on April 29, 2012
After reading and enjoying Eric G. Wilson's Against Happiness, I was pleased to see his latest offering, Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck. With much of the same scrutiny and informed insight, Wilson lifts the veil and illuminates the darker forces that shadow the human condition. What we often assume to be abnormal, taboo, or insensitive in our attractions or curiosities, Wilson claims instead to be affirming. Clearly it's a tough argument. But the book covers a great deal of territory - from cinema and the news media to 'celebrity' criminals to horrific public spectacles - to posit a convincing, if not a sometimes unsettling, argument. What I appreciate the most are the various angles he uses to support his ideas, borrowing from psychology, mythology, literature, etc. All in all, its a great read, deeply insightful, exhaustive in its coverage, and highly persuasive. I highly recommend the book.
on November 4, 2012
Welcome to the dark side.
And, now meet your guide: author Eric G. Wilson, whose book _Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck_ takes us on an illuminating voyage deep into our dark side. He explores the innate morbid curiosity found within all of us (yes, all of us!), and shows how our dark side might not be so dark after all. His book supports his core belief that:
"the morbid offers illuminations brighter than the sun...Darker emotional states--doubt, confusion, alienation, despair--inspire a deeper and more durable experience of the sacred than contentment does." (p. 163)
Each of the 50 bite-sized, yet content-rich, chapters delve into an aspect of morbid curiosity, which Eric defines as "an eager, open-minded interest in the macabre--disease or destruction or death--as a special invitation to think about life's meanings...a spiritual yearning, a hunger to penetrate the most profound mysteries of existence." (pp. 126, 186)
Our morbid curiosity is what brings us to the dark side. Gory horror films, the literary genre of tragedy, the misfortunes of others, flirtations with death, the increasingly popular dark tourism industry, our fascinations with serial killers--we just can't seem to get enough. Eric unearths the factors fueling this fascination with the macabre, including: it allows us to better empathize with the pain of others; it helps us build morale; it inspires ecstasy; it helps us become psychologically whole and integrate our psyche's destructive powers into our bright reason; it reminds us of our imperfections and cuts through the delusions of what's real vs. unattainable (i.e. a world that needs to be perpetually happy and bursting with butterflies and happy faces); it serves as a catalyst for purgation and catharsis for aggression; it allows for the incorporation of the shadow; it offers us a sense of community; it helps us find meaning in suffering and contemplate life's mysteries of love and death; and ultimately, it opens us to truth, good, and the beautiful.
He also extends his exploration of the dark side to fathom his own personal struggle with bipolar disorder and the unexpected wisdom of depression:
"Stripped of its dark powers, the disorder has emerged as more than an affliction. I can see it now as an indispensable energy in the shaping of my identity...my productive sensibilities, my love of contemplation, my honesty about life's troubles, my willingness to endure confusion and discover solutions...The morbidity of sorrow--not cultivated sorrow, but that which comes inevitably--is often a productive sluggishness, a time when the soul slows down, too weary to go on, and takes stock of where it's been and where it's going. During these gloomy pauses, we often discover parts of ourselves we never knew we possessed, talents that, properly activated, enrich our lives." (pp. 170, 172)
So, lead your morbid curiosity this way to discover the light underlying the darkness. But, be prepared, once you start reading, it'll be hard to look away.
on March 5, 2015
Wilson openly admits early in the book that he is over-generalizing, but he has to write the book because he is contracted to do so. The content is largely based on why he is drawn to macabre. Notwithstanding the limited scientific research, the book provides an interesting look into why we can't look away from a car wreck and why we seek out the viewing of violence. However, his writing style and approach is exhausting to read.
I felt like I was at a Hollywood party where the person I was speaking with spent the entire conversation listing every famous person he knew. He didn't work it into the conversation, he just listed them so that I would be very impressed. Except in the book, Wilson lists every book he has read and quotes anyone and anything that may appear intellectual. The references did little to enhance the reading and in many cases detracted or misdirected away from the point or conclusion. His prose was extremely verbose and unnecessarily poetic. He chose to find complicated ways to make simple statements.
Though Wilson appeared open-minded to many theories and concepts on violence in society, he has chosen to be have very strong and negative opinions regarding religious people. He openly insults Christianity and believes religious people are narrow-minded and self-righteous, yet his comments seem to be a little bit of both as well. Let me be clear, he didn't have anything negative about Muslims, and I am sure he would defend their actions and behaviors to the end, but it is completely acceptable to make these statements about Christians because it conforms with the leftest ideals of our mainstream media and academia. Though generalizations can be helpful and at times useful, he was overly harsh and critical when it did nothing to further his book's theme.
