Fixation with Morbid Scenes

“Paul Walker just died in a car crash,” my brother-in-law said, reading his iPhone. “Just up the street from here.”

 “Who?” the rest of us asked. “What?”

The name rang a bell, but the abruptness of the news – mid-conversation on a different issue – sent us all scrambling through our collective minds.

“Yeah, look it says right here, on Yahoo news. Star of Fast and Furious dies in car crash in Santa Clarita Valley, on Loop Place.”

We were in Santa Clarita Valley, hosting a get together at our house.

Someone else jumped in: “Where is Loop Place? Is it really close?” 

I saw questions and thoughts forming in several people’s eyes. Some were seriously considering a drive to Loop Place.

After a little back and forth, the decision was made: no one was driving to Loop Place, even if just ten minutes away.

In the morning, the news exploded all over the media. We learned everything about the young actor who left this earth too soon. The face was definitely familiar, although I’ve never seen a Fast and Furious movie, and they were apparently producing number seven.

I found myself reflecting upon this, and the fact that the whole thing happened so close to my house. I know that area well. There’s a Walmart store at the base of the foothill, a couple hundred yards from where it all went so wrong. One of the stores I regularly visit.   

The idea that I should go to the scene, though, just because it was near, and because a number of Hollywood stars have started coming to pay their respects, and because many other people have done so, seemed over the top.

This sad event brought to mind James Dean’s car crash and untimely death in 1955. It happened at an intersection of two highways, no more significant than any other intersection. Except this place located between Los Angeles and California Central Coast continues to attract hundreds of visitors every year. 

Is this unhealthy morbid fascination or human nature?

Perhaps a little of both.

History tells us that since the dawn of time, humans have had a fascination with tragedy. In Ancient Rome, watching a man fight a lion was considered entertainment.   

In a Science Daily article titled Morbidity Explained, psychologists point to our nature.  

“The morbidity of sorrow is often a productive sluggishness, a time when the soul slows down, too weary to go on, and takes stock of where it’s been and where it’s going. During these pauses, we often discover parts of ourselves we never knew we possessed, emotions and even talents that, properly activated, enrich our lives.”

So, pausing to reflect upon the macabre (especially that which happened in close proximity) is the soul’s way to slow down and recalibrate, re-plan… 

Of course, not everyone has this fascination. Psychology also tells us many people don’t even think in images because they don’t want to have the unwanted mental pictures. 

A few days later, with family visiting from Virginia, we took a trip to the store at the foothill of the crash site.

Sure, I can blame my husband. He’d been talking about showing family members the site before they departed.

Is it a tourist site already? I asked, partly annoyed, partly curious.

Curiosity won, and I joined the group for a drive up the hill. Several news vans sat parked there, and a group of people had gathered, more folks arriving by the minute.


We paid our respects, and as we drove back down the hill, I found myself thinking of the men (the actor and his friend) I never knew, of everything they’d left behind, of the mind-numbing tragedy, and for a while, it all hit as if I’d known them.   

There is a longer, deeper story here, but it will take some time to take stock of what happened.


9 responses to “Fixation with Morbid Scenes

  1. Powerful, well thought out and expressed post. I think sudden deaths like that awaken a bit of “what if that had been me” in us. And then you add the celebrity status, and the fact that he made movies about driving cars too fast and you’ve got a formula for curiosity seekers, and seekers of answers to a host of other questions.
    Tina @ Life is Good

  2. I think when these things happen, a couple of things run through people’s minds: “Thank heavens, it wasn’t me, I’m alive” and “See what happens to people who have everything – fame, money, etc., I’m better off just being me,” Visiting the site of a tragedy reinforces these thoughts.
    Me, I’d rather think about Christmas!

    • True, curiosity and human nature go hand in hand. Thanks, Noelle. Considering the kind of car they were driving, though, that wouldn’t have been too many regular people — too expensive.

  3. I am often curious about the crosses on the side of the road, or the flowers left in a spot. I wonder why the place a person dies sometimes becomes so important in remembering the person. I think the fame of a person makes it feel more personal to the rest of us than it would otherwise.

  4. So true. There is a morbidity with these events. Like death doesn’t come to us all? Young and old?
    I confess I check the local obits, looking/checking to see if anyone I know or anyone my age has died.

    • Existential questions are always with us. And the what ifs. We wonder about everything else, and so this issue is no different. Thank you for sharing your curiosity. I know someone else who reads the obits.

  5. I have to admit I really hate this fascination with real accidents and deaths. It probably is part of human nature, but I fight it if I find myself succumbing to the curiosity. For instance, crashes along the side of the road and the rubberneckers who hold up traffic. I don’t know what they’re wanting or hoping to see. I think this is tied into the papparazzi that the celebrities have to deal with (though maybe some draw the attention to themselves).

I welcome your thoughts.

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