We have all experienced a rubbernecking moment.
There, on the roadway, is a police cruiser on the scene of a new accident, responding to the wreck as passing vehicles creep by slowly, drivers physically stretching to witness any details of the disturbance. As hard as it is not to, most drivers peer over, even if just for seconds, primarily out of human curiosity; some drivers brake to gawk and nearly park at the spectacle, creating increased potential for another bad situation.
We love to look, don’t we?
We crane to see after being instructed not to glance. We admire morbidity, commotion, and turbulence as repeatedly as our news cycles make their daily insistent rounds on our media. Writer Eric G. Wilson composed this desire to peek poetically: “I imagine we’ve all felt that guilty rush before the morbid. The exploitation of a suicidal starlet, the assassination of a world leader; the hypnotic crush of a hurricane, the lion exploding into the antelope; the wreckage and the rapture, the profane and the sacred: whatever our attraction, we are drawn to doom. Everyone loves a good train wreck. We are enamored of ruin. The deeper the darkness is, the more dazzling.” (Wilson, 2012)
There are some psychological, some social, and some deeply cathartic explanations for the human tendency to “rubberneck.” When we peep, we somehow satisfy essential signals within our ids, egos, and superegos. We allay wicked compulsions to be involved in impairment, but remain manually unengaged. In our spying processes, we are often shocked into attention when the distortions of reality we seek out actually show up. We are fixated on disaster. It almost becomes a matter of entertaining a revelation of relieved self-interest, importing an “I’m-glad-it’s-not-me” smugness.
Another snippet to consider: Humans compare and contrast ourselves to one another constantly, and someone else’s lack of good fortune becomes an immediate cautionary tale, even if we know zero details. This is why we glimpse, scrutinize, and judge.
We have become so accustomed to seeking out the horrific or the brilliant that we seemingly subconsciously search for it in every aspect of our lives. For example, many people watch “trash” reality television for the plunge into “lowbrow” popular culture. We shake up the daily by looking for addictive habits, like fast food and cell phones and social media, to create a humor in other people’s misery.
And we quench satisfaction from the rubbernecking impulse because of the Universe’s countless gifts of inevitability.
Particularly when it comes to parenthood, sometimes it may be difficult to remove the custom of the rubbernecking impetus from the appropriateness of the given set of obligations that is wholly parenting.
Rubbernecking in parenthood can be defined as an obsession with what other parents are doing with their children, which results in a pooling of resources to ensure that the rubbernecks’ offspring have “more than” what other children have. Rubbernecking parents, in this way, are like hedge fund managers—while it’s true that the diversity of their collected “investments” can be advantageous, especially when hard work and smart choices have been sourced, there are severe risks involved in this style of compilation.
While it is true that we are something of a comparison-based species, it slowly becomes to the detriment of our children when we, as parents, commit to “Keeping Up with the Joneses” strictly as an appearance of maintaining some fictional level of superior parenting status.
For one, it doesn’t always work financially. Children’s basic needs are expensive without the addition of such luxurious desires as the newest sneakers or the priciest private school tuition or the first birthday party of the century, if performed strictly to be the coolest/flashiest/best parent in the mom or dad group. For another, it teaches children a quiet lesson: watching other people is a sport, a trivial pursuit, and “beating” them can become some type of wacky aspiration.
For our children, the keenness to rubberneck will be normalized because of our increasingly social sharing mandate. Requiring and rewarding high standards of unlikely humanity, rather than sitting in an audience of onlookers, will become increasingly important as the generations age.
Wilson, Eric. G. “The science of rubbernecking.” Salon, Feb. 18, 2012, https://www.salon.com/2012/02/18/the_science_of_rubbernecking/. Accessed Dec. 16, 2017.