With Halloween just days away, October’s roundup will look at some of the macabre and spooky insights the web had to offer this month. Fear being a sensory experience–a pounding heart, shortness of breath, sweaty palms and vision problems are among the physiological markings of fear–it’s no surprise that science, medicine and the media valiantly make attempts each year to explain away the reasons we scare easy, and why some people seek out horror and gore.
Antiquity Now points to a connection between increased dopamine receptors in the brain and thrill-seeking activities, including, of course, a love for horror films and haunted houses (a fun addition to the post is a 2,000 year old scary story by Pliny the Younger). A long and interesting post on the beloved history of the horror genre at Wales Online attributes the power of legendary horror films like House of Wax and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to playing on “basic instinctual fears,” but what is lost when we make assumptions about consistent and standard sets of fears that come from the discursive power of the concept of “instincts”? Finally and maybe most importantly, Wired discusses the circulation of web snuff films (like ISIS beheadings) as acts of war, where we are tempted by politically-charged horrific images (both real and imagined) that have space to run rampant in a way that is both viral and leaden with depraved meaning.
Specific fears are also getting their due: New York magazine and the Atlantic both take on the fear of clowns (citing Freud’s The Uncanny and the deeply unsettling “frozen” smile); TechTimes looks at the trope of the haunted or evil toy (the fear of the uncanny is mentioned here again, attributed to German psychiatrist Ernst Jentsch. The article also underlines the Ouija board and possessed doll as touching on our long-rooted cultural anxiety around necromancy and communication with the dead); Slate covers taphophobia–the fear of being buried alive–and the true and terrifying history of premature burial; Psychology Today unpacks the ‘mad scientist’ trope, getting at very real fears around mental illness and the collision of that fear with the absolute knowledge and power conventionally attributed to science; Guernica’s fantastic piece “Consumed” argues that “the horror of being eaten outpaces the horror of death by any other means” because of the power relations caught up in the act, again relying on primal imaginaries.
Don’t forget to keep up with the Somatosphere Ebola Fieldnotes series, which includes regular web roundups!
More Links of Interest:
“The History Behind ‘American Horror Story: Freak Show'” – The Geek Anthropologist