroad program, the fact that not one “intact body” had been recovered, and aerial video of the crash site.

All this, while shoving Caesar salad and a peanut butter cookie into my face as quickly as possible without taking my eyes off the computer screen for even half a second.

Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you?, I was forced to ask myself for the hundredth time since I woke up this morning. Normal people shield themselves from this sort of information, don’t they? They certainly don't eat their lunch and peruse these stories at the same time? Or maybe they do, since newspapers wouldn’t print these articles if no one read them, and reading and lunch go together like PB&J, right?

Regardless, this isn’t the first time I’ve been transfixed by some gruesome and statistically unlikely tragedy while eating my lunch. 

The tree branch that fell on a mom and her baby in Central Park, killing the baby, consumed at least one lunch hour. What between reading about the condition of the trees, the occupation of the mother, the fate of the baby, the distraught father, the follow-up by the City Parks Department, and so on.

Then there were the “nanny killings,” in which a New York City nanny stabbed two out of her three charges to death in a bathtub on what happened to be my son’s third birthday and the eve of Hurricane Sandy. 

Then there was the woman who stepped into an elevator (also in New York City) at work, only for the elevator to improbably malfunction and squish her into a human pancake between the elevator car and shaft, shutting down the office building for hours. I mean, I had to find out where she lived (Brooklyn) and read about her boyfriend's reaction, obviously.

What is it about these stories that's so compelling, considering the fact that I forego articles in the same paper about malaria (which kills a zillion people every day) or statistics about car accidents, which also kill a lot more people than nannies, commercial aircraft, elevators, and tree branches combined.

Maybe it's the contrast between the seeming innocent banality and frequency of these First World activities--leaving your kid with a babysitter; boarding a one hour commercial flight; walking through a park; stepping onto an elevator--and the shocking way in which those everyday activities end. It's that contrast and its unlikelihood, of course, that make these stories newsworthy, or if not newsworthy, something more sinister--an online version of rubbernecking. Click-bait worthy.

The only thing more nauseating than these events themselves is the fervor with which I seem drawn to read about them--click, click, click, click, click--and the fact that I do so while happily cracking open a diet coke and sprinkling hot sauce over a bowl of fried rice. 

I'll say it. That shit is fucked up, and that's about all there is to say about that.

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