I’m no scientist. I am simply an average American guy who thinks about trivial things in pop culture and elevates them to a higher level of analysis than most of this stuff probably deserves. A quick Google search will offer you more empirical evidence on our obsession with the emotional response of fear, neatly packaged within the comfort of entertainment, than I can.
But whether it be film, television, literature, or the more experiential fare that we will undoubtedly come across during the Halloween season, one thing is clear: American culture is laden with fear as entertainment. But why? I know I don’t understand it, even as I contribute to it.
I buy tickets to theme parks to scream on roller coasters. I reveled in thinking up the scariest costume ideas as a kid. And though I was never one for straight-up horror movies, I still greatly enjoy serial killer thrillers like The Silence of the Lambs and Zodiac, as well as science fiction and alien invasion movies, predicated almost completely upon my fear of the unknown clashing with my understanding of the familiar. And all of this for the adrenaline rush that fear elicits, a negative emotion preceding a cathartic release of endorphins.
It’s rather disgusting to think that scenes of massive destruction in many post-9/11 action movies feature skyscrapers caving to the ground as people flee for safety. That is not an accident; yet, it’s implicit presence, familiar for reasons we are frightened by, somehow thrills us simultaneously. I, like many Americans, am endlessly fascinated by the stories of serial killers, of post-apocalyptic wastelands, and television shows that feature brainwashed soldiers returning home to bomb their own country. These thoughts in reality are unspeakably terrifying to me, but I watch (and enjoy) anyway.
Ultimately, I have no holier-than-thou advice or commentary as to the root cause of needing to consume what I’m most frightened by, but I know that I am not alone and feel compelled to shine a light on it, as the topic of fear as entertainment is just as interesting to me as the experiencing the phenomenon itself.