FearÂ’s entertainment value has reached its pinnacle in our day and age dominated by the internet, Hollywood movies, pop culture fiction, video games, and other shock mediums.
The entertainment industry has been utilizing our darkest fears for profit, through Hollywood, the internet, pop culture fiction, video games, and other shock mediums. The way entertainment has been evolving seems to have given birth to the truism, “If it doesn’t scare us it is soap opera [derision emphasized].” Fear is no longer the stuff of nightmares. It belongs to the same couch—or is the strange bedfellow—of popcorn and soda, in primetime ménage a trois.
The Ancient Origins of Fear as Entertainment
Fear’s grip of the captive audience goes way back to ancient times. It is the Romans that give new meaning to the concept. Gladiators and beasts provide orgasmic entertainment to screaming mobs. During Nero’s reign death bares its new fangs. Christians are dragged en masse to amphitheaters, where they are crucified, flayed alive, fed to wild animals, burned at the stake—all to the delight of the masses.
Modern-day fear factor in the entertainment industry
Modern-day pioneers of virtual gore include Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Ann Radcliffe and Mary Shelley Wollstonecraft. Alfred Hitchcock received and passed the torch on to Stephen King, Anne Rice, Clive Barker, Jeff Lindsay, John Carpenter, Quentin Tarantino, Guillermo Del Toro, Wes Craven, Dario Argento, Sean Cunningham, Len Wiseman and David Cronenberg, among others. Today, who hasn’t heard of Stephanie Meyer, or J.K. Rowling?
Who doesn’t know Jason Voorhees, Fred Krueger, Dexter Morgan, Edward Cullen, Emily Rose, William Corvinus, Lestat de Lioncourt, Norman Bates? We also have our heroes in Jack Bauer, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Horatio Caine, Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, Harry Potter, John Connor, Hellboy, Indiana Jones. Dexter Morgan is the ultimate antihero.
Vampires, werewolves, zombies, gremlins, malignant spirits, the demon-possessed, serial killers, super viruses and bacteria, mercenaries and soldiers of fortune, terrorists, Skynet and rogue machines, mad dictators, the climate gone mad, giant asteroids and meteors, earthquakes and tsunamis—they provide us with the ooohs and aaahs as we fix our scowls at the boob tube, the silver screen, or the computer monitor. We end up all smiles as we slip under the blanket, perhaps for more entertainment from lucid nightmares.
With the internet fear is just a few keystrokes, or finger taps, away. Free speech, in its broadest sense, has virtually made censorship a sad anecdote of an unwanted past. Anyone who has access to the web can, at least theoretically, “share” anything—from radical Islamic beheadings to snuff. If it is anything at all, the internet is round-the-clock entertainment.
A New Generation of Fear Enthusiasts
Considering the internet’s advocacy of absolute freedom, is it wise to assume that someday soon, parental control will become antediluvian? Children have become so adept at their keyboards, mouse and touch pads they could almost navigate blindfolded. They spend most of their leisure hours cocooned in the web.
What do you think arouses their curiosity? Everything that has something to do with fear! Anything that is taboo has to have something to do with our deepest fears. It seems more often than not that it’s too late for parents to discover that this or that has been downloaded on their children’s computers. Judging by their play stations, nothing excites them more than to fire away at will with virtual machine guns.
A whole new generation of fear enthusiasts has been evolving, with young minds conditioned, more than ever, to participate in fear’s entertainment potential.
Fear as industry
This question of how fear has evolved to acquire its entertainment value seems to follow the chicken-and-egg dilemma. Which comes first—the media that brings fear to the limelight, or the fear that has spawned all sorts of mediums to get its message across?
Not only entertainment but whole industries, built on the notion of fear, have been appearing everywhere like phantasmagoria. The pharmaceutical industry can be said to have been capitalizing on the fear of the unknown. The dietary supplement industry feeds on health phobias. Postmodern-day architecture and engineering have fear written all over their designs.
Fear is clearly at the root of human behavior. So fearful—and insecure?—is man that he has to preempt not only fear, but also phobophobia—the fear of fear itself. In order to do this, he has to sanitize, or anesthesize, fear. One sure way of achieving it is to squeeze, out of fear, its entertainment value.