To Not Un-See

October 6, 2012

The other day Fox News covered an Arizona police chase, live on TV. The chase ended badly, with the fleeing criminal shooting himself in the head. Fox News failed to cut away and the suicide was broadcast to millions of basic cable voyeurs.

I came upon this incident in my regular internet news surfing. Among the coverage was a note that the site BuzzFeed.com had drawn criticism for posting uncensored footage of the on-air suicide. BuzzFeed is a site I have bookmarked. It would take minimal effort to bring the page in question up in my browser.

I should pause here to note that I have little real world experience with violence, either as a victim or witness. And I have exactly zero experience as a perpetrator or as a ‘mutual combatant’. I have, however, come across images of violence, through various sources, in my career as a contemporary consumer of media. I’ve seen Mexican drug cartel decapitations, African civil war dismemberments, and freak impaling accidents. I’ve seen visual evidence of the deaths of Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gadhafi, and Daniel Pearl.

I say this not to brag, or to reveal some twisted fascination with brutality, but to point out that I’m not one to close myself off from the outside world. I worked in felony courtrooms and handled evidence in murder cases. I’ve seen crime scene photos firsthand and heard victims of violence testify about their experiences.

But as I paused on the BuzzFeed site, about to click on the post that I knew featured uncensored footage of a gunshot suicide, I considered what I was about to do.

On one hand, I admit a certain morbid curiosity in seeing things that other people suggest that I shouldn’t. There is a sense of spectacle in seeing a real-life violent image, even if I’m too jaded to be caused instant disgust or a later nightmare. There’s a tinge of rebellion I feel when I seek out media that should not be discussed in mixed company.

But on the other hand, what do I really stand to gain by watching some anonymous criminal kill himself on my computer? I won’t feel better about myself by watching some random snuff clip. My opinion of the felon in question certainly won’t change. So why not check out some other website? Why not close up my laptop and go to bed?

And that’s what I did. Whether or not this makes me a better person is disputable. But I’m pleased with myself for taking a moment to make an active decision in what I was going to consume on the internet. And maybe that’s a step in the right direction.