“How far is too far?”

It’s a question I conveniently forget to ask myself whenever I find myself watching a viral clip of a fight on YouTube, tuning in to an episode of some reality show because of a confrontation alluded to in the previous week’s episode, or allowing an intentionally provocative news teaser make me practically salivate in anticipation for the cringe-worthy clip they’re going to show “after the break.” Sure, I know what I’m doing—I know I am actively taking part in a process that slowly and steadily desensitizes and dehumanizes—but I don’t ask myself that question unless I personally feel that a line is being crossed.

For me, that too far line is death. I refuse to watch any footage of an actual person actually dying, and I’m disgusted by those who seek to capture and/or witness the last moments of a person life with a glee, curiosity, and anticipation usually associated with people watching basketball highlight videos. TMZ obviously doesn’t agree, as they’ve provided footage of 19 year old Andre Lowe getting shot to death outside of a Hollywood nightclub, and have refused to remove the footage despite pleads from Lowe’s family and a Change.org petition in his honor. 

To many of the thousands of people who have viewed and/or commented on this video, Lowe is just another anonymous opportunity to gawk, provide gallows humor, and use him to further justify their feelings about “Black thugs” instead of a person with a family and an actual life. TMZ aids with the process by not naming him, even though they surely know his name by now.

But, while its easy to blame TMZ for this, there is no story if there is no audience. TMZ.com, after all, is a business relying on page views and unique visitors to sustain itself, and if content like this wasn’t profitable, they wouldn’t air it. Although this particular case disgusts and angers me, every time I click on or joke about some fight or accident that shows a situation where someone could have very easily died, I’m contributing to this culture of desensitization.

TMZ has definitely gone too far, and I hope the Lowe family petition is successful. But until many of us make a more conscious effort to change our behavior in regards to what we deem entertaining and buzzworthy, there will be more TMZs salivating at the opportunity to catch another Andre Lowe in his last moments. When this happens, there will be another chorus of people like me disgusted by the content, but unable to answer “How far is too far?” because they’ve already crossed so many lines that they can’t even tell.