Wednesday, June 21, 2006

No Going Back

WARNING: This post contains graphic descriptions of violence.

I have a fairly strong sense of the macabre. When doctors draw my blood, I watch. I appreciated having the opportunity to see pictures that doctors took of my insides during my surgery. I am fascinated by autopsy photos, the Mutter Museum, and exhibits such as Body Worlds. I suppose this is to be expected, for I am the offspring of people who celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary by buying adjacent cemetery plots.

For the past several days, I had been debating whether to click on the link on PTG's site to one of the beheadings of American soldiers in Iraq. Last night, I finally ended the suspense and watched the video.

Actually, I only watched part of the video. It was far too much for me to take. I was instantly sickened and shocked, and stopped the clip only about ten seconds in.

I honestly didn't expect to have quite as strong a reaction as I did. I expected that I would be very disturbed, but I had seen clips of human deaths before--the Challenger explosion, Budd Dwyer's suicide (link does not contain graphic visuals), and, of course, September 11th coverage.

There are many reasons why this clip was worse for me to watch than the others (with the possible exception of September 11th coverage). Obviously, the beheading was sheer, horrific brutality. Given that I stopped the clip before the onset of the full violence, though, the Budd Dwyer clip was actually far more graphic. But Dwyer's death was quick, even if he endured the anticipation of what was to come, and was self-inflicted. The Challenger explosion and the September 11th coverage showed horrors en masse. It was only later that we had faces and personalities to go with the victims. In some strange way, too, we were spared the gore due to distance and remoteness.

Nick Berg, a lone individual, was bound, gagged, and brutally murdered. The way his captors stood over him reminded me of a gang rape. Even having stopped the clip prematurely, I can't get the images out of my mind.

I was home sick from school the day of the Challenger incident, and I watched the coverage live with my babysitter. I was curious as to what had happened, and asked a million questions. I kept asking my mom questions about it when she got home, and she kept talking to me about it and explaining what happened in the hopes of making it less shocking and scary to me. With time and distance, it worked.

I wonder if I'd ever be able to "desensitize" myself in this way to footage of these beheadings, and whether I'd want to. I don't think so. There are some lines I just don't want to cross, and desensitization to such a brutal, personal murder is one of them.

I can't guarantee that I won't click on the video again some time in the future, and possibly even watch it through to completion. But I do know that, if I do, it will haunt me, and that is the way it should be.


Blogger Mignon said...

I'm surprised you made it through ten seconds, or even attempted to watch it. Were you testing yourself? I don't want to think what kind of person could watch that and not feel deeply, deeply sickened and bothered for a very long time.

I can't watch the evening news or read the "Metro" section of the paper because of the constant focus on child-related violence. The fact that this is what sells papers and funds TV news disturbs me. Who's buying it?

1:43 PM  
Anonymous mamatulip said...

I studied journalism and still I can't handle stuff like this. I can't watch the news about it. I wouldn't have made it two seconds in to the clip. I think it's important for everyone to know what the fuck is going on around the world, but I'm kind of a hypocrite in that respect because I just. can't. handle. it.

2:41 PM  
Blogger Katherine said...

Certain things are just too much. On one hand, I think the world should know what is going on, I mean, if we had this kind of media coverage during WWII would Hitler have been able to have concentration camps for so long?? On the other hand, it is sickening and does make you less sensitive and emotional about it. No good answer here.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Tink said...

I can't watch RL surgeries on TV, let alone someone getting their head removed.

But I'll admit, even I was curious enough to try and watch that video. We probably stopped it at about the same point too. It ruined something in my head... That part that wants to believe there is hope for human kind.

I haven't been able to shake the feeling since.

3:29 PM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

I don't watch when needles go in anyone...including me, but the Mutter Museum IS pretty fascinating.

5:56 PM  
Anonymous V-Grrrl said...

I'm with Mignon. I can't even read the stories for a lot of this stuff and when my husband tries to tell me about it, I shush him.

I had nightmares for years after I stopped working as a journalist. I covered several murder trials, saw photos of crime scenes, read hundreds of pages of documentation on horrific crimes, sat next to convicted rapists while they waited for their moment before the pardon and parole board, walked through the courtyard of a maximum security exercise yard surrounded by inmates. Did all that in my early 20s, learned my lesson, never going BACK.

6:21 AM  
Anonymous mothergoosemouse said...

We recently saw Body Worlds here in Denver. It was absolutely fascinating to me, as I looked at it from a purely clinical perspective. Even the section (curtained off for privacy) with multiple fetuses in various stages of development, along with the body of a pregnant woman, didn't upset me. It was a scientific exhibit from which we could learn about the human body.

But violence is another story. I have very little tolerance for any sort of violence - it makes me physically ill to watch any sort of victimization, whether it is fictional or not. I could hardly bear to watch the mandatory video about shaken baby syndrome before being discharged from the hospital, and I cannot watch anything pertaining to 9/11 anymore. I'm still haunted by those words and images, and I know I could not watch this footage.

Sorry for the lengthy comment, especially since it's the first one I've left you (I think).

10:34 PM  
Blogger ptg said...

Thanks for the link. I didn't want to comment right away. Most Americans have great big blinders on that prevent them from being exposed to the grittier aspects of life. Sometimes I think we are a bit too civilized.

Had you grown up around hog sticking and chicken beheading, like farm kids still do in some places. The horror of the video would still be there, but it would be different.

Now imagine that you are a poor, parochial peasant in a middle eastern village. Not only did you grow up seeing sheep and goats (Allah forbid it: no pigs!) getting their throats cut, but you see bloody honor killings in your street. They are normal; your uncle cuts your cousin's throat because she was immodest. How would the video look then?

Did I say I thought we might be too civilized? I think these people are uncivilized. Barbarian is as barbarian does, I guess.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Arabella said...

You raise very interesting points, PTG. And you're right; my childhood was blessedly free from violence. I saw little more than squished insects. I do think that human death would still be much harder for me to take than animal death, even if I had grown up on a farm. I imagine that one who grows up with cousins being slaughtered due to immodesty and who experiences a great deal of violence and human death would, eventually, become desensitized to the point that such individuals would see these videos differently than me.

Good discussion.

1:17 PM  

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