Why Do We Watch?
Yesterday Wildcat Video and the Dawson Creek Diner were consumed by a fire. Today the photos and videos are rampant. I could easily put a link to any one of several youtube videos showing the fire. I’ve looked at a couple but the only question that keeps prodding me is ‘Why do we watch?’
Many years ago I watched my home burn to the ground as I stood and watched. The second time I lost my home to fire I wasn’t there, couldn’t watch, and sometimes I think it was better that way.
Why do we watch? Is it the awe at the terrifying power of the flames, is it some strange form of thrill seeking? Obviously those in charge of putting the fire out or keeping their nearby homes or businesses safe have a bona fide reason to keep an eye on a fire. But why do people with no vested interest watch? What do we expect to see? I guess we’ve been watching fires for millennia and the fascination may be a part of our psyche, our human make up.
Why do we watch? I just don’t know. I only know that after you lose a home or your business to fire nothing is ever the same again. You may rebuild, you may even stop thinking of it as it recedes into ancient history in your life, but just catch a glimpse of that black smoke on the horizon and you feel that twist in your gut. You know that smoke. You know that someone will feel the way you felt that day. I am so sorry for the loss to our local business owners and I hope they can put this behind them and start anew. I will be there as soon as the door opens, returning my rented videos.
Anthropologically speaking, I believe we watch because that’s what we have been conditioned to do over millennia. We watch what is unusual (and potentially dangerous to us) so that we can learn about a situation we may come into contact with only a handful of times in our lives. While watching a fire we are evaluating how a fire acts on a building, how quickly it moves, what it touches and doesn’t, how we’d escape if we were in that building, etc. It’s part of our survival instinct. At least, that’s how I see it – I’m only an amateur anthropologist. Very amateur. 😉
Thanks Dawn-Ann, amateur or not, you’ve made some very intelligent observations. Thank you for sharing them.
Linda, there are a couple of reasons why I stop to watch a fire like the one we had in our town yesterday. Even though we don’t have any money in the business, it is still a part of our town, a part of our personal history and in a way nothing will ever be the same again now that the fire has made its claim. I have spent a lot of time standing at the bus stop by the Bargain Shop, staring and daydreaming, looking at the mural that was one of the walls of Wild Cat Video. I made a lot of decisions, plans, dreams as I stood there waiting for the bus. It is a place that is/was part of my personal history.
I am a person who observes. I use that in my photography, my art, my writing…it is as much a part of me as my hazel eyes. I watched the professionals working with skill and precision, then I watched the other observers and saw a kelidascope of emotions wash over their faces. I think many felt the need to be there for the historical record, as witnesses.
Personally, I have a fear, or perhaps just a great respect, for fire. It scares me, fascinates me. It is something that has lessons to teach, if I could only grasp it. But no, I never really have been able to learn those lessons, so fire remains something unpredictable and deadly in a world where we have learned to control so much…
It was with a cloud of sadness and a subdued spirit that I continued on and about my business in town.
I am sure there are a lot of different reasons why people stand and watch as helpless observers as fire takes what it can. The very helplessness of it all certainly makes most of us pause and think.