The first person I ever saw die on a computer or television screen was former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. In late December 2006, Hussein, found guilty of committing crimes against humanity, was hanged. Soon after, an amature video taken by a soldier in attendance spread around the Internet.
I remember contemplating whether or not I actually wanted to see the video. I ultimately settled on the decision that I should—because, after all, it was there.
This video was leaked months before the first iPhone was released. But since that time, the industry for “gore porn”—as audiences refer to the violent videos—has spread on the Internet. What once existed only on the fringes of digital life is now a relatively commonplace, polished experience, like watching Netflix, or making a playlist on Spotify.
As writer Nicholas Tufnell wondered in an essay for Kernel, nowadays sites like LiveLeak and Orgish offer users a curated, polished way to explore often gory videos involving death and suffering.
What are we to make of this? Tufwell asked. “These communities and resources are getting larger every year and, in turn, it seems the act of watching people die is steadily losing its ability to shock or disturb as this behaviour seeps into the mainstream and as the shock websites hosting the content become more extreme.”
For insight, Tufnell contacted a regular contributor to these sites who (anonymously) explained his fascination with videos about death:
I don’t give a fuck. I watched a kid get run over this morning. One moment he was there the next he was dead. He was probably worried about his pimples, his dorky laugh, his shitty clothes and then all of a sudden, that’s it, lights out. The fact he’s dead isn’t what’s tragic, what’s tragic is he probably wasted so much of his time worrying about pointless shit. I guess at least his death is now helping me to help myself, at least he can offer me (and others) that.
The piece offers a rare glimpse into the lives of the growing community of Internet users who are fascinated with death. If not always agreeable, the reasons the anonymous contributer gives Tufnell are often unexpected: “Watching people die has helped with my anxiety. I used to get really anxious about stupid stuff. Now I find it hard to be anxious because I’ve seen some seriously messed up things. What I’m trying to say is, I never realised how lucky I was until I got into gore and murder.”
Ultimately, whether or not death should have a community on the Internet is probably more of an academic question than anything. After all, if it’s there, people will watch it.
Photo by Bob Broglia/Flickr