The Ethics of Watching Snuff Films


One of my favorite shows in the last decade is Rick and Morty. In S02E09, Rick asks his grandson Morty if he watches internet videos of someone being decapitated. When Morty decries that he would never and returns the question, Rick replies that he doesn't but only because it's boring; he sees worse everyday. 

This is actually a great question for our very insulated western generation: Should you watch graphic videos of people dying?

A visceral reaction from most that I've asked, is a very emphatic, NO.

These are the last moments of someone's life, a tragic ending captured on film, and should be kept private. What if someone derives pleasure from watching it? How would the family feel about people gawking at the death of their loved ones?

These are all valid arguments, but could an argument be made that NOT watching these videos is wrong?

One of my favorite philosophers, Peter Wessel Zapffe, once wrote a brilliant, if pessimistic summation of the human cognitive experience. In his book 'The Last Messiah', he asked: why don't humans face large scale epidemics of mental illness? We are such higher thinking creatures, why don't we collapse into large scale fits of psychiatric illness on a global scale? (It could be said that we are in fact experiencing one, with growing numbers of depression in the modern world, but that's another article).

Zapffe believed our cognitive abilities had evolved too powerfully, allowing us to constantly contemplate the 'brotherhood of suffering between everything alive', including our own pain and mortality. To avoid these upsetting revelations, Zapffe concluded that we humans 'artificially limit' our consciousness by relegating these thoughts to dark corners of our minds and avoid considering them, among other subconscious devices.

As someone who constantly seeks to expand my thinking, I believe it is the role of the person seeking wisdom to examine these dark thoughts regularly and to avoid filtering reality. This can lead to a very scary acceptance of the world around us. Everyday I accept that awful, violent, and terrible things are occurring to innocent people just like me. I believe this gives me perspective and makes me value the life I have in the absence of these awful occurrences so far. I feel like we owe the victims of those events the small courtesy of appreciating our privileges while acknowledging their tragedies.

So this brings us back to the question of snuff films:

Should we watch them as to not filter an unpleasant but authentic reality?

Or, is it better to preserve the dignity of these individuals who paid the ultimate price on display?

Tell me your thoughts in the comments or on social media.