I sometimes wonder about the attraction of Reality TV. Specifically, about all the death and dying on Reality TV.
I was asked this morning whether I had ever seen a person die, and the question stirred some memories. Long ago, during high school, I worked part time in a funeral home. In that job, I became familiar with the aftermath of dying, but I did not witness someone actually dying until a few short years later.
That happened after I started working as a fire fighter to pay my way through college. One night, around two in the morning, we rolled on a car accident in which a man had gotten drunk and flown off a country road at close to 100 miles an hour. That is, his car somehow became air born, left the road, and then hit a walnut tree four or so feet up its trunk. In all the confused bouncing around, the man got thrown from his car — then the car bounced back to freakishly land right on top of him. He was two hours dying.
I didn’t know him, but I was almost crying by the time he was dead; more in frustration than in sorrow. We — my crew — were trying so hard to save him.
My dreams were profoundly disturbed for three nights following his death. I later found out that always would be the case: After witnessing someone broken and dying, my dreams would be extremely vivid, yet colorless: darkness stirred into troubled waters for — usually — the next three nights.
Once, a couple years after that first accident, I happened to compare notes with two other fire fighters, and we discovered it was the same for all three of us: Our dreams were almost always dark and disturbing for the next three nights.
I don’t recall having those dreams following when someone was already dead by the time we got to the scene. But I recall they were all but inevitable after a dying. I don’t know, though, whether such dreams were just the case for the three of us, or whether dreams like those are much more common.
After that first night, I almost incidentally lost any interest in watching Reality TV. It seemed to me that reality as seen through a TV camera was somehow “cheaper” — in most every sense of that word — than being there. And I’m not entirely sure how to express this, but perhaps on some level I preferred someone’s dying should not feel cheap to me.