Schadenfreude?

This morning I woke up and had a conversation with my brother. It was a great conversation, we talked about a lot and it has been a few weeks since we’ve chatted, so I felt really good after our three hour talk. I turned Netflix on after we got off the phone with each other, I needed some background noise while I picked up the downstairs, did the dishes and all that fun Saturday morning stuff – oh how I long for the days of Voltron and Masters Of The Universe!

I clicked on the first thing that was in the Popular on Netflix queue. It happened to be Death by Magic. I’m not overly fond of magicians. I don’t have anything terribly against them either. I think Criss Angel is an attention starved fool, but I do remember excitedly watching those interactive David Copperfield shows where they’d use fun math tricks to amaze the television audience at home. Anyway, I just wanted some background noise, the TV on softly so as not to wake the rest of the house.

Slowly the rest of the house woke. Coming down the stairs one at a time and quickly fixating on the big, sixty-inch Samsung soul stealing square (okay, it’s a rectangle, but hey, alliteration is fun!). Before too long I realised that my entire home was transfixed by this show about some guy doing magic tricks.

Magic tricks. I kinda like Derren Brown, he can be a bit pretentious at times, but his shows are compelling and he seems to have a positive message. I’ve always fancied myself rather astute and observant, imagining that if I put forth the effort I’d be a fantastic mentalist. I don’t really go in for the whole Look, it’s mystical magic thing. I’ll admit that I loved it when I was a kid, but as an adult I’ve come to think it quite asinine. Some of my favourite celebrities happen to be magicians, or mentalists, or conjurers, whatever you want to call them, but they generally come at it from a reality-based standpoint; let’s be amazed with the power of misdirection and suggestion. I really have a hard time with those mystical folks. 

So, after a couple hours I realised that my entire household was mesmerised by this show about magic tricks. Let’s set aside my cynical views and get to the meat and potatoes, or tofu and kale if you will. The thing that really struck me, above and beyond the realisation that we were being hypnotised by the TV, was that the reason these shows, this show in particular, are and is so popular, is the element of danger.

This guy, DMC I believe he likes to be called, (and though I have a certain opinion on the fella, I’ll try not to let it colour this post) manufactures scenarios in which he seems to be in mortal danger. He takes historic tricks which allegedly killed their performers and reimagines them for the purpose of overcoming them? I think? I’m not quite sure, because he didn’t really do the tricks that killed those historic performers, he does tricks that may share an element or two but are different in the important details. Actually, I guess there are only a few different basic tricks to be done, we’ll say a dozen, and generation after generation of magician just varies the details. I don’t know, I think I lost my thread of thought there. So, this guy tells us a story about an historic performer, Houdini for instance. He tells a story about the guy, tells the story of his death, and then creates an illusion that loosely ties into that narrative.

I’m not critiquing the show here. I’m not criticising it either. It was certainly entertaining enough, we streamed all eight episodes in one sitting! What I am criticising here is our collective tendency to apparently want to watch someone in peril. That’s why we watch these specials, the emotional rush of Oh, that guy could die! I think it’s wrong. I’m not pointing the finger here, I’m reflecting.

I was surprised that I was so compelled by the peril. I knew it was contrived, I knew everything was going to be okay, but still I felt the tug. Still I felt the rush and near-giddiness that comes along with watching someone else in a dangerous situation. I’ve been in dangerous situations and guess what, it’s not exciting, it’s not fun, it’s not family entertainment, it’s terrifying and petrifying and leaves lasting scars.

I get it guys, I’m not taking a hard stance here. I’m not going to petition Netflix to take this outrageous, immoral content down. I’m not even going to stop watching shows like this, and all the other shows that excite us with compelling situations that just happen to be about something that could be construed as inappropriate for entertainment purposes.

I hope you guys don’t take this the way it sounds to me as I read it. I’m just saying that I thought I was better than that. I thought I was not the type of person who got joy, no matter how insignificant or fleeting though it may be, out of watching somebody else deal with a difficult situation, no matter how contrived and actually not difficult at all and actually quite exciting and gratifying it may be.

Also, I get the whole Inspirational, overcoming the odds, triumphing over defeat side of the whole thing. The guy said some pretty inspirational things in the show, but let’s be real here guys, we watch this stuff for the danger not for the fluffy feelings.

So, now that that’s out of the way. Have a good weekend folks! Thanks for reading! Think, think again, think some more.

By the way, the show was definitely entertaining, had great production value and was genuinely impressive. If you’re into this stuff, or exciting shows in general, you’ll most likely enjoy this one.

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