by John B. Rosenman
In honor of October Fest and the Halloween season, I'd like to talk about human beings' fascination with darkness and evil. By this I mean the most perverted, demonic, cruel, twisted, cannibalistic and psychopathic aspects of human nature. Why the attraction to misery and pain, to everything that is the exact opposite of goodness and kindness?
When my daughter Lori was about four or five, I took her and another kid to a Halloween event. It was held in a big field, and as we progressed down a dark, winding trail, we could see and hear Chainsaw Maniacs revving up their tools and simulating mayhem on helpless children. Bloodcurdling screams rent the air; bags of fake but realistic-looking blood showered the night. It all looked impressive, folks, but is treating your child to the vivid prospect of her horrible dismemberment a sound parental tactic? Isn't it instead the worst kind of child abuse, especially since I played up and encouraged her fears?
Un-unh. We loved it. As on a roller coaster, it felt good to be scared because we knew deep down it wasn't real. We laughed and hugged each other and screeched our shivery delight.
Still, this fascination with horror, what might be called the desire of the moth for the flame, pervades human nature. Death, witchcraft, demonic possession, sexual perversion and sadistic torture, you-name-it, they are all on the Bucket List of our vicarious thrills.
I recently sold a story to an anthology based on a miserable visit to the hospital. You don't want to know why I went to the hospital, but despite the odious experience, I wrote a darn story about it and sold it to WRETCHED MOMENTS. Why? Why would I want not only to revisit this painful event but lovingly recreate it and have others read about it?
Without question, humans have a dark, dark side. Even the most normal of us tend to be susceptible now and then. I think it has to do with Ying and Yang, with opposites. You can't have good without evil, pleasure without pain, etc. Each polar state defines and gives life to the other. The best way to appreciate joy is to have experienced misery. Human beings know this, but I think it goes further.
Surely it also has something to do with our fascination with villains and scoundrels and rogues. In many ways, vile Iago is more engrossing then noble Othello. John Milton's Paradise Lost, which champions the ways of God to Man, features Lucifer as its most fascinating, interesting, and yes, sometimes, most sympathetic character. Lucifer or Satan is the cause of Man's doom, of his loss of paradise, but boy, is he interesting. He's energy in a bad cause but he is at least ALIVE. Any being that dares to take on God, is kicked out of Heaven with a third of the angels, and then climbs right back on his feet in Hell with his demented spirit defiant and unbroken is . . . well, fascinating. Despite our common sense, we even pull for him a little. After all, he's one heck of an anti-hero.
Ultimately, I think these (and others I haven't mentioned) are the reasons why little kids and grown-up ones love Halloween and ache to march the streets in costume once a year. Halloween represents the dark, forbidden desires in all of us, a safe taste of dangerous, even perverted evil that adults in particular relish.