Spanish Culture and News

‘Morbo’ and the Spanish fascination with emotional hell

Barajas plane crash

Last week’s horrendous, tragic plane crash in Madrid led us and many others living in Spain to take firm decisive action: to turn off the TV, ignore news websites, and stop buying the papers.

The news media had gone (and continues to go) too far again. Within hours of the accident we had all the information we would need. The plane had lost control, crashed near the airport, and all but a few very lucky people (now 18), had died.

Yet the ‘news’, playing to the famous national ‘morbo‘, or morbid fascination with all horrendous events, has been camped out outside hospitals and the main convention centre morgue where bodies are being identified, trying desperately to secure images and, worst of all, interviews with emotionally destroyed relatives.

Occasionally it seems (OK, I have watched a minute here, a minute there of the news, all I can take), they strike gold and discover the story of the guy who tried to get off the plane before the second fatal take off attempt but wasn’t allowed, the text message sent to a friend about ‘problems with our plane’, and more emotion-twisting horror than your average viewer can take.

And still it goes on, 4 days later. Part of the reason it is so hard to watch is that it so closely mirrors the news coverage of the Madrid train bombings, a few years ago, when we were all glued to images of twisted train wreckage and dead bodies for days (or weeks) on end, trying desperately to understand how something so insanely horrendouns could have happened.

According to a conversation overheard in a doctor’s waiting room, all this Spanish morbo can be traced back to a lady named Nieves Herrero (nicknamed Nieves Horrores), who started the trend in the 90’s with a daily morning TV programme called ‘Cita con la Vida’ (A Date with Life), that scoured the country to broadcast the most upsetting, awful social and personal tragedies Spain was hiding in its quiet villages and city suburbs.

Here’s a quote from Wikipedia’s entry on Nieves Herrero that perfectly captures the current Spanish media behaviour, and the average night on Spanish TV:

“She was heavily criticised for the coverage given to the famous Crimen de Alcácer, making a live broadcast from this village the same night that the bodies of the girls were found. In the programme, they took advantage of the emotional state of the families of the victims, interviewing the parents about how they felt at the time, and converting their pain into a public spectacle to be broadcast to the whole country.”

The country became addicted to ‘other people’s awful lives’, the media discovered there was plenty of tragedy to go around, and no watchdog ever stepped in to say just how much horror they could get away with showing. The result is that you will see bodies, devastation, and emotional hell that you would never see in 100 years on the good old BBC.

But let’s face it, this morbo is not just a Spanish problem, it’s just more out in the open here. In the end, revelling in other people’s misery is a very modern, developed world phenomenon. I think it plays to either one of two basic human positions:

1) “Thank god my life isn’t that bad”

……or, perversly, (and please tell me if I’m wrong),

2) “If something that bad happened in my life it would probably give me the shake up I need to change things dramatically forever, and kick me out of the everlasting everyday mundane.”

Whichever the case, for many Spaniards this latest round of media morbo has been a step too far. Is it possible that one day an audience that just can’t take any more will switch off for good? Will we ever see the demise of this endless aggressive probing into emotionally-debilitating modern human horrors?

Comments welcome as always.