A Billion Disturbing Images and Videos Later, One Finally Gets Me
This is a personal post by JDCA Associate Editor Drew.
I’ve seen some terrible things.
I don’t mean that in the sense that I’ve seen them firsthand. I’m not a war veteran, an emergency room nurse or someone plagued by the trauma of witnessing some kind of awful accident. No, I’m merely a kid, and one of many, who had his childhood intersect with the rise of high speed Internet. And with that came access to a great many strange things — grisly, bizarre photos and videos shared among friends in a constantly escalating contest that has continued for years, spilling over into the present day. I can’t even imagine what young kids now are looking at and passing around.
The “shock video” has become a staple of this discourse, as people try to constantly one-up one another with the most hilariously or disgustingly depraved or peculiar things they can scrape off the depths of the Internet. The names of infamous content is traded like currency, with the ability to withstand what they show like a badge of honor. Think about YouTube and how there’s an entire market for “reaction videos”, where we merely watch people’s reactions to the aforementioned content. It’s a perverse and weird little — or big — thing. I promise this sub-Internet isn’t the main reason I won “Most Likely To Be Online” in high school.
On top of this I consider myself, and I know Associate Editor Nick does as well, a horror film junkie. But we’re not scouring the theaters for remakes or sequels, we’re looking at the increasingly ghastly environment of foreign horror and often looking back to some of the most shocking films ever made. These films offer fictionalized depictions of violence, yet tactful filmmaking can render their psychological scares even more pertinent than something that’s real and to a larger extent, tangible.
With all this being said, I’ve never turned something off. Over the years my skin has hardened, less and less vulnerable to horror and disgust. Of course, things still can terrify me, but I don’t feel moved enough to avoid finishing something.
This changed the other night with the strangest of content, an HBO documentary on obesity in America. HBO’s latest mini-series entitled The Weight Of The Nation is a pointed look at how an epidemic of obesity is ravaging the American people, and damning current children (where 18% are obese) and future generations of children. Made by HBO in conjunction with the Institute of Medicine, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Health and others, the documentary series is a valuable means of education on an issue that many may not truly understand the severity of. Though the myriad of talking heads across medical professions and overweight Americans can grow tiring, the statistics and images remain striking. The problem is multi-faceted from our portion sizes, to how food is advertised to how poor communities lack access to cheaper, healthier options.
It is one set of images in particular in the series first part, entitled “Consequences”, that for the first time ever truly drove me to consciously turn something off out of fear. Having to go watch it again to gather some information for this piece is proving just as difficult.
This particular segment focuses on Mary and Dan Haley, an old, married couple from Westford, Massachusetts. The two recount their married lives and speak about how they were never obese, but only a “little bit overweight”. With a regretful tone, Dan looks through old photos, tracking their very gradual, but steady rate of weight gain over years and years. Dan develops type 2 diabetes. “We could have done a lot of things better if we knew what it were leading to,” Dan says remorsefully.
HBO ratchets up the worry by emphasizing the physical toll of diabetes on Dan, thus inflicting it upon the viewer visually. We see Dan’s stump of a leg, one amputated due to complications from diabetes. At the doctor’s office when his eyes are examined the doctor speaks of Dan developing cataracts. When the doctor removes Dan’s shoe and sock on the other foot, he sees a wound not healing properly, a festering sore that is the result of diabetic neuropathy. At this point my heart began racing and I felt a little bit lightheaded. I didn’t know where it would go and I didn’t want to watch anymore. I got up and turned it off.
Although these images would scare anyone — especially a diabetic like myself — there was something else about the scene’s construction that shook me. It was Dan’s shaking voice and the emptiness in his eyes. It was the sound and look of hopelessness, the sound of someone dealing with past regrets while not knowing how they could improve or thinking they were unable to fix them for the future. For me, it was one of the most devastating and disturbing things I’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing. And for some of the things I’ve sat through willingly, that’s saying a good bit.
But in a way I’m happy that I saw Dan’s damaged body, his battered soul. When he and Mary smile before the scene transition while speaking about their marriage anniversary, their eyes glimmer with happiness, their voices echoing a sense of excitement. Something about the entire piece became inherently optimistic on a second viewing.
Though much of the JDCA’s focus is on the often comparatively more severe trials and tribulations of type 1 diabetics, what I saw Dan dealing with could be a reality for me if I lose my grip on controlling the disease and my will to improve constantly. I want to grow old, and do so while not being hampered by the limitations of a chronic disease and the complications that can come with being careless about its realities.
But what if I don’t grow old with the disease at all? What if we keep banding together and demanding this cure? One of the central messages of The Weight Of The Nation is how collective action and changes in thought are needed to curb the obesity epidemic in America. Here at the JDCA, we feel the same way about the diabetes charitable landscape. Working together can create the change necessary to ensure that diabetes will not inhibit us, or new diabetics, in the future. The power of a great idea — in this case, advocating for more direct and transparent cure funding — is invaluable when it is executed with organization and conviction. We truly believe this and we hope you’ll join us and make these things happen.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s still Internet to surf.