It is a short read that feels like a very long read.
on August 30, 2013
If you've every wondered why people (yourself included perhaps) enjoy the macabre and the grotesque this book will answer those questions. Wilson has a very friendly voice that will take you into the dark world of horror, pain, and death. He explores topics such as; dark tourism (people visiting places hit by Katrina), the fetishisation of the macabre, as well as media over the years that's turned this darkness into something we crave. Wilson uses very real interviews and examples to help bring his ideas to life and each chapter, usually only three or four pages long, brings on a new idea. The book is a fast read, only about 200 pages, and well worth your time. Wilson's dive into the things we all secretly long for, death and anguish, is fascinating. He never comes across as a psychopath who wishes death on others and seeks out danger. Instead, Wilson seems very much like you or me in his fear of his own enjoyment of grizzly things. He admits to being turned on by Morticia Adams as a boy and bets we've all experienced similar moments. If you can let your guard down and accept that these thoughts are natural than you'll find this book to be a fun trip.
on May 22, 2012
Eric Wilson's Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck is a book of exceptional - even surprising - depth and importance. My only (small) criticism lies with the book's title, which belies its nuance. Coupled with Wilson's penchant for staccato-short sentences packed within bite-sized chapters, one might be led to assume that Train Wreck is a book that sensationalizes what we all know to be humanity's tendency to gravitate toward the morbid; an opportunistic reworking of the mass media's decades-long addiction to hyped-up, dumbed-down, violence-based "news" (ideally filmed), set to the score of Glenn Frey's 1982 hit, Dirty Laundry. Nothing could be further from the truth. Wilson's book may be an easy read, but it is not a simple one, at least for the thoughtful reader.
Wilson's approach is exhaustive, with the proviso that, when the subject is death, the possibilities for exploration are endless. It is also intensely personal, honest and creative. He is a writer of impressive insight, yet that thoughtfulness comes coupled with an almost endearing willingness to question his own motives (seen in his interaction with Joyce Carol Oates, particularly), the accuracy and completeness of his thesis: That there is something far more meaningful and vital than is implied by an attraction to mortality and death that is commonly viewed as being inherent, thoughtless, or the sign of a defective character (despite the irony that these tendencies reside in so many of us). These self-doubting detours, however, do not weaken Wilson's argument; they only serve to make it broader, more comprehensive.
If there is one central thought that kept occurring to me as I read Train Wreck, it is this: What a wonderful wellspring of conversation this book could be, were companions on hand, willing and able to delve deeply into the myriad tunnels in which such a conversation would inevitably lead. In fewer than 200 pages, Wilson takes the reader on journeys that, in retrospect, are astonishingly diverse. Yet they are largely products of his own interests, reflections of his personal journey, moored to his particular areas of expertise (English professor, father, spouse...). What the book evokes in the reader, however, are a constant stream of complementary thoughts and remembrances, jarred loose from their sometimes well-protected hiding places by Wilson's rhetoric. Here are a few of my own:
This past winter, I was fortunate enough to spend a week in Paris with my fiancée. As is my tendency when traveling any distance, I immediately began sifting through guidebooks in an effort to identify the one that best matched our (at least my) approach to travel. One evening while reading, I came across a sidebar reference to one Franz "The Birdman" Reichelt, a character linked with Paris' rich past, but of whom I had hitherto been ignorant. It seems Mr. Reichelt had, in 1912, jumped from the Eiffel Tower in a dramatic and - as it turned out - horribly misguided attempt to fly, wearing a winged, flying squirrel-esque suit. We would be in Paris on the 100th anniversary of his death. What I found truly fascinating and disturbing about Reichelt's story was that his plummet was filmed; two cameras recorded the event, one on the platform where he stood for nearly a minute, clearly gathering the nerve to jump, the other on the ground below, where a vast crowd had gathered to watch.
I watched the video numerous times, sent it along to friends. To state the obvious, it captured a man's death, which thankfully is not something I see every day. The fact that the film was a century old distanced me from the reality of what happened, on one level, but also gave this singular event an anchored, chronological permanence that might have been lost had I experienced it as part of the non-stop swirl of daily news that inundates us today. Paris, this most beautiful of cities, of Light, of Love, of Art. But also one of the world's great stages for public death; Reichelt's offering was but one small scene in a two millennia long performance of executions and other forms of institutionalized murder or acts of suicide that the city's inhabitants (and, I guess, me) have embraced as one of their most enduring forms of public entertainment. How fascinating and weird is that?
Poet and farmer Wendell Berry in A Man Walking and Singing, addresses death (and life) in, to me, the most poignant and meaningful of ways. Berry writes:
Who is it? speaking to me of death's beauty.
I think it is my own black angel, as near me
as my flesh. I am never divided from his darkness,
his face the black mask of my face. My eyes
live in his black eye-holes. On his black wings
I rise to sing.
But the man so forcefully walking,
say where he goes,
say what he hears and what he sees
and what he knows
to cause him to stride so merrily.
To his death? Yes.
He walks and sings to his death.
And winter will equal spring.
And for the lovers, even
while they kiss, even though
it is spring, the day ends.
But to the sound of his passing
he sings. It is a kind of triumph
that he grieves - thinking
of the white lilacs in bloom,
profuse, fragrant, white
in excess of all seasonal need,
and of the mockingbird's crooked
arrogant notes, hooking him to the sky
as though no flight
or dying could equal him
at his momentary song.
Finally, interviewed by Vanity Fair in 2005, reclusive writer Cormac McCarthy said the following:
"Most people don't ever see anyone die. It used to be if you grew up in a family you saw everybody die. They died in their bed at home with everyone gathered around. Death is the major issue in the world. For you, for me, for all of us. It just is. To not be able to talk about it is very odd."
McCarthy went on to state that it simply was not possible to take seriously a writer who did not address death. Wilson has nothing to fear on that account.