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Rubbernecking: thrill-inducing curiosity


HUMANS are a strange bunch. They thrive on chaos and destruction. If you don’t believe me, just look at any world war or how we wipe out an entire species for personal gain, like the highly endangered rhino.

Our insatiable desire for blood and gore is surely fuelled by the movies. The bloodier the better. Series like Dexter and CSI has meant that we now fill our spare time with bloody scenes and it has become as common as a drive to work. It’s a part of us and has become our reality.

Perhaps this is the reason why rubbernecking is becoming such a craze on our roads. The term is defined by Urbandictionary as “to drive slowly by a car accident (or site having emergency vehicles) and turn the head to see anything gory.” It’s by no means a new phenomenon, but it seems like more people are doing the act of gawking at carnage to get their ‘fix.’ The act itself is unsettling to say the least, but it’s the train wreck that usually follows, which is the real nuisance.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not for or against people staring at horrible car wreckages as dismembered body parts lay scattered across the road. What you chose to look at or ignore is your business. I do, however, have a massive issue when your morbid curiosity for the accidents interfere with my and many other motorists’ trip home.

Recently, I was travelling home and on route to suburbia I found myself in massive traffic delays at a time and place when there is usually nothing but smooth sailing. Angrily, I slowly crept in my homeward-bound direction and because traffic was so badly backed up, I couldn’t see what the problem was.

Eventually I reached the point of the problem. A taxi had somehow lost control and swerved off the road completely and down an embankment. What remained was an overturned taxi, looking worse for wear and sadly a massive body count with more blood than I care to share.  What amazed me was just how badly backed up traffic was when the vehicle involved wasn’t even on the road. All the lanes were still open as the emergency services were occupying only the yellow emergency lane. Technically, traffic should’ve been flowing normally, albeit perhaps a bit slower as we moved past the emergency personnel.

But to idle and sit in heavily congested traffic so a few fellow motorists can satisfy their blood lust gets my blood boiling. Although, can I really blame them? It’s the saying your parents always mumbled to you at the sight of anything gruesome: “don’t look, don’t look”. But we all know this merely fuelled our curiosity.

It’s difficult to deny, because while we curse the driver in front of us for staring at the twisted metal carnage and causing traffic delays, once it’s our turn to pass the incident we are inquisitively drawn to it. Even if blood and gore isn’t your thing, a small part of you can’t help but feel an urge to glance over and see what the hell it was that caused this massive delay in travel time.

But remember what I said about humans being destructive creatures. Carl Jung, who founded psychoanalysis, believed that we enjoy witnessing violence because it allows us to entertain and satisfy our destructive impulses without us actually harming ourselves or others.  Guess it’s true when they say that one man’s pain is another man’s pleasure.

But how do we stop this fixation on the gory, particularly when it affects so many other road users, let alone the victims of the accidents.

Well, in recent years, countries like the UK have started erecting visors at the scene of an accident to try and minimise the amount of carnage motorists can see from the road. It’s in its infant phases because any sort of wind blows the structure away, but it is a start.

I guess, ideally, the only way to prevent rubbernecking is through courtesy to one another. However, this human trait has been happening for ages and I doubt it will stop - it’s in our very being. I just wish it won’t clog traffic as badly as it does.

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