In keeping with the October/Halloween theme, this week’s Pop Culture League asks the question: Are you scared? What frightens you the most?
For the purpose of the discussion, I will dispense with real world fears, the kind of fear that Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke about in his “Four Freedoms” speech, or clinical phobias. There are true and debilitating fears, physical, emotional and psychological. There are everyday anxieties and abstract worries, such as the fear of missing a work deadline or speaking in public or being rejected by a crush. These kinds of fear deserve a serious discussion at another time. In the spirit of Pop Culture League discourse, I will tackle fear as entertainment. Delightful fear, if you will.
Fear as a defense mechanism is probably critical in ensuring the survival of our species in the scope of our evolution. Fight or flight. In that evolution, fear and pleasure both happen to activate the same amygdala region of the human brain. This physiological development has certainly bore fruit for the entertainment industry, as consumers will actually pay to be frightened. According to the Haunted House Association, there are over 2,000 haunted attractions in the United States. The Halloween Attraction and Haunted House Attraction industries combine to generate over $1 billion a year.
Not to mention the plethora of annual year-round horror conventions. Events such as Monsterpalooza, Horror Hound, Mask Fest, Scare LA, Spooky Empire, Days of the Dead and ScareFest attract tens of thousands of attendees and are fertile retail targets for mask makers and special effects makeup artists.
A National Retail Federation 2016 survey estimates that Americans will spend $8.4 billion this Halloween season. To be fair, a good portion of that spending is on superhero costumes, equally true for children and adults. (Ah, but–as a nod to last week’s Pop Culture League topic–zombie costumes are in the top 10.)
Moreover, horror movies collectively have already grossed over $442 million so far in 2016. Hollywood has produced an average of 20 or so horror genre films a year since 1995. Horror franchises like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Saw, The Conjuring and Paranormal Activity, to name a few, have been box office gold.
In short, fear is very lucrative. Let’s face it: we just love a good scare.
As mentioned, there is a neurological explanation with the amygdala. But I will posit another reason, that fear is the ultimate escapism. To be transported to an environment that simulate danger without actual physical harm triggers adrenaline, gets our heart palpitating, and then offers psychological (and physiological) relief because it was all made-believe.
This is escapism at its best. Clearly as demonstrated we will gladly dole out lots of money to experience it. I will predict that the fear experience will be huge in the Virtual Reality platform (Oculus Rift, Google VR, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear, PlayStation VR, among others). And I can’t wait for the invention of the Holodeck™.
Check out the other fantastic takes on fear: