Why monsters are necessary

Day 19: Life is far more ter­ri­fy­ing than zom­bies, vam­pires, or blobs

This piece orig­i­nal­ly appeared in The Nation­al Post (online), 22 Octo­ber 2012.

There’s a dude sit­ting at the table next to mine. The guy looks sus­pi­cious; he’s been typ­ing on his com­put­er a bit too deter­mined­ly. Prob­a­bly he’s just updat­ing his resume, but per­haps he’s try­ing to pur­chase ura­ni­um on eBay.

I’d bet­ter alert police, just to be safe. It’s the only ratio­nal response.

We’ve had more than a few ages in our species’ life­time. The Stone Age. The Bronze Age. The Renais­sance. The Age of Enlight­en­ment. The Tech­no­log­i­cal Age. Those few years when Pauly Shore was a thing.

Nowa­days, I firm­ly believe we are smack-dab in the Age of Fear.

Ter­ror bom­bards us from a hun­dred points of attack. The tele­vi­sion news­manikins raise unease and blood pres­sure with sound bites on that day’s virus out­break and war­fare and ter­ror­ist attacks and mys­te­ri­ous­ly dead whales, all right out­side your door. Polit­i­cal doom­say­ers warn of Armaged­don should the oth­er par­ty gain/maintain pow­er. Reli­gious lead­ers tell us gay mar­riage caus­es hur­ri­canes. Gov­ern­ment offi­cials assure us that we are in con­stant per­il, hence the need for more pris­ons; unre­port­ed crimes are on the rise, you know.

I’ll let you fer­ret out the log­i­cal incon­sis­ten­cies in that state­ment your­self; I’m try­ing to make a point here.

Behold! The face…of hor­ror!

These days, I have to fin­ish my morn­ing “busi­ness” before I check my brows­er to lessen the pos­si­bil­i­ty of spon­ta­neous pants soilage from ter­ri­fy­ing head­lines scream­ing of ebo­la, cli­mate change, ocean­ic destruc­tion, miss­ing chil­dren, Rob Ford, and the neces­si­ty of bike hel­mets. Hor­rors abound through­out this epoch, like cof­fee shops in Mon­tre­al; if you’re not afraid yet, just turn around.

As our trust­ed lead­ers say, we’re com­plete­ly secure. But. Be wary about every­thing and every­one, just to play it safe.

Con­se­quent­ly, with every stranger a dan­ger, every shoe a bomb, every paper a cut wait­ing to hap­pen, why would I ever con­sid­er fright­en­ing myself on pur­pose? Why would I ever want to lay­er my very real fears with the psy­cho­sex­u­al crea­tures of Clive Barker’s imag­i­na­tion? What, it’s not enough that I’m ter­ri­fied to fly, now I have to con­tend with the haunt­ed hous­es of Andrew Pyper, the men­ac­ing alco­holics of Stephen King, and the bow­el-infest­ing worms of Nick Cut­ter?

Yet it is obvi­ous that we, cit­i­zens of the men­ac­ing ter­ror-plan­et that is Earth, love being fic­ti­tious­ly scared. We gave Saw six sequels; we tune in to The Walk­ing Dead and Amer­i­can Hor­ror Sto­ry and Han­ni­bal; we con­sent to Dean Koontz receiv­ing a semi-reg­u­lar pay­cheque. We, as a soci­ety, not only want our fic­tion­al mon­sters; such imag­i­nary demons are nec­es­sary to our subconscious’s sense of well-being.

Sci­ence tells us that deep with­in the prim­i­tive canyons of our brains, we can­not dif­fer­en­ti­ate between fan­ta­sy scares and the real thing. Is it any won­der then that we’ll watch Jason Voorhees hack up co-eds galore, when we’re sure the post­woman is plot­ting the same thing?

Mon­sters are essen­tial to how we func­tion in a world that, we are unceas­ing­ly remind­ed, is get­ting dead­lier by the minute. If that love­ly cou­ple from Para­nor­mal Activ­i­ty can live with a pesky ghost, maybe I can face anoth­er work day. Rose­mary loved her baby, spawn of Satan though it was; I guess I can cope with pick­ing up the kids from soc­cer prac­tice. It’s because of my sur­viv­ing the page-num­bered vam­pires of Salem’s Lot that I am sure that, when it all starts to go down, I won’t stop until it’s over.

But let us not for­get, mon­sters, vio­lent ten­den­cies notwith­stand­ing, are just plain fun. A good mon­ster sto­ry exhil­a­rates, either because the evil is van­quished or just because it’s awe­some to watch a giant fire-breath­ing lizard stomp cities into kin­dling. If your boss has rid­den your ass all day, what bet­ter way to relax than by vic­ar­i­ous­ly haunt­ing an amuse­ment park where that old weird guy was mur­dered that one time?

Final­ly, we need fic­tion­al crea­tures of myth and night­mare because their sto­ries have end­ings. This “war on ter­ror” shows no signs of stop­ping any­time soon. There’s lit­tle-to-no light at the end of the tun­nel when it comes to glob­al warm­ing. But when the last zom­bie has been picked off, the sur­vivors heli­coptered to safe­ty, and the cred­its begin to roll, we can go safe­ly out into the night, secure in the knowl­edge that, while our homes are most def­i­nite­ly being bro­ken into and our pos­ses­sions pil­fered, at least we’re sure we won’t be devoured by brain-hun­gry ghouls.

Nine­ty-nine per­cent sure.

For some rea­son, I always write about hor­ror every Octo­ber. Prob­a­bly because it’s my birth month. Some­thing like that.