611: Disaster Voyeurism

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Disaster Voyeurism
Hurricane forums are full of excited comments about central pressure and wind speed and comparisons to Camille and 1931 and 1938, with hastily-tacked-on notes about how it will be tragic if anyone dies and they hope it's a dud.
Title text: Hurricane forums are full of excited comments about central pressure and wind speed and comparisons to Camille and 1931 and 1938, with hastily-tacked-on notes about how it will be tragic if anyone dies and they hope it's a dud.


The comic is referring to a phenomenon known as gaping or rubbernecking. The terms are applied to people who stand around as spectators at the site of a disaster. Apparently, many people are attracted to terrible scenes out of a sort of morbid curiosity. While fascinated by the spectacle, most people also feel a sense of shame and guilt at the same time, unsure of whether it is morally wrong to be entertained by other's misfortunes.

This feeling of conscience is expressed in the comic by Megan, who secretly cherishes hope that a hurricane might strike but feels guilt despite knowing she isn't the cause of any danger. Black Hat on the other hand regards these feelings as perfectly natural. In the comic, he gives three more examples of how he enjoys other people's misfortune, each more sinister than the last, eventually partaking in the disaster itself which is another thing entirely:

  • Watching shuttle launches because you don't want to miss a disaster, referring to the Challenger shuttle explosion shortly after launch on January 28, 1986. This example is similar to Megan's scenario, where they're not doing anything illegal or not allowed.
  • Dressing as an intern and sneaking into operating rooms to watch surgeries in case a patient dies, in hopes of watching organs be harvested. This is not allowed in operating rooms[citation needed] and would be seen as socially unacceptable, but in this case he's not actually causing any harm. The organ harvesting could be a normal case of donating organs upon one's death, but could also be referring to illegal organ harvesting.
  • Detour signs are usually used when there is construction down a main road; the signs direct drivers down a longer and more roundabout path. In this case, Black Hat uses stolen detour signs to direct cars down a much more dangerous path. His backwoods roads are strewn with caltrops, small weapons that have a spike pointed upward no matter how they are thrown. They were used in World War 2 to burst tires, and Black Hat plans to do the same thing to the unsuspecting drivers’ car tires. He plans to then shoot at their windows and hunt them down on horseback. In this example, Black Hat would actually be causing the danger, potentially injuring or killing passengers in the car, which would be a very Black Hat thing to do.[citation needed]

It becomes clear that he actually enjoys it when other people are hit by tragedies. He reveals that he even actively promotes or causes the tragic fates of others. Him being a sadist concurs with the characterization depicted in other comics. Megan understands that the two of them are in fact leading entirely different conversations, as Black Hat is not in the least able to comprehend her scruples.

The title text aims at hurricane enthusiasts in internet forums, who are distracted by their scientific curiosity from the danger a hurricane may present to humans.


[Megan is watching TV. Black Hat is leaning on the back of her chair.]
Megan: I've realized that I always secretly root for hurricanes. I watch the news hoping that they'll get really big and hit a city. I know my hopes don't actually affect it, but I feel bad.
Black Hat: Nah, that's just natural human attraction to spectacle. It's like watching the shuttle launch because you don't want to miss it if there's a disaster.
Megan: ...I guess?
Black Hat: Or dressing as an intern to sneak into operating rooms, in case a patient dies and you can watch them harvest organs.
Megan: Wait, you do that?
Black Hat: Or stealing detour signs to direct highway drivers down backwoods roads strewn with caltrops. After the tires burst, you start shooting out their windows.
Black Hat: Then, when they flee the car in terror, you hunt them on horseback, like men once did.
Megan: I realized a while back that we're having entirely different conversations.

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For reasons expounded here, I have given Black Hat my own name. "Mac" for Machiavell, a character who delights in playing the system, often to the detriment, intentional or otherwise, of others. In Mac's case, he plays the system to cause detriment. In a similar vein, Danish is "Sadie" for sadist, the literal, as opposed to literary, version of a Machiavell, and who more often causes others pain. I'm not saying these should be their names, and I will still refer them to as "Black Hat" and "Danish" on site, but I am putting my view out there. Anonymous 07:36, 4 December 2013 (UTC)

That's very clever. Orazor (talk) 12:59, 4 June 2014 (UTC)
That he or she managed to circumvent the IP address monster or the revelation of the world of their own?
Can someone please upgrade this Wikipedia entry for the likes of us dyscalculics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potential_vorticity so that I can look cool on "Hurricane forums"?

I used Google News BEFORE it was clickbait (talk) 08:45, 29 January 2015 (UTC)

Surprised nobody thought to explain 'caltrop'. Sure, you can go and look it up for yourself, but doesn't that also apply to just about everything else that is 'explained' here, too? Anyway, in my experience, it's one of those words a substantial majority of folk don't know, having never heard it at all, or having not bothered to look it up. Do I just move in ignorant circles? 11:37, 5 May 2017 (UTC)

You must not be a Dungeons & Dragons[1] player or at the least watched the original A-Team [2] on TV as both in the early days Caltrops were required equipment. 11:49, 28 July 2017 (UTC)

Or not playing D&D in the original language/watching A-Team in it. Remember, that "a substantial majority of folk" is not speaking English as first language. --Lupo (talk) 10:52, 19 July 2019 (UTC)

This explanation should probably explain what the three incidents mentioned in the title text are. --Flicky (talk) 15:22, 11 May 2019 (UTC)