Friday, October 30, 2009
Halloween, that's the Spirit!
A barren tree silhouetted against a harvest moon, crows cawing into the night wind, a wrought iron fence surrounding a field of leaning gravestones, forlorn and bereft of any earthly care.
This was the vision conjured up by the ghoul now rising in front of me after I had intentionally stepped on its activation pad at the Halloween costume store I visited recently. An insidious whisper seeped out from its mechanically jointed jaws, "Step forward into the Graveyard of the Damned, if you dare!" Giddy with excitement, I dragged my wife away from the wig section so that she too could stand before this rapture of Halloween Incarnate. Though her awe did not exactly match mine in this ghoulish vision (and her repulsion of the rotating-head automated zombie children display did not equal my enjoyment of the same), she and I laughed as we shared a terrific sense of the season.
Along with every conceivable foodstuff and beverage being flavored by some variant of pumpkin, it is the time of year to celebrate goblins and ghouls, witches and werewolves and other creatures that utter eldritch ululations into the night. I bask in the cold moonlight of this time of year for an apparently stupid reason: I love being scared.
There is more to it than that, however; I've always viewed being afraid as a means to an end. Why do we trade creepy stories around a snapping campfire, casting furtive glances back into the forest? Or why do we sit in crowded movie theaters at the complete mercy of the scary movie unfolding before us? We need to find out what happens! But the true beauty of the spooky story is encountering the shivers and frights along the way to get us in the right mindset to receive the revelation at the end. Fear holds us within the story and bathes us in a cold sweat to make sure we are paying attention, keeping us focused on the big reveal. The movie that encapsulates this facet of fear perfectly is one entitled Them (not the big ant movie, it's another one by the same title). But this is only half of the story of why I enjoy being spooked out of my wits.
Homo sapiens as a species is often scared of what we do not understand, and we are cursed with a brain capable of imagining what we don't know. Werewolves, the Goat-Man, and Bigfoot were constant companions in my childhood, always a flick of the light switch away from jumping out at me. As I've grown up, my world view has refined and become more realistic. My conviction that there are entities and events that are still beyond human understanding has been tempered against proof and evidence. These tools of confirmation are the other source of prickles on the spine, or rather, the thrill of the chase. If something survives all the proof and evidence that can be laid against it, and still cannot be explained, it makes me wonder, "What else can be out there, beyond the realms of science?" A personal favorite TV show of mine, Ghost Hunters, is an archetype of this scientific approach. They explain away about 95% of what is reported, but what they catch on audio or video that cannot be explained .... Shiver City, my friends.
Being scared intentionally is not for everyone, but for those of you relish a good case of the heebie-jeebies, I tip my mug of cider to you. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. I say, "Awesome, what's playing?"