“A Negative Pleasure”: Suicide’s Digital Sublimity
Chapter 3 analyzes The Bridge, a 2006 documentary that exploits the durational affordances of the digital in order to record death in a new and ethically volatile way. Director Eric Steel’s crew recorded San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge for a full year, watching for the frequent suicides this structure draws. Culled from ten thousand hours of digital video, the startling suicide footage included in The Bridge made newly visible a type of highly public dying that had remained socially and politically invisible for decades. While the film’s harshest critics condemned the mere act of recording these suicides, this chapter argues that its ethics are fully entangled with its aesthetics. The Bridge uses Hollywood conventions to frame suicide as sublime, both terrible and magnificent, and to elevate one graceful jumper into a position as the film’s star. These aesthetic choices compromise the film ethically, in light of social scientists’ findings that suicides can spread when romanticized through their media representation—an effect that would counteract the project’s alleged goal of suicide prevention.