MegaZone (zonereyrie) wrote,

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Synchronicity and schadenfreude

z_gryphon recently touched on this in a couple of entries.

I have a macabre interest in engineering disasters - freak explosions, building collapses, ship wrecks, bridge failures, etc. Because of this I tend to watch a lot of TV shows that cover this kind of thing - Failure Analysis, Extreme Evidence, Deep Sea Detectives, Modern Marvels (which has a run of 'Engineering Disasters' episodes), and, thanks to TiVo finding it as a suggestion a few months back, Seconds From Disaster. I also watched, and saved, a number of the World Trade Center analysis shows. Now, I'm not just into engineering *disasters* - I also watch the other Modern Marvels episodes (though, sometimes they stretch 'Modern' past the breaking point - lately they've had episodes entitled, I kid you not, 'Ancient Discoveries: Something-or-other'. Right there in the title Modern Marvels: Ancient Discoveries. Hello?! This is some new definition of 'modern' with which I was previously unacquainted.), Extreme Engineering, Building the Ultimate, etc. I get into specials on the Big Dig, and I'm praying they'll start making some more about the new SF-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Anyway, as z_gryphon noted, if you watch enough of these shows, over a long enough period of time, you start to recognize them. "I can name that disaster in one sound bite!" And some of them are like 'classics' that keep getting covered by new shows - The Wreck of the Sunset Limited, The Piper Alpha Explosion, The Hyatt Regency Skyway Collapse, Mulholland's Folly, The Bright Field Incident, The Collision at Tenerife, The Kings Cross Fire, etc.

Some of them are darkly comical - like The Great Molasses Flood, or deeply disturbing - like the SL-1 Nuclear Reactor Disaster. The best are the ones where things go Big Time Wrong, and lots of shit gets trashed - and no one dies. Because then you don't have any guilt over sitting there going "Daaaaamn, will you look at that." The Bright Field Incident is good for that - Tenerife, eh, not so good. The Bright Field Incident even gave me funky deja vu. I'd seen it enough times that when I was in New Orleans for the first time, and I was at Riverwalk, I was hit with deja vu and was recognizing things and at first I didn't know how or why - then I remembered Riverwalk is where it happened.

It can be very interesting to see the same disaster covered by different programs. Extreme Evidence, which airs on CourtTV, tends to take a more 'who or what was responsible for this' approach, Seconds from Disaster is 'what chain of events snowballed into this tragedy', Modern Marvels tends to be 'will you look at how fast things can turn sour when you least expect it'. It is kind of interesting to learn some new tidbit about something you've seen covered several times. And sometimes programs will focus on different theories behind the same incident, depending on the journalistic slant the creators take.

I will say that, if you have any kind of latent, or not so latent, paranoia - do not watch these programs. Every time a building creaks, every time a bridge sways, every time the plane your on makes a weird noise, you'll remember some programs where some little, inconsequential, easily ignored thing cascades into dozens of people winding up dead. It can be enough to make you never feel safe anywhere, ever. Think you're safe hiding in your house? How about a giant sinkhole swallowing it whole, as happened in San Francisco? Or how about your entire neighborhood blowing up like in Guadalajara? :-)

But I've noticed something else weird about these programs - there is a clustering effect. It seems like they have a tendency to all cover the same events within a few week span. The NY State Thruway Bridge Collapse is one near and dear to me, since it was local news for me while I was in HS. So I tend to notice when it is mentioned. No mention for years - then two shows within a couple of weeks. Modern Marvels, and I forget, maybe Extreme Evidence... Tonight's Modern Marvels was 'Engineering Disasters 16', and half the show could've been the Cliff Notes version of a couple of Seconds from Disaster episodes I've watched in just the past couple of weeks - Inferno at Guadalajara and the Flood at Stava Dam. Sometimes if not the same specific disaster, there seems to be a theme - recently there was a small cluster of tunnel fire shows - Alpine highway tunnel, Chunnel fire, Austrian ski resort tunnel fire.

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