Thursday, October 22, 2020

Horror as a Coping Mechanism

It comes as no surprise to me that a recent psychological study suggests horror fans may be uniquely well prepared to confront scary realities:

Horror Fans Prepared to Cope with Our New Reality

"How does horror teach us?" One authority quoted in the essay says, “What’s special about horror is that the genre lets us chart the dark areas of that landscape [of hypothetical frightening scenarios] — the pits of terror and the caves of despair.” Horror fiction serves as rehearsal for confronting our real-life fears. Its function as "catharsis" is also discussed. Moreover, its monsters and other threats often work as metaphors for societal anxieties. The familiar example of Romero's undead in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is cited as reflecting the "existential" fears of its time.

In his history of horror, DANSE MACABRE, Stephen King argues that all such fiction is ultimately designed to grapple with the fear of death. Death is "when the monsters get you." This essay mentions King's PET SEMATARY as a story that explores the potentially tragic consequences of evading the reality of death.

One of the study's co-authors praises the "prosocial" dimension of horror. “Horror fiction is very often about prosocial, altruistic, self-effacing characters confronting selfish, anti-social evil." Much classic horror focuses on good versus evil, with the heroes working together to defeat the monsters. DRACULA and the majority of vampire fiction inspired by it offer obvious examples. Of course, not all horror follows this pattern. Sometimes it's bleak and hopeless, with no objective "good" or "evil" in the universe, as in Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos stories, in which protagonists who survive usually do so by sheer luck. However, even horror without the religious or spiritual worldview of a vampire tale wherein heroes brandish crosses or King's IT, wherein the heroes know "the Turtle can't help us" yet draw upon a still higher power beyond both It and the Turtle, can showcase the bonds among human beings who fight together against larger-than-life threats.

Therefore, I've always thought it's strange that some people consider reading, watching, or (gasp!) writing horror a symptom of a warped psyche.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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