Thursday, October 28, 2010

Why Do We Love the Dark, Sick Side?

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.


Anita Davison said...

With the current trend for vampires, werewolves and beastie novels erupting onto the world of books, it does make me wonder what the fascination is with today's teens, who appear to feel that sex with a vampire must be way more exciting than with a human!

Perhaps the view that, 'I'll play with the bad guy but not become him,' could be the attraction. That we can dabble with the dark side but come away virtually untouched - But what do I know, I still hide under the covers during horror movies!

Great post by the way, John - and don't worry about the hospital thing - how many women love to re-live their never-will-I-forget-this childbirth experiences??? I have one and my son is 28!

John B. Rosenman said...

Thanks for commenting, Anita. I assume you never wrote about your childbirth? :)

You know, about thirty-five or forty years ago, there was a popular, somewhat different Dracula movie. It featured Frank Langella, and the difference was, that actor was SEXY. Vampires have long been portrayed as having some aura of sexuality and irresistibility. In this case, the actor's sex appeal helped at the box office.

Yes, playing with the bad guy but not becoming him is a large part of the allure. Even if it happens to be dangerous, we still tell ourselves there's a way out, and rejoice triumphantly and smugly when to our relief, there is.

Karen McGrath said...

I spent a few years perched in front of horror movies on late night TV. I think the fascination is that reading or watching it allows us the chance to process fear in a healthy way rather than actually living it or stuffing it. Great post, John!

John B. Rosenman said...

Thanks, Karen. I love horror movies myself.