I have been reading a few articles on why we watch, read, consume horror, and I wanted to add my own two penn’orth.
All movies, writing, and in fact all art forms are emotion machines. We consume them to generate vicarious emotions in ourselves. Without getting too philosphical, better men than me have said that we never experience the world as it is, but only a copy of a reality that is forever inaccessible. Our sense relay incoming data within certain wavelengths – light, heat, pressure, pain, sound, and then our brain compares that against pre-existing models of the universe that we have constructed or inherited and produces “the world”. We then save some of that as memories onto our grey matter jelly bean brains. Every time we remember something, we summon it from where it rested in the cortex and re-view it before laying it down again as a fresh memory, saving on top of the memory we already head. So we never remember what was – all our memories are coloured by other processes.
On top of this, because all we ever experience is a copy, or a representation of the world, whether that be milliseconds after the event as in real time “now” viewing (I’m looking at this screen for example) or later, when I remember looking at this screen. All my experience is a representation, whether “now” or next week. Because there is no actual difference between a memory and now, other than the copy degrades over time, we experience the emotions each time we bring the memory to the surface.
You see where I’m going with this?
So, I watch Lord of the Rings (the movie), you know the bit where the men of Rohan are about to charge in a futile gesture of loyalty to the men of Gondor, and they shout “Death! Death! Death!” – and we feel all the boy’s own emotions of loyalty to the war band, where loyalty to the tribe is more important than individual survival. These things are hard wired into us.
Then the bit in the Hobbit (the book) where Bilbo is with Thorin as he dies. Man, that chokes me up. I used to read it to my kids and my voice would wobble and I’d have to stop.
About a year or more ago, I moved into a house that had been flooded. It was near to the river. It had been drying out for about 9 months, but it was still damp and there were rats in the loft space that used to scurry above my head. This is true. I was there on my own and it was winter. I could see the clouds of my breath. I had a Kindle book about the ostensibly true story of a haunted house and as I read it, all alone in that dark, damp, rat infested house, I began to pap myself. I began to think maybe my house was haunted and the feelings of fear that were welling up in me were caused by the evil spirit in the house. Maybe. I told myself it was nonsense, but the rational mind is a late-comer compared to the power of primal emotions and its little reassuring voice was pretty feeble at 2 a.m.
Things will become evident as I write more of this blog. One is I am a big fan of the Mighty Boosh. If you remember the Crack Fox sitting in his little house of trash and he puts on the video of desert foxes rutting by mistake and he says that that’s for him when he’s alone, for the fuzzy tingle times. That kind of vicarious pleasure works too. There’s a whole mega billion dollar industry built on the fact that flickering images of good folk (or bad, I guess) going at it tricks us into feeling sorta… Well you know what I mean.
So this brings me to the second part of my talk: archetypes. The second thing you will learn is that I am a big fan of C G Jung.
Basically archetypes say that we come into the world pre-wired. Chicks know how to chip their way out of their eggs, infants automatically root for the nipple, birds build nests with no You Tube videos to help them. Man cleaves to woman, children have internal instincts for their parents. An instinct has an objective and a subjective component. There is something that it’s like to see a bird build a nest, or a little boy play fight (we used to say toy fight actually) with another little boy, but for those creatures doing the thing, there’s a thing that if feels like too.
Before we do something archetypal, there is a feeling. So, when the men of Rohan or the Band of Brothers activate my male warband bonding instinct they generate emotions relevant to that archetype. I want to be with the men of Rohan. When the fuzzy tingle time comes upon one, one is moved to seek reciprocal tingles.
And so what’s this to do with the genre of Horror? Because the emotions generated by watching or reading horror link into the archetype of predation. We come from a long descent of creatures who were eaten by other creatures. And our monsters and bumps in the dark are our fear of being predated.
And so we come to the third thing in my thesis: you see why we want to be in the band of brothers, why we want to care for little ducklings and why we seek tingles, but why the heck do we want to relive the emotions associated with our fear of predation?
Well, some people don’t. They run a mile. But for the others, I think it works like a kind of inoculation. We toy with the fear in a controlled environment, and thus we inoculate ourselves and instead of it making us run for the hills or hide in a cupboard, we laugh (eventually anyway). Sometimes we overdose and those audiences who saw The Exorcist or the Blair Witch Project when they thought it was real were truly scared. It’s like hot sauce – you want it just hot enough, too hot and it’s too much.
Did you see The Visit? When I saw the granny thing under the barn. Oh my Lord. But I loved it. That’s why monsters have claws and teeth and move fast. The Predation Archetype.
Here’s a link to the Crack Fox. Treat yourself.