There are professional storm-chaser videos, and then there are WHAT-are-you-thinking-you-lunatic storm–chaser videos.
Not long after the most recent siege of devastating tornados ripped across the country, I saw the latter, amateurish type of video on a news site. The camera is focused on a deadly twister, and background noises include violent wind and the voices of a man and a terrified, whimpering woman begging him to leave. The conditions around the couple are clearly perilous. We hear the man rev his car’s engine and see him hightail it both in pursuit of and retreat from the storm as it churns across the landscape. And all the while they shoot bumpy video, the woman sobs and yells, “Babe, please go, please go!”
It’s painful to watch, and it made me angry to think someone would be (or at least seem to be) selfish enough to risk a loved one’s life for such a silly thing. But the footage is, nonetheless, pretty mesmerizing. And there’s clearly a demand for this sort of thing. News sites will run amateur video as readily as professional work, and YouTube is filled with thousands of storm-related clips. So when I read Salon columnist Mary Elizabeth Williams’ article on the topic, I absolutely agreed when she commented:
The relentless pursuit of ever more GRAPHIC SHOCKING INCREDIBLE AMAZING!!!!!!!! imagery has long held fascination. There's undoubtedly something about intense images of brutal fury that's powerful and humbling. We share, because we want the world to see. And we watch, in stunned fascination, as devastation rips through the land, because we want to understand. But there is also something about the act of documenting an experience that can create the illusion of detachment from it.
It's easy—and horrifyingly dangerous—to forget that filming an event doesn't make one impervious to being affected by it. There's a world of difference between a seasoned storm chaser bringing news and necessary warning from the front lines and an amateur plunging into the storm, simply hoping to go viral.
Whether we’re sharing the power of nature or not, I wonder just how deeply the “going viral” mentality has affected people. Because the constant pursuit of “on-the-frontlines” footage isn’t seen with just videos of severe weather. People are willing to do some pretty crazy stuff to get some pretty crazy video, and the payoff, to me, seems pretty dubious. I wonder if maybe the world has taken the 15-minutes-of-fame concept a little too far—especially if people are willing to drive into a tornado for an adrenalin rush and bragging rights.