Most people have experienced driving down the highway and encountering heavy traffic, waiting the excruciating minutes moving at a snail’s pace, only to realise that the cause of this headache was not an overturned truck filled with twinkies, nor a reduction in the number of drivable lanes, but rather that the cars had slowed down to look at an accident on the side of the street. In turn, you of course take your look to see why everyone else was so entranced by the wreckage, thus perpetuating the slow-down.
I believe we as a society are addicted to catastrophe. We can’t help but slow down and stare when something is going up in flames. The enablers of this addiction are media outlets that solicit viewers to “Tune in at 10 p.m. to see the exclusive footage of today’s plane crash.” They use disaster as a means to generate viewership, and thus, revenue. Major TV and web companies are in the business of calamity, building their reputations on being able to bring you the goriest details faster than their competitors. And who’s to blame them? It’s good business with a steady demand because we, the consumers of catastrophe, need our next hit. Like Jake Gyllenhaal’s character in Nightcrawler, the closer the view, and the bloodier the shot, the more people want to watch it.
With the presidential election less than three weeks away, it's impossible to watch any news station or browse any topical website without witnessing the latest on the candidates. This time around, the election seems to have more in common with a burning pile of rubble on the side of a highway than ever before, thus feeding into the cravings of the disaster addicts. Footage is compiled of one candidate’s mountain of lies growing ever higher, or of another bragging about acts of sexual harassment. These clips surface and we all slow down to watch the flames. Even events that have nothing to do with policy or ability to govern a nation, such as physically collapsing outside a van or a snapshot caught by a paparazzi revealing an alleged combover, make national news because in some small way they shed light on the potential cracks within a person’s foundation. We crave seeing those cracks, the missteps, faults and shortcomings far more than we want to see the triumphs.
This fixation, however, contains an underlying goodness. We can’t look away from disasters because deep inside we know they should be fixed. Instinctively we realize that this shouldn’t be. Perhaps I wear rose colored glasses when viewing the innate nature of humanity, but I believe we can’t look away because we are programmed for good and fixation is the effect of wanting painful situations to be rectified. We’re so drawn to the gory details of these campaigns not because their media coverage is rooted in the good work they have done and plan to do, but because negative tones triumph in anticipation for a total crash and burn.
The difference between this election and a roadside accident is that we don’t get to drive by unharmed. The negativity surrounding these campaigns and which has captured our full attention is not as fleeting as the nightly news. We are in danger of overdosing on this addiction to catastrophe. Being a mere spectator will make no progress. Voting on November 8 is of the highest importance. Choose to end a disaster and kick the habit.