We look for a catharsis; “horror makes us human,” he quotes Mexican horror film director Guillermo del Toro, “because it reminds us of our imperfection.”
Which brings us to the popular (and bloodless) American sport of schadenfreude, German for “harm-joy,” translated as the pleasure we take in other people’s misfortune. Often reserved for tracking which celebrity has fallen farthest into the abyss (think Charlie Sheen), it’s the happiness we feel when “luxuriating in the warm glow of imaginary imperviousness that other people’s life-destroying stupidities invariably provide.”
“We are enamored of ruin,” Wilson says of us. “The deeper the darkness is, the more dazzling. Our secret and ecstatic wish: Let it all fall down.”
Well, maybe not all. Wilson’s a stickler for meaning, without which the morbid veers into dehumanized pornography. He is sensitive to popular concerns, such as the fear that excessive amounts of violence in the media will turn us into zombies who crave more of the same — and worse. One chapter examines the effect of fictional violence on children, including the work of author Maurice Sendak, whose “morbid imagination” has entertained generation of kids who react to his Where the Wild Things Are — not with fear, but with “unbridled merriment.”
As poetic as it is down-to-earth, Everyone Loves A Good Train Wreck remains nuanced rather than definitive, contemplative rather than conclusive; exploring what makes us tick without judgments.
Wait, you say: Not me! I would never gawk at a 10-car pileup. But by the time you finish this enlightening survey, you’ll probably recall at least one time where you, too, gazed overlong at something you shouldn’t have, a time when you, too, felt “exhilarated, inappropriately, and … ashamed.”
What’s more, you’ll have a deeper understanding of why you couldn’t resist.
Gina Webb reviewed this book for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.