Rag Doll Physics and You

What’s perhaps most disturbing about the 2010 Olympic Luger Noder Kumaritashvili’s death was its familiarity.

When I first watched the video of 2010 Olympic Luger Noder Kumaritashvili’s accident, I was struck—not by the gruesome or graphic nature of the clip—but by its familiarity. Like many gamers, I’ve seen this sort of thing before. Countless times:

Life doesn’t have a reset button. But, when videographers and reporters depict events in a similar fashion—showing only the incident and none of the aftermath—the mind tends to catalog the event in abstraction. Without the sense of finality or consequence, significance is lost.

Those sensitive to violence will have more trouble letting go of what they just saw: for them, the image shocks them and significance isn’t as likely lost. But, for others used to violence and realistic depictions of violence, it’s more likely to be stored as another datapoint for how a human body can crumble at speed.

In discussing this with my friend, Ben Edwards, he remarked how age groups have responded with stark contrast: on average, people tend to be increasingly upset in correlation with age. And it makes sense: the younger you are, the greater chance you’ve been exposed to abstracted violence. The older you are, the greater chance you’ve either experienced real violence or none at all.

I’m not claiming that familiarity with violence is the problem here; but, rather, in presenting violence in the same cut-away shot as a video game does reduces its meaning and impact. And, while I understand that the “money shot” is in those critical albeit violent moments, the media should take note to craft a story that does not shy away from the aftermath of the incident. The Huffington Post has an appropriate feature.

How we remember what we’ve seen is more important than what we’ve seen. And, in order to distinguish real events from virtual events, we need to be mindful: how we frame violence changes the way it’s absorbed. A viewer need not have to review or watch the aftermath of a violent event. But, it’s important that we frame the violence appropriately so we can make sense of it, remembering that the victim often doesn’t get a reset button. Or, if you’re not going to frame it properly, don’t show it at all.