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Categorized | Society

Watch Me Burn: Why the Fire Challenge Went Dangerously Viral

There have been a number of harmful and dangerous trends that had emerged from social media sites: planking, thigh gap, self-harm, etc. But there is something about the “fire challenge” that makes it truly unique.

When people starve themselves to adhere to an unattainable standard, the perfect thigh gap, they do so with a goal in mind – to be viewed as thin and attractive. When people go on dangerous diets, they do so because they want to be thin, not because they want to suffer.

When plankers ascend to dangerous heights to take silly pictures of themselves planking, they do so thinking that they’re not going to fall. They were not planning to fall and die. They know that they might fall, but they don’t plank for the purpose of falling.

But when you set yourself on fire, you know you will be on fire. You can’t pour flammable liquid on your body, light it with a lighter, while thinking “I will not burn.”

People should not pour flammable liquid on their bodies and set themselves on fire. They really shouldn’t. I can’t imagine a situation where setting yourself on fire would be a good idea. However, that’s exactly what’s been happening recently.

fire challengeThe fire challenge is getting more popular on multiple sites, mostly Facebook and YouTube. An article from the Bustle ( mentions how many teens around the United States have been reported to have set themselves on fire.

According to the article, “Cases of teens taking on the challenge have been reported everywhere from Kansas City to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Miami’s Kendall Regional burn centers have received eight of these cases in a matter of days, including a boy who was just 11 years old. Kids have been using a variety of flammable liquids — a 12-year-old girl in Cape Girardeau was severely burned after someone poured perfume on her and lit her skin on fire — but the most popular has been rubbing alcohol.”

And the motive for setting oneself on fire? Facebook “likes” and YouTube views.

It’s crazy that teenagers are setting themselves on fire. However, there is an invisible culprit in this scenario – us, the audience. Why do “we,” as an audience, reinforce these behaviors by “liking” and viewing teenagers set themselves on fire?

The perverse desire that compels us to see a kid set himself on fire is the same human instinct that compels people to slow down and stare when they pass by a gruesome vehicular accident.

In the article, “Science of Rubbernecking” from, Eric G. Wilson explains morbid curiosity.

“Carl Jung, who founded, along with Freud, psychoanalysis, believed that we like to witness violence precisely because it, the watching, allows us to entertain our most destructive impulses without actually harming ourselves or others,” writes Wilson.

Both Jung and Freud have theories about the human compulsion for murder and suicide, as well as the desire for ruin. In Jung, this collection of urges and drives that represent everything we hate about ourselves is called “the shadow.” In Freud, it’s called the Thanatos Drive.

Both these terms tell a common story – human beings have an irrational, primal desire to blow up shit or set things on fire.

Unfortunately, doing those things would land us in jail. So, as a socially acceptable alternative, we watch other people set themselves on fire instead. It allows us to satisfy that desire without committing any crimes.

The fire challenge is not entirely irrational. It’s very logical, actually. These kids crave attention. They figured out that potential, permanent ruin excites people. Our morbid curiosity about the consequences of them setting themselves on fire, compel us to watch. We want to see what happens when things go wrong. Our morbid curiosity feeds them the attention they were craving.

To make matters worse, the fire challenge deeply is offensive to actual burn victims who did not set themselves on fire. In a YouTube video a burn victim talks about the fire challenge and how it affects her.

“Not a lot of people understand what I go through… how I live. I had no control over my car accident I wish I was never burned.” She continues, “I do suffer every single day due to the fire I lost body parts, my eye my nose my ear my arm. I can still do everything but that’s because I adapted and I learned but just to go and burn yourself on purpose because everyone else is doing it, What kind of sh*t is that?”

When a person burns, it’s not funny. Burning people and humor should not be freely associated with each other. Otherwise, more disturbing trends, like burning other people for shits and giggles – may emerge:

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.