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Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We…
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Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can't Look Away

by Eric G. Wilson

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Something went awry when Wilson decided to invoke the word train wrecks. This book isn't about the psychology of train wrecks as used in modern parlance. I, and most others, see a train wreck as an inevitable yet compelling situation, a metaphorical disaster or melodramatic sideshow, that is so fascinating we get sucked into watching in spite of ourselves.

With that in mind, it is curious Wilson more or less analyzes horror movies, dark tourism, and elements of life that seem more associated with morbidity or terror, not a visceral desire to rubberneck at the outrageous.

Hannibal Lecter is not a train wreck. Neither is Dexter. 9/11 was not a train wreck. Daniel Pearl's beheading was not a train wreck. Serial killers are not train wrecks. They are elements that invoke horror and terror (and the author's dialogue with Joyce Carol Oates on the topic of the serial killer had so little bearing on either the title or the actual topic of the book that I wonder what was really happening). A train wreck is when your ex-wife shows up drunk at your wedding to your second wife, strips naked and takes a dump on the cake and everyone in the reception hall is shocked, SHOCKED, but cannot look away long enough to call the police.

The psychological impulses that cause us to watch grue videos on Documenting Reality, that cause us to watch the news for hours during terrorism attacks and natural disasters, are not the same impulses that cause us to watch the comments blow up on a particularly histrionic feminist website. ( )
  oddbooks | Feb 28, 2014 |
Like many people, author Eric Wilson likes to tap into his dark side, or as Jung believed, his shadow side: the side that encompasses many of the aspects of ourselves we like least, and which we often try to secret away from others. In "Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can't Look Away," Wilson, a Gothic literature professor, attempts to shed light on why people rubberneck at traffic accidents, love horror films, enjoy a perverse thrill at the downfall of others, engage in risky physical activities such as skydiving, and otherwise seem to derive pleasure from dark, gruesome, macabre events and activities. Two of Wilson's main points are that the aesthetic aspect of the above examples allow us to approach our mortality in a more life-affirming way, and that the hopelessness of the dark, encountering the sublime enables us to deeply and authentically experience the sacred. A quick read of close to 50 brief chapters, some merely a page long, Wilson makes interesting points, and certainly details interesting characters, in his book. But the narrative does not flow, as many of Wilson's ideas seem to stand alone, as though they are different points of entry to his problem without any semblance of a link between them. Had this been a New Yorker-style feature length article, it would have been a more cohesive work. As a book, Wilson's premise felt thin and stretched. ( )
  grkmwk | Oct 2, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374150338, Hardcover)

Why can’t we look away?

Whether we admit it or not, we’re fascinated by evil. Dark fantasies, morbid curiosities, Schadenfreude: As conventional wisdom has it, these are the symptoms of our wicked side, and we succumb to them at our own peril. But we’re still compelled to look whenever we pass a grisly accident on the highway, and there’s no slaking our thirst for gory entertainments like horror movies and police procedurals. What makes these spectacles so irresistible?

In Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck, the scholar Eric G. Wilson sets out to discover the source of our attraction to the caustic, drawing on the findings of biologists, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, philosophers, theologians, and artists. A professor of English literature and a lifelong student of the macabre, Wilson believes there’s something nourishing in darkness. “To repress death is to lose the feeling of life,” he writes. “A closeness to death discloses our most fertile energies.”

His examples are legion, and startling in their diversity. Citing everything from elephant graveyards and Susan Sontag’s On Photography to the Tiger Woods sex scandal and Steel Magnolias, Wilson finds heartening truths wherever he confronts death. In Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck, the perverse is never far from the sublime. The result is a powerful and delightfully provocative defense of what it means to be human—for better and for worse.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:01:41 -0400)

"Why can't we look away? Whether we admit it or not, we're fascinated by evil. Dark fantasies, morbid curiosities, Schadenfreude: As conventional wisdom has it, these are the symptoms of our wicked side, and we succumb to them at our own peril. But we're still compelled to look whenever we pass a grisly accident on the highway, and there's no slaking our thirst for gory entertainments like horror movies and police procedurals. What makes these spectacles so irresistible? In Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck, the scholar Eric G. Wilson sets out to discover the source of our attraction to the caustic, drawing on the findings of biologists, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, philosophers, theologians, and artists. A professor of English literature and a lifelong student of the macabre, Wilson believes there's something nourishing in darkness. 'To repress death is to lose the feeling of life,' he writes. 'A closeness to death discloses our most fertile energies.'"--from cover, p. [2]… (more)

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