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Sunday 23rd September 2012

I made the mistake of watching a programme about the demise of flight 447 on 4OD this evening. These real life disaster documentaries are almost magnetically alluring and magnetically repellent at the same time. You know you aren't going to like it, but you watch it anyway, feeling sick at yourself for using real life tragedy as entertainment and terrified by the random chance and bad luck that could lead to your own demise. And yet, there is some crumb of humanity left within you, because although you know things are going to end badly, there's still a part of you that is hoping that somehow it's all going to work out OK.
Perhaps that is just indicative of how we have reality and fiction confused. Because in the film version the inexperienced co-pilot would realise that pulling back on the throttle was the wrong thing to do and with 2000 feet to go he would reverse his actions and just manage to pull the plane up as the tail clipped the waves. But that didn't happen in the real-life version. The confused men couldn't make sense of what was going on and everyone died. Basically they just flew their plane into the ocean and whilst of course there is empathy for the victims of this almost senseless accident, being selfish self-obsessed humans the over-riding feeling is of, "That could happen the next time I am in a plane." It's pornography of death and of grief and in many ways I think a "serious" programme about a tragedy is more offensive than a jokey one. Yet I still watched it all. I felt a bit disgusted with myself afterwards and my life felt meaningless, but that's the way with pornography.
TV and religion make us believe that there will always be a deus ex machina, that a Superman or a Jesus or sometimes even a Shrek will come to save us. Even more rationally we just trust that a doctor or a scientist or a pilot will know what to do. Something like an aeroplane is so well designed and has so many safety features that it couldn't just be allowed to fly into the sea, surely? But life isn't like that. Sometimes stuff just goes wrong and no one saves you. As the plane descended the co-pilot said something along the lines of "I don't believe it, we're going to crash. It doesn't make any sense."
The programme had the respect not to take the flight box recording right up to the moment of impact (I am assuming that's the case - they might just not have said anything else) but the horrible part of my brain that was making me watch this wanted to hear more and wanted to wallow in the tragedy. But the punishment for my sin was to go to bed fearful of the fragility of my own life and worrying about the same unlikely thing happening to the next plane I am on. The crime and the punishment come together for the ghoulish voyeurs who like this kind of entertainment.
Possibly we think that by considering that terrible outcome that that becomes an amulet against it really happening to us. If I consider that I might die in this way then it can't possibly happen to me as that would be too weird a coincidence. I think that although I spent nearly my whole life from the age of 7 considering and predicting my own demise I don't actually believe I am going to die. And so far I have been proven right. And annoyingly you will never be able to prove to me that I am wrong. I'll either be still alive to counter your claims or dead and unable to process your (admittedly quite strong) evidence. Thus I am immortal.

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