Delight or Flight From Fright?

Oct 27, 2010 by

Delight or Flight From Fright?










If I were to ask what frightens you, what would you say? Would it be something like a snake or a mouse or maybe a spider? Or are you more afraid of things like fire or roller coasters, or heights? I have a daughter who is terrified of June bugs, and yes, she knows they can’t hurt you, but that in no way diminishes her absolute terror at the mere sight of one of these little scarabs flying by! One of my fears is no less irrational; I am terrified of lizards! They, too, are not likely to harm me, but that does not make me any less afraid of them! So what is this thing called “fright” and how is it that we can become so paralyzed at the very thought of the object of our fear?

When you think about it, we seem to delight in being frightened as much as we abhor it! One has only to look at how we so enjoy attending or renting scary movies to get a good sense of that. We love to perch at the edge of our Popcorn seats in the arms of our beloved and become horrified as our absolute worst imaginings are played out on the screen before us! In fact, if one is to look at film as a good example of how and why we surely relish being frightened, there seem to be several genres of fear to choose from (here, have some popcorn!) 😉

In Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, we feel empathy with the creature that, wronged by fate, comes to life through unnatural misdeeds.Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's Monster We are drawn to the monster’s gentle ways with a child, and his innocence in appreciation for a flower, yet we are horrified by his unknowing proclivity for doing great harm. This theme is repeated by characters in many horror films and gives us cause to wonder why we long to identify with beings that embody some of our worst nightmares. Could it be that we are recognizing and embracing an understanding of supreme loneliness in these seemingly gruesome villains?
Another type of fright film is one in which we witness brutal and gory acts of violence perpetrated on any creature, living or dead, by those who would appear to revel in doing harm. Here, too, our feelings of empathy are drawn out, but this time they are directed toward the victims. Do we associate with those who are vulnerable to being manipulated, controlled, or hurt by sources that would use and abuse or even kill them? If so, where is the satisfaction or joy in this? Or is it only “fun” because we know it is really just make believe?

alien and ripleyAlien beings from other worlds, robotic humanoids, and invisible entities also offer a veritable smorgasbord of fear-mongers to entice us with their wares of debauchery. And we love it, but why? Are we all deranged? Are these interests prolific within cultural, or age or gender boundaries, or do we human beings just love to be scared out of our minds, as long as it is in a safe setting, where we are certain that no real danger is present?

Monks on a roller coasterOther things, too, provide us with this “fix for fright.” There are amusement park rides that deliver simulations we can actually experience with rides in vehicles at excessive speeds, anticipatory climbs and plunges on roller casters, and gravitational devices which centrifugally pin us to the walls of a spinning object, then drop the bottom from beneath our feet as we scream and squeal in “fright delight.” Some prefer free falling from dams, bridges or cranes, as they drop or dive to great depths over dangerous terrain, while securely attached to a bungee chord, “height fright?”

Many like to play thrill-focused video, cell phone, or computer games, some designed to simulate actual danger and evoke nearly real fear, all from the safety of their computer chairs, or a game room with padding and props. Some like to read scary books like Stephen King novels, Harry Potter, or the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe. Some like to watch dramatic television series that expose myths of vampires who threaten to drink the blood of their victims, such as True Blood, or perhaps real ghost busting teams with infra red cameras are more to your liking, while others want to explore haunted houses, tell spooky tales around a campfire, and play pranks on friends who are unaware, all with the intention to induce fright.

zombie movie posterLet’s not forget about the supernatural elements of fear-based experiences either. Many seek to explore the validity of purportedly evil entities in practices of Voodoo, Witchcraft, Demonology, and the like, in order to experience the full spectrum of possibly dangerous otherworldly things to be feared. As you can see, there is something for everyone when it comes to how you may like your fright.

Now if you are thinking that this somewhat peculiar interest is unique to our technological age, or at least since the beginning of literature and the availability of the written word, you would be very mistaken.

Virtually all cultures and peoples for as far back in history as we are aware, perpetuated and shared by word of mouth and expressions, stories and rituals that included elements of fright. Why? Perhaps we will never know. But we can speculate that the fear factor seems to divide into two distinct segments. One involves a curiosity about what may be lurking just outside our safety zone, and the other plays within the safe space of simulation and make believe, which appears to be far more entertaining and sought after than actual fright. Is it rational? Are we predisposed by our human nature to want to experience this state, or is it more learned cultural behaviors that prompt us to want to feel fear?

jack o lanternMaybe we can only wonder, but as we approach the celebration of a holiday, on October 31st, where children and adults of many countries dress up in scary (and other make believe) ways, paying tribute to ghosts and goblins and all things that go “bump in the night,” let us raise a cup of hot cider, bob for apples, and enjoy some sweet treats, in celebration of Halloween, a global night of fright. Boo!!!

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  1. Eve~

    What valuable insights you share here in your comments regarding this article on “Fright”!

    There most certainly are marked differences between teaching our children to be afraid, and teaching them to be cautious. As parents we come to know that sometimes of our children will respond appropriately to a wise word or two, yet others of our children are seemingly neither afraid nor careful enough to serve their
    own best interests. Wouldn’t it be nice if a simple word to all would do the trick, but we who have children all know better than that. Still, I believe, we are never justified in passing our fears onto the young in order to purportedly protect them. Lets all hope we can teach without imposing fear, since eventually our intention will be lost, or the fear may become irrational and may even prevent them from trying new things.

    Thanks again, so much, for reading my article and for taking the time to share your valuable thoughts with us!


  2. Thanks, Linzy! Coming from a very talented writer and poet such as yourself, I really appreciate your comment!

  3. linzy

    good stuff Adele!

  4. Eve forcinel

    I loved your article! The mention of june bugs I loved junebugs brought back memories of the hot muggy night with millions of fireflies and some we caught and put in mason jars with holes in the top so they could breathe. They were delights of the summer season. However Snakes, spiders and scorpions were a huge fear and they seemed to be everwhere when we as children least expected. Our parents always warned which I think made us more afraid. I have been stung by bumble bees, honey bees and scorpions and it is not fun but it did not kill me. I believe now that fears are passed by the fears of generations and all the scary stories ect. have an effect on our lives. I have had to overcome huge myths and wives tales that generated from my childhood. There is a huge difference in teaching safety vs fear and I believe I acomplished that with my sons. See I’m like a bad penny. You think your rid of me and I pop up again. BTW My kids loved scary stories. But they alo knew they were safe in the telling. Thank you for your great article and your patience.

  5. Frank Stein

    “Farewell! I leave you, and in you the last of humankind whom these eyes will ever behold. Farewell, Frankenstein! If thou wert yet alive and yet cherished a desire of revenge against me, it would be better satiated in my life than in my destruction. But it was not so; thou didst seek my extinction, that I might not cause greater wretchedness; and if yet, in some mode unknown to me, thou hadst not ceased to think and feel, thou wouldst not desire against me a vengeance greater than that which I feel. Blasted as thou wert, my agony was still superior to thine, for the bitter sting of remorse will not cease to rankle in my wounds until death shall close them forever.”
    — Mary Shelley (Frankenstein)