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Offbeat 19 September 2014

If you want someone sparkling and scintillating on a Friday night, you don’t want me. I’m about as dull as a slab of concrete or just plain weird to the point of being disruptive. That’s the way things roll on this side. I also refuse to waste Saturday mornings on hangovers, so your Friday night should be safe, and livelier without me brooding in a corner.
Friday nights are quite good for Facebook. It seems like I am not alone in my desire to stay home and avoid the party, so there is plenty of opportunity for post swapping and chat. The spin-off to that is that I still get to stay in touch with the world, and Windhoek.
Last Friday night, a huge bang was heard in Klein Windhoek. A lot of people were agog.
What happened? Where is it? Did you hear the sirens? Does the air have a funny chemical smell? It came across that people were half hoping for a bomb. Maybe that would have been some kind of entertainment.
Actually, what happened, I am told, is that both the back wheels of a truck burst in the vicinity of Avis.
 The location of the mountains made for spectacular acoustic amplification. The sirens were the fire brigade going to investigate, I believe. Maybe they were also hoping for a thrill, and an opportunity to be heroic in the face of mad bombers.
That was fairly mundane, except I suppose for the truck driver.
The thing that struck me was a lot of people seemed to want it to be the worst possible thing. I had to ask myself, why?

The only answer I could find was that it was an emotional moment. There was the obvious thing of fear. Fear is definitely thrilling if it is a reminder that there are things to fear, and not fear of an immediate and present danger.
The popularity of the various forms of horror literature back this up.
That would probably be followed by moral outrage. Everyone loves a bit of moral outrage. Look at the responses to abuse of one-legged lepers in far-off places in the globe, and suchlike ‘stuff’ on Facebook.
And there would be anger, a sense of ‘us vs them’. You can also see that on Facebook, particularly on some conservation forums, where actual lapses in conservation, for instance poaching, seem to be little more than an excuse for xenophobia towards nationalities, rather than anger at actual individuals who really do deserve it.
The thing is that this is emotion at a remove. If for instance, you were abused, instead of the one-legged leper in some far-off country that would be an immediate emotion.
The one-legged leper is far away, and hence at a remove with less immediate relevance.
Why absorb outrage, fear, anger or sadness if it is not immediately relevant to you?
There might be an argument for general morality, but then why not go and find a one-legged leper who is being abused locally, closer to home, and use the opportunity to fix things?
The answer has to be that people need emotions, but because the sources of those emotions are far away, they are  less threatening and don’t, in my egregious example, involve contact with a leper. If you accept this scenario, which you should, then the only explanation for absorbing these emotions is recreation.
The idea of recreational emotion is not particularly outlandish, in light of modern entertainment. People watch romance movies to feel romantic, horror movies to feel scared, soap opera to feel moral outrage and certain types of drama to feel bored. The difference is that because something is happening somewhere far away in the real world, I think that the emotion achieves a greater degree of validity. Perhaps what this says is that people have lost the ability to feel and express emotions, maybe due to the restraints of society and not having enough time. They need the lacking emotion to be topped up by distant events. I suppose it is some kind of emotional ecology: fill in the gaps.
Now you know why the Kardashians or Paris Hilton make it big in ‘reality TV’. If only I had the need to feel revulsion and ennui, I could join in that fun as well.

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