Tuesday, November 2

Halloween Psych 101: Lesson II - Casper Wasn't a D-Bag, or Why ghosts are pretty much BAMFs.

The farther something deviates from its human origin, the damper our pants become. It’s science. At least in the Gizma universe it is. That’s why movies like Poltergeist, The Shining, and Paranormal Activity are classified as Horror, while Casper the Friendly Ghost was a Saturday morning cartoon deemed suitable for young children. Even though Casper was no longer physically in a human body, his presence was still benevolent, kind, patient, helpful, and just a smidge nerdy. These are traits that set us apart from the animal kingdom; the kind of characteristics we idealize as the very best of human nature (well, except for the social awkwardness).
Awkward Turtle begs to differ.
As anyone who’s ever tried to merge onto the Freeway during rush hour can tell you however, many humans possess none of those traits. So, you have the “Caspers” of the world and the Poltergeist-types. 
And when I say Poltergeists, I mean flaming Douche-holes.
Like a Thanksgiving turkey by the first day of December, these spirits no longer retain those idealized human traits that make us so delicious and palatable as a species, so all that’s left is the gristle and crap. And maybe a drumstick or something.
These ghosts represent our most selfish, hateful, rage-filled, lustful, envious, revenge-consumed nature unleashed upon a household of unsuspecting middle-class couples who live in a suburb where I imagine every building contractor sounds something like this:

Contractor #1: "What do we do with this Native American Burial ground?"
Contractor #2: "Should we leave it alone and give the people buried here the dignity they were denied in life?"
Contractor #1: "I was thinking we could build houses on them. Lots of them. With pools n’ junk."
Contractor #2: "...Yours is more fun."
"Laid back dude just looking for a roomie that's clean, 420 friendly, and doesn't disturb the bones of my slaughtered people."
Besides reminding us of the darkest depravity and anger present in the human soul, our ectoplasmic friends also have an eerie appeal because they are the ultimate voyeurs. They can move through walls and can see you while you sleep without needing binoculars and a strategically placed bush. We don’t like having our privacy and personal space violated so we go to great measures to keep unwanted elements out. Our home is our fortress which we go to great means to keep impenetrable by outsiders. When our fortress is breached, we feel extremely vulnerable so we invest in dead-bolts, security alarms, and guard dogs to bolster our sense of security and privacy. 

The entertainment industry has often played with these fears of intrusion and violation in works like Spielberg’s Minority Report and George Orwell’s 1984. In the novel, Big Brother could seamlessly move through your skull and survey your thoughts without you even realizing it or being able to stop it. An all-powerful, omniscient entity that moves through boundaries at will and can follow you wherever you go makes for the ultimate skeeve-fest. Ghosts, the ultimate intruder/perpetual creeper, have the advantage of not only being uninhibited in their access to you (and the power to clang pots and pans loudly at wee hours of the morning) but also the ability to remain unseen and, ultimately, unknowable.
I went to a Halloween party this weekend at a Scooby-Doo type house replete with scowling portraits and creaky floorboards, where the bolder guests took turns seeing how long they could each last in the bowels of the unexplored basement with no lights or company. Nobody lasted more than 60 seconds. One girl technically lasted a couple minutes down there, but not voluntarily. By the time she was adequately scared and yelled, “I’m ready to come out now!” she was told that she’d have to wait while they found a screwdriver because the lock was stuck. This did not please her.

            Why are we so afraid of the dark? Logically, we know the odds of actually encountering something that might munch on our souls down there in the darkness are slim to none. Our imagination gives real life too much credit.
But that’s just the problem: in the absence of complete details, our mind has to fill in the blanks, which leaves room for massive (and terrifying) discrepancies between the real and the hypothetical. That’s why movies like Paranormal Activity, Psycho, and The Blair Witch Project were more suspenseful than run-of-the-mill horror flicks. You don’t yet see the enemy, but their presence is all too real.

I’m risking my dignity a little bit here but I’m just going to accept my chickenhood and put it out there: even though it wasn't intended to be scary, the first season of Heroes terrified me. You never saw Sylar’s face. You just saw his form draped in shadow as he approached people and psychically removed the top of their skulls to steal their powers. It was pretty legit. I had nightmares for weeks about this faceless man who would run me down and, because he had no face, he wasn’t human and therefore had no human weaknesses. He was invincible. 

It’s pretty easy to see why all the Freddys, Jasons, Michael Myers, and Jigsaws wore masks, had facial deformities of some kind, or hid their identity in some way that obstructed your ability to see them as human thus fallible. The moment you see their face, you realize it’s just Zachary Quinto, and then you’ve now put a face to your fear and feel somewhat silly for imagining something so much worse than reality.
"I find it illogical for you humans to fear my endearing pastiness."

The human brain needs to make sense of all information it receives. The whole point of sleeping is to go into REM cycles (a.k.a. dreaming), which is our brain’s way of processing and understanding the various stimuli it encountered throughout the day. If we don’t dream, we will eventually die. That just goes to show how intrinsic understanding is to our mental and physical well-being. When we are faced with an unknown, our mind is missing vital information so it desperately fills in the gaps with whatever it can, even if it means manufacturing something fantastic or implausible. 

We’ve all been there at one point.
You’re woken in the middle of the night by a loud explosion sounding next door. A gunshot. Or at least you think that’s what it could be. It could just as easily be a car backfiring but are you going to go outside and check out what it is under the assumption that it’s probably harmless?
Hell to the no.
           Because while it could be a simple, safe explanation, we’ve also heard those freak stories of murderers breaking in and killing entire families while they sleep and that sure isn’t going to be you. But you will never be sure because to actually know, you'd have to encounter the unknown lurking around the corner. Although sometimes, knowing what you're facing doesn't necessarily make it any less terrifying...

Her vision is solely based on movement and she can smell fear. If you just ignore her maybe she'll lose interest and go away.

Check out the 3rd installment of Halloween Psych 101: "Why You Probably Deserve to Die"


Anonymous said...

I think you are missing your calling...The written word is your artistic expression...(At least one very excellent one...)

Anonymous said...

Quite funny, especially in light of the fact that this reminds all of us who had the joy of watching you grow up of your "I saw a dead body" phase. Picasso had his color periods. Yours can be recalled in "imagined cataclysmic event" periods!

Aaron said...

The invasive nature of ghosts remind me of the Panopticon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon), a prison that was designed to watch everyone in it with just one person. In such a circumstance there is no such thing as being alone, and in some ways it is what makes dealing with ghosts so hard. There is no longer time to yourself. You are always watched.
They don't need rest, food or drink. You cannot physically fight them, cannot flee to a place they can't follow. They defy those two instincts we have in dealing with problems. What makes ghosts scary is facing one's powerlessness against them. Like living in the Panoptican you are forced to acknowledge you have no control over what you face...