The fear paradigm. That’s what I call it. It’s something all horror scholars know about through study, and what all members of the horror-movie-attending audiences know instinctively.
The Fear Paradigm is not WHAT scares us, but rather, what scares us NOW.
And the paradigm changes radically with cultural shifts. Just looking at horror cinema over the past 120 years, we can see how world events and cultural upheavals sent us running from very different boogeymen depending on what decade we’re talking about.
At first it was electricity, yes electricity. At the end of the 1800’s and as far forward as the 1930’s people were still wrapping their heads around this new, almost mystical power that was beginning to permeate their lives. The paradigm shifted from man made monsters born of electrical storms to nuclear horrors, to satanic cults, to paranormal aberrations, to unbelievable gore-fests, to faceless serial killers, to torture chambers to zombie apocalypses.
And all of this fiction came from fact. Each era of fictitious Fear Paradigm comes directly from what’s scaring us in the real world. Every decade or so, some new tragedy, horror or unbelievable atrocity comes along and scares us... changes what we’re scared of... changes who we fucking ARE.
For the longest time, we’ve been neck deep in zombies and apocalypse films which stems both from our fear of losing everything that’s important to us all in the blink of an eye, as well as from fantasy wish-fulfillment of being a survivor in a dying, overpopulated planet. And that Fear Paradigm is just about played out, just as the one before it -- the torture film, which all stemmed from our disbelief at the horrors of 9-11 and the resulting Guantanamo Bay situation.
You’re all smart readers, so you’ve probably already guessed where I’m going with this. And that is looking forward at the next Fear Paradigm. It always comes on the heels of our witnessing some national or international event so awful, so tragic, so violent, that we can’t even fucking believe it. Every time.
This time, it came in the form of the death of innocents in Newtown. And before that, Aurora. It’s a galvanizing horror that we now all share -- one of those events that leaves us all watching the TV or reading the news online while tears stream down our faces... While bursts of awful cold adrenaline spike through our hearts at the awfulness that we’re witnessing, yet not fully digesting, because it’s too much for our hearts and brains to take.
I’m no Nostradamus, but I do know what scares me. And I know what scares most people. Gift or curse, it makes up a great deal of who I am. Like a dog that barks before an earthquake, I can feel something coming. A new kind of horror. Something that we’ll create and view and read that helps us digest the unbelievable horror that we all just suffered through.
The loss of the innocents.
That’s always been something that terrified and grieved us, but the blood flows hot and red from our most recent wound. It broke us, shattered us, left us confused and looking for an answer to the big question -- “WHY?” And “why” is the greatest fear engine that ever existed. It’s what draws us out to explore our horrors through metaphor in film and literature. It’s the itch that causes us to scratch at the scab. To watch it bleed until it hurts again, heals again. But we’ll never know why. Part of the Fear Paradigm is that we never get an answer. We’ll just keep working at the wound until something horrible happens to create another Fear Paradigm, something that draws us away from this wound, to another...
The recent shooting tragedies are the same kind of gut-wrenching, mind-shattering horror that has caused the Fear Paradigm to shift in times gone by. So get ready for horror to change again, to horrify again. To shake you down and make you hide your eyes or flee or weep. Get ready for horror to try to help you wrap your head around reality by use of its dark tool set.
But most of all, be prepared to spend a lot of time with questions that have no discernible answers in sight, because this one is going to keep us grieving and fearful for a long, long time.