Authenticity, Dying, Television

Reality TV

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.

2 thoughts on “Reality TV”

  1. The nightmares sound like a symptom of secondary trauma (a.k.a. compassion fatigue). Luckily, you and the other firefighters had each other to debrief with, which probably helped you deal with the stress and grief.

    I agree — death should never be cheapened, never treated trivially. Life is precious, and the end of life should be treated with gravity as well.


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