Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Scaring the Kids

Halloween began as a religious holiday. I won't discuss the whole Samhain thing here, let's just say it came from an agricultural based philosophy and signified beliefs dealing with the change of seasons and the concepts of life and death. But somehow this event, celebrated as it is in America, metamorphised into something else...into a celebration that encouraged hedonism, recapturing childhood fantasy, and and a celebration of one's fears. There's a good deal of material there and I could several pages just talking about dealing with inhibition from a sociology perspective. However, let's focus on the last, the celebration of fear.

"I want to be scared," someone will say, entering a movie or a "haunted" house. Of course. We can and should translate this into "I want to experience an intense emotion safely so I can deal with it. I want to be vicariously afraid."

Why? Well, first I assume that there is a rush in fear. Some people are adrenelin junkies. To put it clinically, as the system is shocked and a burst of adrenlin is released, there is also a subsequent burst of endorphin. A sensation of euphoria ensues. Charles could probably do a better job describing this.

Next, there is a psychological satisfaction in being presented with a fear response and overcoming it....safely. For instance, we love roller coasters, it allows us to cope with the speed and the illusion of danger. However, put that same person in a car, run it over a hundred miles an hour down an expressway in the middle of a rainy night, and although some of the same sensations might be produced, the danger is real and the event---not as much fun. We might enjoy screaming at Michael Meyers in Halloween. However, open the door at midnight and find a tall, hulking masked figure standing there, a machete danging from one hand....and suddenly...not so much fun. The point of horror is that it allows us to experience this fear from a distance, to handle it safely.

Another reason to celebrate the fear in Halloween? Because it's a rite of passage. Overcoming certain fears is part of growing up. As we've made different icons of horror safe for the little ones (the cardboard witch with the goofy smile, the gentle and socially awkward Frankenstein monster), we are helping them deal with the discomfort they feel at the unfamiliar or the misunderstood. Some fears are productive and necessary to survival. Halloween is a great time for us to help kids understand that there are rational and irrational fears and that there are ways to overcome some of the irrational ones. Of course, I'm not sure why adults want to do this..there is something delicious about seeing kids run screaming from a paper ghost.

9 comments:

willow said...

Excellent post. Bring on the willies!

SQT said...

Hmm, this makes me think. I like scary books but not scary movies. I can't enjoy a movie that makes me jump in my seat but I love books because it doesn't have the same startle factor. I wonder why? I'm actually not that jumpy. My husband on the other hand-- he startles so easily he literally jumps when I come up behind him. So funny. Maybe I like to be the one instilling the fear...

Stewart Sternberg said...

willow..I will continue to bring on the willies if you will continue to be willied...wait..what?

SQT--I think that the desire to scare other people is a whole other paradigm, but certainly one that is worthy of exploration.

Rick said...

One of the guys I trained with used to refuse to watch scary movies because he said they made him angry- the characters were either useless morons who walked into dark and threatening situations or "empowered peeople" who would stand up to evil and always win, emerging from the conflict with only gratuitous cuts and bruises. The only exception he made was Ash in "Army of Darkness," which he found to be more instructive than either cowardice or bravery.

SQT said...

Stu-- I don't really like scaring people. But, like you said, it's an interesting aspect to explore. The villain in any story is the one who likes to see the terror in someone else's eyes.

Akasha Savage said...

I love scary!
I love reading it, watching it, writing it, dreaming it.
Bring on the willies!!..er..you know what I mean......

Christina said...

"I want to experience an intense emotion safely so I can deal with it. I want to be vicariously afraid."

Love it! I always thought that maybe I did this for that reason exactly. Feeling intense emotion, fear is so addicting, or at least the adrenaline. I always come out thinking, "I want to do it again."

Stewart Sternberg said...

Rick...you know who Ash is? Obviously the person leaving this posting wasn't Rick but instead someone who is doing his blogging for him. Sheesh.

SQT
I LOVE scaring people. LOVE IT. Maybe that's why I've always felt so alienated and misunderstood.

Akisha..I'm going to put BRING ON THE WILLIES on a tshirt.

Christina..you're like a moth to a flame. Now just wear fishnet.

Akasha Savage said...

I'll buy that t-shirt!!