I just got finished watching a brief online video of a fight that occurred during a professional hockey game. Don’t ask me who the participants were, or what teams were involved, or even when the fight occurred. I have no idea.
I am not a hockey fan. I have been to only one game in my life: about 45 years and one or two Madison Square Gardens ago, my friend Kenny Mancher and his father took me to a minor league Long Island Ducks game. I think I’ve only watched one game on TV: the 1980 Olympic game against the USSR when we won the Cold War.
I’m sorry, but to me, hockey just looks like a bunch of Canadians skating back and forth and banging into each other. They’re not obviously Canadians, of course, but deep down, I know they are. Even if they’re from Eastern Europe, I’m pretty sure they drink Molsons in the locker room.
So you may wonder why I stopped what I was doing (which, admittedly, wasn’t much) to watch a hockey fight video.
Well, it was because I was warned not to. The teaser for the video on the AOL home page said “Warning: May be disturbing to some.”
Who wouldn’t watch that?
And I was very disappointed. With a warning like that, I was expecting one of the participants to end up with a puck in an unlikely place, but it seemed like a pretty typical hockey fight to me: two big guys (Canadians, probably), flinging equipment around and taking swings at each other while trying to stay upright on a slick surface.
But my point is, is there any better way to get people to do anything than by warning them not to?
What is it about humans that causes this phenomenon? You wouldn’t think it would be very helpful from an evolutionary perspective. (“Now whatever you do, Oog, don’t touch the sleeping saber tooth tiger to see how soft its hair is. Really, Oog, I wouldn’t do that. Oh, poor Oog. Can I have his club?”) On the other hand, maybe the only reason we came down from the trees in the first place was because one monkey warned another monkey not to.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll watch just about anything if it might disturb or offend me. I mean, if I was walking down the street and some guy came at me with a gun and told me he was going to kill me, I would find that disturbing, and I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to have it happen. But if you tell me you’ve got a video that’s going to disturb me, I’ll bring the popcorn.
Of course, people have different opinions about what is or is not offensive and/or disturbing. Many women, for instance, find it disturbing that many men think The Three Stooges are hilarious. I find it disturbing that many women, after complaining about their husbands watching The Three Stooges, think nothing of sitting through a 10-hour Bridezillas marathon.
We all know that when the media warns us that something might be disturbing or offensive, it’s really code for “the following will appeal to your most prurient interests and we are warning you so you won’t sue us because you were offended and/or disturbed by what you’re about to see, and you are about to see it, because there’s no way you’re going to skip something that may be disturbing or offensive, which is what we’re counting on.”
And, by the way, in case you missed the offensive and/or disturbing content the first time, the media will show it repeatedly for days. I still have a mental image etched permanently on my brain of the play that ended Joe Theisman’s football career, which was shown continuously for weeks. If they’d had as many available cable channels back then as they do now, someone might have launched the 24-hour Watch Joe Theisman’s Leg Bend the Wrong Way Channel.
How many times did they show the towers coming down? It doesn’t get much more disturbing than that. And how many times did they show the bombs going off in Boston last month? Why was that repetition necessary, especially since, these days, if you have an urgent need to see a bomb go off and knock that older man in the orange top to the ground, you can pretty much watch it “on demand?” (And guess what? That content “has been identified by the YouTube community as being potentially offensive…”)
Honestly, have you ever not looked at something solely because you were warned? Of course not. (As proof, let me point out that you are reading this post.) Even if you work for some goody-two-shoes organization whose mission it is to protect the public from offensive and/or disturbing material, you would ignore the warning because (you would say to anyone who asked) you need to know what type of offensive and/or disturbing material you’re trying to protect the public from.
The truth is, putting such a warning on something will attract many more people who wouldn’t have watched otherwise than it will chase away people who would have watched it but will now heed your warning.
You know what? We are just one screwed up species.
See you soon.