I wasted hours of my childhood on the notorious gross out forum Something Awful, watching humans hock spitballs into the face of death. I did this for fun, because like so many teenage boys I severely lacked empathy and assumed I would never die. Night after night, I waited patiently for the family's crappy modem to load grainy footage of NASCAR crashes, building demolitions, and early MMA fights.
Mercifully, I no longer have the stomach for the violent viral video, but I still find myself magnetized to its more palatable cousin, the close call video, which shares some of the materials of those violent videos from my youth. The close call video usually features a good deal of destruction, but the payoff is a moment of unexpected elation rather than the sneaking suspicion you just watched someone's life permanently change for the worse. Often the videographer, whose point of view we see the world through, nearly dies capturing a rare moment where life transforms instantaneously from average to potentially lethal.
The truth is the difference between a close call video and something tragic happening involves the slightest of unique circumstances. And worse, sometimes these close call videos, which have become more popular with the rise of action cameras, inspire tragedy, which may have happened earlier this month when a 31-year-old man died BASE jumping off a television tower days after the publication of a similar GoPro video.
And so I'm left with very mixed feelings when I consider what I like about close call videos. It's likely people in these videos still get hurt, mentally or physically. Traumatic experiences don't have to involve a casket to have long-lasting negative effects on a person. I can't tell if I feel guilty about loving these sorts of things because I'm sick in the head, or if I'm merely appreciative of a spectacular reminder how strange and fragile life is. This week two terrifying close videos were published to YouTube, as if an omniscient being wanted to remind us that at any moment of any day a metaphorical hippo may strike. And as I write, my co-worker Chris Ziegler tells me about this video I have to see. It's a car crash. I think everyone survived.