Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fear for thought -- the Current Events edition.

Welcome, welcome.

As you can see, there've been a lot of visitors lately, good Autumn People all, but hanging around a bit longer than usual, enjoying the orange-black goodness with a bit more fervor. Seemingly not wanting to leave too soon.

Not wanting to be back in front of their TVs while the news just keeps getting more and more alarming, and alarmist.

Oh, no doubt about it, this lovely little blue-green ball has endured a really rough stretch of recent weeks -- abductions, murders, earthquakes and tsunamis, oil prices rollercoastering, regional revolution, nuclear meltdowns, economic collapse, disease, war, death.


Well, perhaps I'm overstating things a bit. I know, shame on me -- overstating is the provenance of every talking head on TV and chatterbox on the radio -- but I'm trying to get to a point that seems appropriate for the days we are currently enduring. 

How many times have you good Autumn People been asked:

"With all the insanity going on all around the world, how can you be enjoying all this horror stuff? Why do these freaks even make up all this horrible stuff when there's so much real horror in the world?"

Surely, reams have been written on the restorative, cathartic nature of fantasy in general and horror in particular. One of the best (in overall message if not always in informed or agreeable detail) is Stephen King's Danse Macabre, a thirty year old treatise on the horror culture in literature, cinema, radio and television. Point is, infinitely superior thinkers and writers have answered the question (and the myriad backward notions implied in the question) many times, and far better than I could ever attempt at this humble Skull & Pumpkin public house.

But I can at least touch on something that is good to remember in tough times, whether our troubles are personal or communal.

If we never needed our horror before, we sure do need it now. Perhaps more than ever.

We talk about 'escapism' so often, but honestly? We do not escape into our horror fantasies. We require their presence in order to deal with what real horrors assail us. Fake horror is a result of real horror, a direct product of our attempts to cope with the unpredictability and cold hardness of the world. It's not escape, it's coping.

Look at Japan.

Seriously, I'm not trying to be funny... at all. I gape in real horror at the things happening there lately. But you cannot deny that at some point since the quake the image of Godzilla has crossed your mind when yet another cycle of new dangers assaults the island. Not as a joke, but simply as a way to get your brain around what in hootin' hell's befallen those poor people.

Gojira was created in direct response to the horrors of nuclear weaponry and testing, and to the status of Japan as the only nation to have ever suffered atomic attack. The real horror preceded the fantasy, created it.

Now, I'm not at all suggesting that the filmmakers were thinking of anything more than filming a good yarn and hopefully making a profit. But the main plot point has the monster being born of American nuclear weapons testing, so it is simply beyond argument that Ishiro Honda would never have created his beast if the Bikini Atoll's poisoning of the Daigo Fukuryƫ Maru fishing vessel hadn't already been in his nightmares. There is no Godzilla without Los Alamos, no kaiju without Trinity.

The giant, reptilian, atomically mutated fire-breathing coping mechanism has become, for most of the globe, a symbol of post-WWII Japanese culture, or at least foreign perceptions of that culture. It is a ready icon for troubled nights when we feel small, vulnerable to the whims of gargantuan forces so far removed from logic and reason that we don't even feel safe in our homes.

The icon works for us because at the end of the films, we live. We came right up close to death, and we walked away clean, We live, and more importantly the monster dies. Well... until the next story, the sequel. The need to resurrect the Bad Thing is eternal, because our fear of bad things happening is eternal, because the potential for bad things is eternal.

So Godzilla and all the beloved kaiju will always be around to help. Just like:

America's own post-WWII atomic nightmares came in the form of just as giant, just as destructive creatures as Japan's. The only difference is in style. The core concerns for the survival of society, of man as a social animal, are paramount.

Did I mention something about survival and society?

If Vietnam, the Hippie Movement and the Sexual Revolution (among other things) hadn't taken place, the horror-questioners would have never had Night of the Living Dead to kick around. Our collective fears seek release and catharsis when fearful things happen, and even in times of relative calm, we still find the need to explore and exorcise our anxieties about the ease and speed with which things just fall apart, about how simply we'd freak the heck out and let everything fall apart if our neighbors and relatives -- our children! -- began eating us.

It's important to make that journey, to explore the darkness.

Isn't that so much of what Hallowe'en has always been about? Facing our deaths, walking away with our lives -- for now -- and exploring how we react to fantasy horror in order to better deal with the real horror that we fear is bearing down on us at an accelerating rate. Hallowe'en did the job of a good horror movie before there were movies or cinemas to project them. Horror movies all aspire to the condition of the collective experience among right-thinking spirits that is Hallowe'en. The marriage is perfect.

I guess I'm saying when it comes to "why we like this stuff when there's so much real horror in the world", we're not escaping, we're diving headlong into the core of what scares us, and finding ways to dress it up to make it more palatable, less uncontrollable.

And I honestly believe that we all have within us the desire to slow down and look at the accident, even as we recoil in disgust at the mess and terror at the portent of our own death, someday, somehow. Most of us claim to be above the allure of dark things because, truthfully, all of us are partially this:

HOWEVER, we all eventually succumb to the allure of fantasy and horror and sci-fi (thanks for the term, Uncle Forry) because deep inside each of us, we are at least partially this:

... and if more people understood that, no one would ever question why we have always been and will forever be this:

The only reason there is fake horror in the world is because there has always been real horror in the world; the only reason some delve into the fantasy horror is because the world has always forced real horror upon us unannounced, and it is useless to try to flip the idea upside down.

The spooky is here to make us all feel better.

That's why we have Hallowe'en.

A toast to Hallowe'en, and to horror, and to the superior ability of Autumn People to handle both.


O' ZOM-beeee!


  1. One of the most thoughtful and enjoyable blog posts I've seen anywhere for some time. Thanks!

  2. That was an absolutely fabulous article. That's about all I can say.

  3. I love blogging and especially reading others posts....although I enjoy them all, some people just seem to catch my if funny or timely or make me go "wow I wish I had written that"

    You my friend are definitely of the latter. I cannot tell you how many times I have visited your blog and walked away in sheer delight at the gracefulness of your writing.

    Thank you so much for sharing.


  4. What a kind thing to write, thank you Chris! I mean, your Majesty (humbly bowing)! That is awfully nice.

  5. Well stated , Landlord!
    I have long subscribed to the position that horror movies are good for the soul.
    Facing fear in the theater is one of the few shared experiences we as a modern culture still have. Centuries ago, our ancestors sat in a world lit only by fire and listened to bards telling tales of monsters and heroes. From Gilgamesh vs Enkidu; to Odysseus vs the Cyclops; through Beowulf vs Grendel; we have a long tradition of shivering in the dark and living heroic lives vicariously.
    And these tales bear lessons. The world sometimes runs amok and those who are prepared will survive to right the wrongs. I don't mean the nutcases with a basement full of guns and canned goods. I mean those with strong hearts (whether they know it or not) and quick minds are more likely to make it through a night in a labyrinth with a minotaur or a cabin surrounded by zombies.
    Hoping this reply finds its way. My computer's Ancient Sumerian-Modern English interface has been a bit dodgy lately.