Morbid Curiosity: Ghouls R Us

I have never understood the ghoul mentality, where a person must stop to watch the results of an accident. The worst I ever remember was as a kid when we had gone to Banff (or someplace close by) and seeing the detritus of a fatal accident strewn down the side of a hill. A semi had jackknifed into a family camper, killing the family. There was clothing and other items all over the side of the hill and the ghouls were down there rifling through, picking souvenirs. It would be nice to think they were cleaning up the hillside, but that was not so.

Every time I’m on the highway and there is an accident, all the traffic slows down. It makes sense if the accident is in the way and you have to cautiously go around so as not to hit emergency workers and other bystanders. But when the accident is on the other side, or in no way impinging on traffic flow, then why slow down to gawk? Is this an innate curiosity like the proverbial cat’s? If so, then it might just as likely kill you, if you end up affecting traffic flow by staring at an accident instead of watching where you’re driving.

This morbid curiosity extends into the fascination for some people with murderers and serial murderers. On the news this week was a piece about memorabilia of serial murderer Clifford Olson being put up for auction. How his items have gone from his prison cell to the online market is supposedly under investigation. But it’s obvious that someone is greedy enough to make a buck and doesn’t care if airing such items related to a perpetrator of horrific crimes further scars the victims’ families.

I’ve recently written several pieces of horror fiction. Something I have to ask myself from time to time is why have I written a particular piece. In it, is part of this curiosity that perhaps all humans exhibit: what would cause a person to become a murderer, to go mad? What reasoning would justify murdering to them? Perhaps part of our curiosity comes from not being able to fathom a murderous mind. I’ve written stories that disturb me. Sometimes they’re cautionary tales. At their worst, they’re just for thrill seekers, for those who enjoy being scared with slasher/horror films. True crime books are very popular, and often have redemption in them: the author has written about the murderer after he/she was put away.

I never did see Cronenberg’s movie Crash but it had a lot to do with this morbid curiosity taken to the next level and eroticsed. Some curiosity on the workings of a killer mind may be natural, but I really have to wonder at someone so wrapped up in the misfortunes of others and in taking serial murderers to star status. It disturbs me a great deal and I just wonder, in the right, or wrong situation, would such a person’s fascination go that one step farther. I always have to ask myself if I can justify what I wrote. Is there a message or is it just a thrill, whether wanted or unwanted? My answers are not always clear cut.

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2 Comments

Filed under cars, Culture, entertainment, life, news, Writing

2 responses to “Morbid Curiosity: Ghouls R Us

  1. Babette

    As a former police officer, well used to crowd behaviour in accidents and disasters, I don’t feel that they are “ghouls”- I think it’s a natural response to the sudden, the unpredictable, the horrifying warning of our common mortality that transfixes some people. Accidents, like murders, are not the everyday things that happen to us all, hence their fascination. I had a fail-proof way of clearing “ghouls” from any accident site: I approached them with notebook and pen, introduced myself cheerily, and said, “I see you’re a witness to this, Sir/Madam. I’ll need your name and address for the inquest….” That’s when they invariably scuttled away!

    • colleenanderson

      Thanks for a different perspective. I guess there is that draw to that which is not our norm. Hence the popularity of violence in shows and the SF movies. But I still think some people want to just watch to feed on that type of situation. But I’ll give you that there are probably both types.

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