By Chris Mosser
(LSM Oct/Nov 2010/vol. 3 – issue 6)
Halloween is coming. Used to be, that meant lots of cool horror movies on TV. Maybe it still does, but they’re all probably on some cable channel, in which case I wouldn’t know because I stopped watching most cable channels a long time ago. I mean, I know radio plays commercials too, but come on, man! The number of commercials on cable TV has rendered channel surfing a lost art, at least in my house, and probably did wonders for the advent of the DVR.
But I digress. Anyway, with All Hallow’s Eve drawing nigh, I’m straying a tad from the usual musical path this time to explore the notion of fear a little.
I’m a pretty big fan of horror movies. The best thing I’ve seen around Halloween in the last few years has been those montage shows that basically roll through the scariest scenes in all the scariest films. While it offends the cinema geek in me, it does make for some pretty effective Halloween night couch time.
Fear is an interesting thing. I can see the idea that scary movies are fun because they tickle a primal point way down deep in our psyches. When we were living in trees, it was probably a pretty common occurrence to have a bigger something in the tree attempt to have us for breakfast, and the fight-or-flight reaction we got at that time was probably the closest thing our ancestors came to entertainment. I can see being chased occasionally being preferable to being bored all the time. Thus, there’s a connection between fear and pleasure somewhere in the network.
There’s a street in our neighborhood where the homeowners pride themselves upon going all out for Halloween with all kinds of crazy displays. I was out one year with my daughter, who was 6 at the time, in her cute little bunny ballerina suit, and we came along to a house that had been outfitted like the portal to some kind of hellish dungeon. The owners were perched like demonic vultures on the porch in long black cloaks, bathed in dim red light, silently doling out candy to the kids who dared approach. Some kids lacked the guts and whistled right on past. I looked down at my darling little girl and explained to her that Trick-or-Treat candy is not to be taken for granted —it’s a reward for bravery. She looked up at me, and then over at the monsters on the porch. She thought about it for a minute, and then steeled herself and marched right up for her damn candy. On her way back, she was wearing a great big smile. This is, thus far, one of my most cherished Proud Papa moments.
There was a show on television a few years back called Fear Factor. Interesting premise. What kind of scary-assed situation are you willing to brave for fabulous prizes? It was kind of cool, but then the producers began to run out of ideas and started forcing people to eat rotten pig snouts and boiled garden snakes. This is where I started to lose interest, because fear and revulsion are not the same thing. Tolerating fear takes guts and nerve, while tolerating revulsion pretty much just requires that you’re kind of gross. This parallels what I have found to be kind of an unfortunate trend in horror cinema over the last decade or so, the rise of what some call “torture porn.” Movies like those from the Saw and Hostel franchises essentially devise nuttier and nuttier ways to maim and murder, and force the viewer to squirm through them. Being a fan of the golden age of horror, I find this stuff to be a tremendously unimaginative cop-out, aimed at a deeply twisted (though apparently sizable) audience. Seems to me that fans of this stuff are the types to laugh out loud at horrible car accidents and shoot squirrels in the back yard for fun. But hey, if you’re a fan and I’m wrong, you have my sympathies for your bad taste.
I was always way more into the psychological scare. The Shining is one of my all-time favorites, but that has as much to do with being a fan of Nicholson and Kubrick as the movie’s true scare potential. I’ve been introducing my 11-year-old nephew to some of these cool old-school movies lately, and The Shining kind of fell flat, but Jaws worked on him pretty good. I’m trying to decide whether or not The Exorcist would permanently warp him at this age. It certainly warped me. The religious overtones of The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen aren’t so important to me; it’s more about the excellent mind-trip that each of them employs — the random, disturbing stuff. The real-life horror that exists everywhere, every day, if we’ll just bother to claw away a bit of the surface sheen.
I’m a pretty moderate person, though I do lean to the left a bit, and fear also plays into how I have come to look at the way our American political spectrum manifests itself. I don’t mean to paint with too broad a brush, but I have come to believe that fear is the foundation of social conservatism. I’d be a huge geek to quote Yoda, but he’s right in that “fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate.” It’s natural to fear what we don’t understand, and to lash out at what we are afraid of, and while I am certain that most of those of the hardcore conservative stripe are going to disagree with me with great vigor, I’d say that the lack of tolerance these types often display for anything not resembling themselves is pretty solid evidence that deep down, fear is what motivates them. I suspect that beneath all that moral indignation lies a terror of becoming the minority — the worry that people who look differently, talk differently and worship differently may end up running the show, and that these “others,” who have been held in check for years, may not be so kind to their former oppressors. I guess that is pretty scary.
Fear can be fun, but it can also be your worst enemy. It’s really only in the last few years that I have discovered that if I will just not be afraid to go after what I want, I have a good chance of getting it. My job over the last few years involves me having to climb onto the tour buses of artists that I have enjoyed for years as a fan and ask them to do things. This was scary as hell the first few times, but I have found that, as I’ve gotten to know them, most of the musicians you read about in this particular publication are quite normal, cool folks, and that I never had anything to be afraid of to start with. There are a few who insist on believing their own hype, but these tend to inspire a certain pity more than fear.
It sounds cheesy, but facing down fear is a great way to get ahead in life. It all comes down to believing in yourself. Don’t be afraid to be badass.