About our fascination with fear

In the caves where I work, there`s one story I tell about two boys who got lost in another cave nearby, and who unfortunately died there. I always tell my groups that the two died of hypothermia, of dehydration, but mostly out of fear. Most people nod and look fittingly sad. Some people question me. “How can you die of dehydration if there`s a 90% humidity level?” is an often asked question. That`s something to do with the sweat from your body not having anywhere to evaporate to, but the panic and fear causes you to sweat more so you dehydrate. Though I don`t know the specifics.

Another question often asked is, “how can you die of fear?”. Their tone is often scoffing, unbelieving, as if I`m just looking for sensation and drama (spoiler alert: it`s a tourist attraction, of course that`s what I`m doing). I do often wonder at these people. What kind of life do they live, to not know how much effect fear can have? Have they no fear in their own lives? Have they learned nothing of all those movies where the villains play with fear? Have they learned nothing of governments through the ages, putting fear in their citizens to make sure they behave? It`s basic psychology: fear has the most response. It controls people, and allows you to control them if you know how to wield it.

I`m no stranger to fear, unfortunately. There`s the constant fear of never finding a job, of never getting my own place to live in. There`s the fear of not getting anywhere with my life. There`s also the mental cocktail for which I`m in therapy. There`s the OCD (fear of germs, in my case), hypochondria (fear of being ill), a panic disorder.

Fear is often underestimated by people. I envy those people. I would love to live with less fear of, well, everything around me.

Fear doesn`t only have psychological effects. Of course there`s the anxiety and the gut-wrenching feelings and the panic. But there are physical effects, too, both long-term and short-term. On short-term, there`s shivering and heart palpitations, a quick rush of adrenalin, fight-or-flight response, your body gearing up for both possibilities. On the long-term, it can cause lasting damage. It can kill people, it can damage them.

I suppose this is why stories of fear interest me so much. For such a common feeling, so often pushed aside with a simple “don`t be scared”, it has enormous consequences.

 I often prefer stories that center around fear, and people (or beings) playing with them. My favourite characters in stories are often the ones either causing all the fear, or the ones tormented by it. The best ones are both. Take Loki, from the Marvel movies. He`s terrifying, a force to be reckoned with, and he definitely instils a lot of fear in people (at least the characters in the movies). But he`s terrified himself, too. Terrified of who he is, what`s hidden inside him.

There`s also the Nightmare King, Pitch, in Guardians of Childhood. This is another character that fascinates me. Someone who plays with fear, with nightmares, whose main purpose is to cause fear and destruction so he can reign. But also someone who is oh so terrified of being alone, of nobody recognising the fact that he exists. It shows in how adamant he is in trying to convince Jack Frost to join him. “Look at the things we could do together.”

Considering the amount of stories, of movies and games and books out there that focus on fear or play with it, I guess it`s a common thing to wonder about fear. People do enjoy letting themselves get scared, as long as they know it will end soon and they can move along in their own lives. If done well, they`ll have a nice adrenalin rush for another hour or so. It`s the same effect as rollercoasters and other rides in theme parks and carnivals. We enjoy getting scared, as long as we know we`re actually safe and it will end soon.

It`s fascinating, this obsession with fear. It`s so strange, the things people go through willingly. What is this obsession we all have with fear? Why do we seek it out?

I can guess at answers. I could look up scientific research. And I might do that some day.

But for now, I`m going to ignore the panic attack I`m actually going through that caused me to start writing this in the first place, and I`m going to continue reading the very angsty fanfiction I`ve found. It`s about fear, unsurprisingly. 

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One Response to About our fascination with fear

  1. MikeW says:

    There have always been ghost stories, and I remember them as tapping the survival instinct in the face of the uncanny to bring the group closer together around the camp fire. Nation states do it too, fanning flames of fear of competing nation states. Soon to be divorcees sometimes inflate fear of the one another for advantage in court. And sometimes all of these play-fear tactics aren’t play, they’re based on fact. Other times they’re false, but they create the response they lie into existence merely by provoking rage. Some of this I see as political behavior, stoking our innate, instinctive alarm systems that are supposed to help us survive. I think the halloween industry does it simply to get people’s money and stuff their faces with uber-unhealthy crap.

    Terror is the predator’s method of turning natural fear into a paralyzing drug to get what it wants, whether it is money, power, or obedience. Since these forces do exist, though statistically seldom for most of us, I think it breeds fascination as something uncanny (rare, otherworldly, surreal).

    I think predatory behavior in human beings is beneath us, given what we have upstairs. It is unconscionable and sick to try to get people to fear the dead, dead people, death, and dying as a way of making them fear aging and death. Or to conclude that life is meaningless. I think death is sobering enough without focusing on it as a means of terror or anxiety.

    The halloween industry has pursued images of morbid desensitization to criminally insane violence as well. If you don’t believe that, have a look at one of the biggest outlets in the industry, Spirit. Googling its images is enough to make you want a ban their products as many glorify child abuse, morbidity, suicide and mortality as something to celebrate on halloween. There is only one way to describe that: it’s evil and ought to be taxed out of existence. I think expression and speech that desensitizes people to child abuse or neglect is and ought to be legislated as the legally equivalent to inciting violence against children with clear and present danger. I say that because children as minors do not have the same ability to defend themselves in the vagaries of time, space, and in-equal power as adults do.

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