To Scare Or To Be Scared, That Is The Question

What is it about being scared that some people find so much fun? On the opposite end of the coin, what is it about scaring others that is just as fun, if not more so?

As someone who loves both sides of that aforementioned coin, this is something that I have spent a lot of time thinking about. Even a cursory glance at the shelves in my house reveals my love of being frightened. There are horror novels, books about real life ghost stories, horror comics and graphic novels, horror movies, collections of horror television shows, and who knows how much other horror related material.

I have an entire area of my storage unit devoted to Halloween decorations. It usually requires at least three trips to bring the material to the house so I can set it up. Obviously I revel in the thrill of scaring others as much as I enjoy being scared myself.

For goodness sake
2 I write horror.

My current desire to examine this dual topic arises from the weekend which has just passed. Saturday I spent from 1pm until 2am Sunday morning at Historic Fort Wayne participating in the Paranormal Muster. Sunday I drove out to Maybury State Park, donned zombie make-up and a whole lot of blood (along with scrubs and a Forensics jacket) to volunteer as a zombie to threaten the participants in a 5K run for your life.

So, that's what sparked the current internal debate. As with many things, when faced with a real ponderer, I find that the best way for me to work through ideas is by writing. I may or may not edit this before putting it up on the website. Either way, I apologize for a post that may be more rambling than usual.

There are many theories as to why humans enjoy being scared. I have encountered most of them in relation to horror movies or haunted attractions
4. However, I am sure that we can apply these theories fairly broadly to cover a number of situations which individuals place themselves in with the intent of feeling a scare or thrill as well as a number of actually dangerous or at least potentially dangerous activities in which people engage such as skydiving, high speed racing, and the like.

The first theory applies more to the vicarious thrill and less so to the dangerous activities. It states that being frightened reminds one that one is alive. Haunted attractions, scary movies, roller coasters, zombie runs, and other similar activities produce the same physiological reactions with our bodies that actual danger does, but in a controlled setting. Many people find their lives boring, or at least experience some type of repetitive sameness that drives them to experience the thrill that comes from being frightened.

Closely tied to this are any number of theories which state that these chemical reactions can be highly addictive. Related research states that some people have a higher threshold for fear or danger. In order to experience life more fully, they have to engage in reckless or dangerous behavior in order to satisfy what would otherwise feel like something missing.

So, does being scared make one feel more alive? Is it something which someone can become acclimated to, requiring bigger and more elaborate scares?

People who ascribe to this theory as an explanation for risk taking behavior (be it base jumping or delinquency) might answer yes. I myself don't know. I can attest to the fact that I do find the feeling of being scared to be personally thrilling. I enjoy the racing heartbeat, the way the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, and the lingering dread which makes me loathe to go down into the basement without turning on the lights.

At the same time, I can always remind myself that whatever I am experiencing is not real. Granted it may be difficult to convince myself of this, especially when I am in the grips of a really well written novel, but there is something empowering about the knowledge no matter how scary the material, no matter how bad it gets, I have the ability to stop it at any time. I can close the book
6, turn off the movie, or whatever.

I suspect that this may come in to play with my personal enjoyment of scaring others. Knowing that I can remove this element of control from another person is incredibly empowering. The thought that something that I write, or display, or create robs others of their comfort and sense of wellbeing is quite a rush. This sounds a bit sadistic. Perhaps there is an altruistic component as well. Maybe I am helping them feel fully alive.

Or maybe I just like hearing them scream.

1 Without actually looking at the shelves, I know that the computer room alone holds a crystal skull, a werewolf skull, a very realistic human skull prop, my Teddy Scares (next to my Borg bear), a model of the Lament Configuration (the puzzle box from
Hellraiser), and a stone gargoyle. The artwork decorating the walls includes Dia de los Muertos skulls, movie posters from Halloween and Trick or Treat and a downtown Detroit street scene where the Joe Louis fist has been replaced by Hellboy's Right Hand of Doom.

2 By which I mean "Sweet Merciless Cthulhu!"

3 I am certain that there will be posts about both of these events and how genuinely awesome my weekend was later. Right now I just want to focus on the question of scares.

4 By which I mean attractions which have actors, animatronics, props, lights, sounds, etc. designed to scare those who choose to walk through them. I do not mean locations which are purported to retain the spirits of the departed, demons, or other frightening manifestations.

5 There are theories of delinquency and criminology which follow similar lines.

6 Although many missed nights of sleep can attend to the fact that this sense of empowerment may actually be false and that I do not actually possess the ability to close the book.

7 I will have to reexamine this again. Right now my second weekend of awesomeness has made me exceptionally tired to I am going to have to stop here for now.