Have you ever had one of those days where you just can’t seem to get off the couch, and mindless channel surfing transforms from a merely a procrastination technique to the day’s activity? If so, you may be familiar with Spike TV’s 1000 Ways to Die, a series dedicated to retelling the real-life stories of those who have fallen victim to strange and unusual deaths. Far from an educational or austere program, the show is littered with dramatized and embellished reenactments of real life events. To say the show’s producers have used an artistic license is an understatement – each story is told by a sardonic narrator who uses dark humor to show his unsympathetic view of each victim. The victim is usually presented as an idiotic, deserving fool, for which death is a rightful result of their poor decisions. This is perhaps best illustrated by the cringe-worth puns that end each episode. After being described as a steroid-pumped, SUV-loving cyclist-hater, a man who gets hit by a semi-truck after driving two cyclists off the road is described as going “from road rage, to road kill.” To grasp this show’s mocking, unabashed humor, I believe this clip speaks for itself:
It’s obvious that 1000 Ways to Die is not the next critically acclaimed show that is promised to spellbind viewers from across the nation. But as somebody who has watched more episodes than I’m willing to admit, what makes this show so entertaining? And do we believe ethical to use other people’s misfortune as a source of entertainment? The former question has a slightly easier answer – there’s something Americans love about pranks, tricks, and those rare “oops” moments. Funny at the time, these moments become even funnier then captured on camera to enjoy again and again (consider the popularity of a recent YouTube video showing a woman accidentally lighting herself on fire while twerking)
Although these videos may make us cringe with the imagined pain of the victims, we find it ok to laugh, because we know they’re going to be ok. Maybe badly hurt, but alive. Laughing at their death would just be cruel.
With this in mind, why do we allow ourselves to laugh at the foolishness of people on 1000 Ways to Die? Is this ethical? I argue that the answer comes from the clever words of the sadistic narrator. Since the narrator makes each death seem like the victim’s fault, we find it ok to laugh at them – after all, they deserved it. Their poor decisions justify the punishment, and we can justify our laughter.
Although 1000 Ways to Die does not present death in the most graceful or respectful manner, I support it’s presence on TV simply because it gives death a presence. Many Americans are fearful and unfamiliar with death. 1000 Ways to Die uses humor to lighten the sober theme, a clever trick to make viewers comfortable with the topic of death. For those uncomfortable with the disease-stricken and war-torn bodies on CNN, I suggest giving 1000 Way to Die a try.
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