Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Once upon a time there was a lovely, quiet neighborhood called Amityville. It's very name will tell you what it was like. Big old Dutch Colonial homes, sitting on large lots, beautifully landscaped, boat houses along the canal, huge old shade trees lining wide roads. It wasn't far from my home, and when my children were old enough, I took them to that neighborhood to learn to drive. There was almost no traffic, and there was plenty of space to maneuver the car.

One morning, an unhappy boy who lived in one of those houses got up early, and high on drugs, he took a gun and he killed every member of his family. A terrible tragedy. The newspapers had a field day.

What is it within the human being that makes us almost rejoice at the suffering of others? Why must we rubberneck at the scene of an accident or a house fire? Why did the Romans fill the arena to watch the lions and the Christians, or the people in Massachusetts want to witness the burning of witches? People fairly ate up every item of "news" about this event. People from miles around drove to Amityville just to look at the house where this tragedy happened.

And one person decided it was the perfect opportunity for him . He bought the house and moved into it. He started building a story. He wrote a book. And then the lovely, quiet neighborhood became the scene of chaos. Cars filled the streets, even drove up onto lawns. People swarmed over private property - in many cases, not knowing for sure which house it was, they invaded neighboring properties. They were looking for souvenirs, and broke off shingles or took whatever they could find.

Human beings are capable of noble deeds, great kindness and sacrifice, true altruism. But there is something else within us. The other side of human nature. Why must we know all the details of other people's distress? They say it's what sells newspapers. It's certainly what sells gossip magazines and brings us in front of the TV screen to watch others make complete fools of themselves. And what is it that makes people participate in TV shows, pouring out to the world facts about themselves that are really no one's business but their own? Well, I guess that would have to be money in their pockets, wouldn't it? But surely no amount of money would induce me to do that. Thank heaven there is nothing in my life so far that would tempt me to that. I am sure I would not allow myself to sink to those depths. - But I once saw it happen to a close friend. I watched in disbelief - and then finally convinced myself that we never know until we are experiencing something ourselves, just how we would react in the same situation. That's a rather frightening thought.


Dianne said...

there are many people who crave attention, even if it's negative attention
sad really

the fact that a show like Jersey Shore can be such a hit is a sad, sad reality

Daryl said...

What Di said .. she always says it better than I can.

Sylvia K said...

I will never understand people and why they crave attention to that degree either! I tend to get so discouraged by what I see happening with people -- guess that's why I never watch TV. I have a TV, but use it to watch documentaries, concerts etc. and the rare movie that makes me laugh and feel good. Great post, Bobbie!


Rambling Woods said...

The rubber necking is a problem and it can cause more problems with police or fire or first aid are trying to help someone. I always just keep moving... Regarding the other... being in the spotlight.. having attention.. it is really sad.. Michelle

Anonymous said...

People are voyeurs - not all people all the time but probably all of us some of the time and some people all the time (to twist a famous phrase). I think it's part of the twin sides of light and dark in us. Some might call it good and evil. Why people want to display their own distress in public (TV etc.), I truly don't know but I think it says something about the growing emptiness in many of our lives.

karin said...

I always run the other way when I hear a siren. Crowds have always scared me. And I do wish that Condorcet was right in saying that social evils are caused by ignorance and error... Amityville does bring back memories from childhood when I lived in Brooklyn and the few times that my father was able to borrow a car and we drove out to the island, mostly to Jones Beach but we probably passed through Amityville the couple of times we went to Fire Island.

agreenearth said...

Was unable to leave a comment on your whale post. It didn't seem to be working. I enjoyed that post and feel sad at what man's careless living is doing to our whales.