I’m not a big fan of fear. I don’t like how fear has the power to isolate us from our communities, and be used to manipulate us, and drive us to act in irrational, shameful ways. Fear has been a driving force behind most human innitiated atrocities, and the fuel that allows them to continue, despite many knowing they are not right. I am no innocent when it comes to this. Further, I dislike how innundating ourselves with fearful, gruesome, and violent imagery desensitizes us to it, so that we are less horrified by horrible things, finding them to be mundane and predictable, the natural course of things. This of course strengthens the notion that the world is a terrible, scary place (because horrible things are mundane and common place), further isolating us and making us susceptible to manipulation by more powerful entities (corporate marketers and government authorities, for example). It also makes it easier to ignore it and not care when we see it happening.
It’s for this reason that I don’t like most horror movies, I don’t watch gruesome and scary tv shows, and I change the channel if any fear mongering or sensationalized scary news comes on. I don’t even forward on articles about this stuff on facebook anymore. Anything I can do to reduce fearful images is a step I can take to better see the world as it truly is, a mostly safe place full of mostly good people and mostly good things.
But for some reason, at Halloween, I embrace the scary.
I’m not the only one who lives under this weird paradox. I participated in a conversation over at Halloween Forum recently about those of us who have sworn off all or a portion of the news. Watching too much of it can riddle a person with anxiety and fear that simply isn’t grounded in actual reality. Many of us (myself included) also mentioned how we had sworn off fictional TV of the same nature as well, shows such as Law and Order, Dexter, and CSI. And yet, every last one of us were also engaged in other conversations about how best to make a cheap plastic skeleton look like a real rotting corpse, or how to light our homes to best scare the bejeezus out of approaching trick or treaters. Why the contrast?
The fear on Halloween is different than the fear we get from watching true crime shows or gore porn. Traditionally, the scary monsters on Halloween are literal monsters, ghouls and goblins, things our logical minds know do not really exist (or if they do, are not a serious threat to us in almost every situation). They are over the top, made up, hyperbole fears. Even when we started introducing more realistic fears into the Halloween mix, like fears of serial killers of the kinds depicted in early slasher films, the threats seemed highly unlikely and still fairly silly. There is a world of difference between Halloween scary, and how-many-sexual-predators-live-in-a-mile-radius-from-your-home scary, or Ebola-could-break-out-like-the-black-plague-at-any-time scary, or ISIS-could-be-planning-on-bombing-your-local-shopping-mall scary. We know Halloween scary is a game, we don’t know that all these other threats are astronomically unlikely. I mean, the talk about that stuff on the news!
Further, Halloween is a time we actually get out and confront fears. We don’t keep our kids inside out of fear there are really spirits from the other side looking to snatch them away, we dress our kids up like spirits, like little under cover spies, and send them out amongst the scary things to bum candy off of all our neighbors! That might not seem spooky to adults who don’t actually believe in ghosts, but play your cards right, and there could be some spooky magic in it for your kids, who get to experiment with bravery and facing fears in a healthy and safe manner during Halloween. It’s incredibly character building.
Halloween scary gives us the opportunity to experience fear in ways that actually enhances our feeling of safety and security, and our own self confidence. When you see your whole neighborhood coming out in the name of facing fears (even if they are silly, ridiculous fears), it makes you feel a lot more confident about your community’s odds in the extremely unlikely event that you actually find yourself in a zombie apocalypse.
When I was a little girl, I went through a phase where was obsessed with Star Wars. I remember being bothered by something Yoda said about fear to Luke, that fear was the enemy, and that it led to the dark side. Back then, I thought that was stupid, fear was a natural and normal emotion. It was okay to have it, so long as it doesn’t paralyze you or make you do things that aren’t logical or right. It is your action in the face of fear that was or wasn’t the problem, not the fear itself. Now that I am older, I see a lot more wisdom in Yoda’s words. Fear is like a disease, it spreads almost as if it is airborne, and can have devastating effects on individuals and communities. The vast majority of it is completely irrational. And yet, there is still value in acknowledging it and facing it, if only to help you learn the difference between what is a rational warning, and what is an irrational poison. Halloween is one way in which we are able to face our fears, and it’s one of the more fun ones (if not the most fun). That’s probably what leads many of us to love it, even if we can’t stand fear under other circumstances.