The Titillation Continues

Pleasure enlivens the desire for more pleasure, filling the soul with an insatiable craving for perpetual repetition, a relentless rhythm of titillation and release as inescapably compulsive as an ever-quickening circle dance. 

Yesterday it was El Paso, Texas: X number dead, the more the better, for the greater the number, the more justifiable our obsessive staring, and the greater our access to round-the-clock footage and photographs of strangers crying, strangers moaning, strangers lamenting, strangers hugging and clinging and supporting one another in the weakness of their despair and agony. Today, it is Dayton, Ohio: Y number dead, and best of all, more crying survivors, wailing and hugging, fainting and forlorn.

Oh, the thrill of it all! “Give me more!” we squeal with shivering, rapturous enthusiasm.

Not to worry. They will give us more. There is money to be made in giving us more. They will cynically promote and incite and highlight the occurrence of more violence, thereby stoking their customers’ (i.e., our) desire for yet more suffering, and so on ad infinitum. They prostitute themselves to satisfy our lust for other people’s pain, and we obediently come back, again and again, our hearts and wallets full and open.

Let us begin again, then, with yet another attempt to define an issue I have now addressed repeatedly, in a variety of ways, almost as often as everyone else has leapt forward to express their mock compassion over these deadly shootings, that delightful and tickling pity with which they pretend to care, oh so tenderly, about the nameless and interchangeable humans after whose pain and loss they are lusting. 

Today, like yesterday, like every day on which some insignificant lost soul takes out his meaningless rage at the world on a more or less random collection of innocent strangers, the internet news sites are awash with pictures of people you don’t know, crying and clinging to one another in shock and sadness. 

Why this same image, over and over? Needless to say, it is because we want to see such pictures. If we didn’t want to see them, these profit-motivated news sites would not make them the lead images, the main teasers, for such news. 

And why do we want to see them? Let’s think…

Is it because we know the people in the pictures and therefore have a personal concern for their trials? No, of course we don’t know them.

Is it because they are famous or otherwise socially significant people whose presence at the scene of a major crime is inherently newsworthy? No, they are invariably unknown and anonymous individuals, which seems to be part of the reason we wish to stare at them.

Is it because seeing strangers cry somehow enhances our understanding or knowledge of the facts of the crime, as if we wouldn’t otherwise know that people who witness a shooting will be upset? Obviously not.

No, those images dominate the story, every single time, for one and only one possible reason: We enjoy looking at them.

It is pleasing, addictively so in many people’s cases, to watch strangers moan and collapse and stare hopelessly into the nothingness. We like their suffering, perhaps even love it. We have come to crave it. That red band of breaking news, telling us of another faceless, meaningless shooting draws us like flies to the ordure pit of the television or the internet, with no need more dire in our minds than our itch for the sight of some strangers in agony. If only we could be there, we lament wistfully, self-righteously, watching them cry in person, maybe even joining in their group hugs, pouring our self-aggrandizing and physically gratifying pity all over the scene, like vultures of compassion.

Another question I have aimed at the heavens before: Why are these shootings national and international news? They are nothing but local stories. There is no national security angle, the killer is invariably captured or dead, he is not part of a criminal or terror network still at large in the greater community, and his victims are people who have no relevant connection to the shared civic life or the lives of anyone we know.

Furthermore, it is obvious to anyone with an iota of common sense that drawing so much breathless, excited attention to these heinous but truly senseless crimes by worthless young nobodies desperate for a moment’s attention and a rare sense of potency in their short and empty lives, only entices other worthless young nobodies to consider the psychologically twisted advantages of going out in a similar blaze of unearned glory themselves. Thus, for the craven, cynical, profiteering mass media, of all entities, to lead the chant for gun control in response to these crimes, as though guns themselves were causing the killings, is a little like McDonald’s complaining that young people aren’t drinking enough water these days, and blaming it on the easy availability of Coke.

Stop the emphatic public fascination and collective mock weeping over these events — stop treating them with the fanfare and focus of major world news — and they will happen less frequently, as the potential perpetrators will see far less emotional benefit for themselves in the act. 

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