First off, I apologize in advance for a post that’s generally a downer at a time when folks are trying to focus on happiness, but I have to get this off my chest.
The other day, Tracey sent this link to the MamaPop writers. A group of teenagers in Ukraine brutally murdered people and took video of themselves in the act. A brief discussion among us followed, mostly expressing disgust at the actions of the teenagers and at the details that were available. Everyone mentioned reading a bit of the transcript, but not being able to look at the video that was included.
Only for a few seconds, but long enough to realize what I was watching and what I was doing by watching.
I’m fascinated by death and particularly by deaths that are wrapped in crime. One of my favorite books is Shots in the Dark and I think post-mortem photography in general is an incredible art form. I’m not sure why. I’ve pored over those pictures and contemplated how peaceful the subjects look, even if their deaths were violent. Everything in their life led up to that moment and we all share that fate. We will all be stared at by people looking down at us and we will be unable to change their perception.
I’m also a huge fan of all manner of fucked up movies. I have my limits, of course…I’m thinking specifically of Audition and Japanese horror in general. Something about that type of cinema just doesn’t sit right with me. But I’ve seen some rather unspeakable things thanks to movies.
Somehow, looking at still images, especially in black and white, and watching films of actors, even if they’re based on a true story, is extremely different than watching that video. Perhaps the crime photos seem more kosher since they’re taken by a third party who is actually performing a service.
I told Tracey that I didn’t even know why I watched it. Morbid curiosity. Voyeuristic temptation. And I think, prior to clicking “play,” I didn’t totally believe it was what it was purported to be. What did I stand to gain by watching such a thing? Validation that such things, unimaginable as they may be, actually occur? Scratching some unacceptable itch?
I’ve always been fascinated and terrified by serial killers and people who murder for no apparent reason, at random. They set their own criteria, identify those who sin in their eyes, and deal them their punishment. From the time that I understood what these people did and how they did it, I’ve always been at least a little afraid that I would end up one of those random people. Our house being burgled last year by a man who crept into our house while we slept just a few feet above only exacerbated those fears. I’m still not able to watch my fucked up movies without feeling at least a little bit of panic.
The things that I saw in those seconds of jerky, cellphone video. I saw the nauseating glee. I saw beings who resembled humans and maybe once, a long time and a different reality ago, were humans that went grocery shopping and paid bills and stopped at red lights. And I saw…a face. Or something, a bloody, desecrated, disgusting, violated mess that used to be a face. And I could still see the question of, “Why?” running through a mind that was soon to stop functioning completely. And I could hear the echo of, “Why not me? Yet?” in the back of my brain.
It disturbed me in a way that I didn’t know possible. My worst nightmare came true for someone else and I watched it happen. I didn’t wield that hammer, but I might as well have stood there, in that cold, bleak forest, and watched it unfold.
By the time my brain said, “No. Stop,” I hadn’t assured myself of the slim chances of this ever happening to me or someone I know. I hadn’t cured myself of my paranoia. And I didn’t feel like I had a deeper understanding of how messed up this world is.
I had only accomplished one thing: watching someone be murdered.
Maybe I was stroking that part of my mortality that tries to deny itself, the part that likes to believe that I will call the shots, and if I cannot, I will call the shots for someone else. What separates me from Them?
I suppose what separates me is that I felt the urge to apologize after I chose to silence the giddy foreign language and the moist gargling breaths and the crunching leaves and the plastic bags. When I stopped, a different ending was still possible. Media feeds me truth and lies and joy and pain. And the brutal epiphany that reality and my place in it is more fluid than I’d like to admit. I’m sorry.
Long live the new flesh.