197. Fear

I don’t think there’s anything fun or funny about fear. Children do love Halloween, and some may think they love its scariness, but I think it’s the candy, the costumes, and the chance to stay out “late” that they love (Actually, Halloween always seems to come right after the clocks are set back, so it seems later than it is). Some dress up as vampires, ghosts, and witches, but I think at least as many dress up as thoroughly unscary characters.
As for horror movies, I don’t think the reason they’re popular is that people like to be scared. I think it’s that they like to not be scared by things that someone thinks are scary. I think people who really get scared by horror movies don’t go to them. I’ve been to one horror movie in forty-seven years, and I don’t intend to go to any others.
There are many things to really be afraid of – things that really happen, or could happen if we’re not careful, or lucky. There could be a war, a natural disaster, a disease, a crime. The real possibilities are numerous. We really don’t have to waste our fearing energy worrying about dead people coming back to life to wreak revenge, or the person next door turning into a giant cockroach. But that’s what sells movie tickets.
Like many adults I know, I started out thinking that children liked to be scared, so I scared them a little. I hid behind doors, and jumped out and yelled, “Boo!” I told them spooky stories, using my spookiest voice. I sang them spooky songs. Some of them liked it, and since I’m a natural born ham, the more they liked it, the spookier I got. But I think the ones who liked it weren’t really scared.
Not every child liked it. There were worried faces. It took me a while, but I came to realize that “scary” stuff is only fun if it isn’t really scary. Children are just trying out the world, and they’re not sure it’s safe. In many ways, it isn’t. They’re not ready to hear all about that yet, and they certainly don’t need to hear scary fantasy. When they’ve learned to distinguish fantasy from reality, scary fantasy may turn out to be fun. But that doesn’t have to happen on any particular schedule. We don’t owe it to children to teach them how to stay calm while they watch horrifying scenes.
I hope movie producers and directors hear what I’m saying. Probably not, though. They see that movies that scare children bring in a lot of money. Peer pressure pulls children to movies they secretly would rather not see. We may speak for the children’s right to be entertained sensitively. We may be articulate, and speak with determined voices. But the ticket sales speak for themselves.

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