So, we all know the stereotype on this one. It’s always the unsuspecting people who end up becoming victims in horror movies. Geico even made an ad about the tropes in the horror movie and how the victims always seem to hide or escape in the worst ways possible. We all know what is going to happen. But the characters themselves don’t seem to be capable of logical thought.
Most of us are familiar with the tropes in horror movies and perhaps even in horror fiction. Although, there is something more psychological in the literary world. Science goes wrong and personalities get split like in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a man visits his family’s property only to become possessed by the dead spirit of his black magic ancestor, like in The Curious Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
Again, we would think that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Ward would have turned back if they’d had a lick of sense. But then did Eleanor Vance? Did Carrie White? Those are questions we each need to answer for ourselves.
That, and it’s fun to suspend your disbelief if only for a little while, to contemplate the world which could be and the horrific possibilities that present. Also, there are some valuable life lessons to be had from horror stories. And not all of them may be what you think. Although, there is something to be said for keeping situationally aware while you are outside of your cozy corner of the world.
Find your process, but be open to improvising.
I’ve already gone over the advantage of having your own written processes for your life and for your business. Healthy routines can help you reach the next level in both your personal life and your career. That hasn’t changed. Most of us, particularly those of us who have mental health issues, need processes in place for our own sanity.
Horror shows us there is something to be said for improvising your daily routine once in a while, just to shake things up. And to ensure that no one will guess your next step. Or to at least keep yourself mentally flexible enough to deal with a world where change is one of the few constants.
Because if you get stuck in a rut, if you’ll pardon the cliche, then you are less able to handle sudden changes. Look at Eleanor Vance. The first time she goes on an adventure, she not only loses herself, but she doesn’t know how to build friendships and relationships that have something more lasting than physical proximity.
Working from home, I realize this more than ever. It’s one thing to be diligent in your work, but it’s quite another to neglect going out once in a while or taking care of yourself.
The cure? Breaking out of my routine and allowing myself the luxury of sleeping in, of painting my nails, and buying a new lipstick. You don’t always need to do anything drastic to break yourself out of a rut. Sometimes you just need to get out into the fresh air for a few minutes.
Recognize a wider world and don’t become too isolated.
If there is one lesson, take away from both The Haunting of Hill House and Carrie, it’s that you shouldn’t become too isolated from the rest of the world. This logically follows from the previous point. Because your processes, depending on your work, can be isolating.
But isolation can also lead to other things.
Carrie White’s mother believes the rest of the world is evil. She doesn’t allow any contact with the outside world, and that puts her daughter at an even worse disadvantage. Worse still? Everything she encounters in the world seems to confirm her bias because she’s in her own echo chamber.
Her daughter reaps the full consequences.
And who are the easiest victims in any story? Socially, emotionally, and intellectually isolated people. You don’t have to be physically isolated to be a victim—that is often the trope in horror movies. It makes for a good bit of theater, but it isn’t always the case. The first two works we looked at this month show us that all too well.
Intellectual isolation is perhaps the most insidious. It’s when you deliberately withdraw from any contact with opposing viewpoints. You live in an echo chamber and you admit nothing with which you do not agree. Intolerance is most often associated with the religious, but more and more we are seeing it with the non-religious. Particularly with the political and the socially conscious.
Isolation in brief spurts is a good thing. Buddha and Jesus Christ both went into isolation in the wilderness. This is why pilgrimages are now a vacation option once more. And retreats to monasteries and religious houses can provide not only an opportunity to unplug, but a way to reconnect with your god, the Universe, or whatever it is you choose to believe in.
An entire life in total isolation? Now, that’s not a good thing. Particularly when, like Margaret White, it’s used as an opportunity for spiritual, emotional, and physical abuse.
Look for the good and forgive the bad.
If you look for the bad in people, you will inevitably find it. Everyone had skeletons in their closet. But are you going to punish everyone who doesn’t measure up to your own personal standards? As Hamlet wisely remarked to Polonius, “use every man after his desert and who shall ‘scape whipping?”
If you punish every single person who has done evil according to your own standards or even lives differently to what you think life should be, then you are going to end up punishing everyone out there at some point. And just think, your own standards may not even be that fair. Just look at Carrie White’s situation. She was an outcast for her mother’s indoctrination.
No one forgave her for being her bigoted mother’s offspring. Or strange, or warped. They held it against her for her entire life instead of trying to help her. They basically just “canceled” her. Worse still, they persecuted her for being different.
I think that is the larger issue with cancel culture. You do not know the personal struggles or situation of every person out there. Some people out there may face terrors you know nothing about.
It’s far better to forgive the people who have either messed up or seemed to mess up than it is to hold a grudge against everyone for the rest of your life. You can’t go through life cutting everyone off and out forever. That is how lives get ruined, sometimes even your own.
Knowing yourself also means knowing you are just one piece of a larger puzzle.
If you notice, most of the characters in horror, from the frail blonde walking alone at night and getting attacked by a monster to the insecure writer who takes up residence in a haunted hotel all have some kind of doubt as to their place in the world. Others, as we’ve already noted, don’t even have a clear idea of their own identities. Much less where they fit in.
Self-knowledge is about knowing yourself. But it’s also about knowing where you fit into the larger puzzle of the world. This isn’t about class warfare or caste warfare, either. This is about knowing your strengths, knowing your weaknesses, and knowing where in the world you fit in with those strengths and weaknesses.
It’s also recognizing when you are in a good place and learning to be content with what you have. You can still have that wish list of things or experiences. But there comes a time when you need to recognize you are able to do good where you are and that you are good at what you do.
I recently read a Forbes article from 2021 about how the common advice to “follow your passion” is not really good advice at all. Because we can all be passionate about certain things, but it doesn’t mean we’ll be happy or fulfilled making a career out of them.
It’s the same way with knowing your place in the world. You may be very good at spreadsheets and keeping track of money even though your passion is mountaineering.
But being an accountant and being a professional adventurer are two completely different things. And, by the way, the latter is more of a romantic notion and requires sponsorships and, yes, accounting. Best to stick with mountaineering as your hobby and continue doing the books to pay the bills. Don’t you think?
Don’t Give Up the Ship.
Giving up can be easy. Persevering is not. It’s easier to give in, to lie down, and to surrender. But that is not what we, as humans, admire or remember. There is a nobility that can’t be faked, bought, or replicated in the few who dare all odds because they believe their sacrifice means something.
In horror stories, there is always someone giving up, it seems. It may be as easy as giving up fighting because the individual sees no point in continuing on. Or it can be the typical victim who gives up fighting against a stronger opponent because, well, why bother, right?
There is a movie on Amazon Prime called Kesari which I had the supreme privilege of watching this past weekend. It was the anniversary of my father’s passing, and it seemed just the sort of movie he would have liked. It also embodied his favorite motto, “don’t give up the ship.”
Kesari is based on historical events and tells the story of a brave last stand by 21 Sikh soldiers in a little-known battle called the Battle of Saragarhi. It is exactly the greatness, bravery, and valor that anyone in the world could, and should, admire.
They did not falter. They may have had doubts, but they did not falter. Because if they held out long enough, even if they all died, they might just save the other two outposts in the area.
They all died. But they all succeeded.
You do not know what your bravery will yield. None of them did. But they took a stand and made their deaths count for something. And that, I’ve found, is always inspirational.
Also, it makes you appreciate just how much of history gets shuffled into the shadows. Even though this bit of history is part of Dr. John Watson’s backstory in “A Study in Scarlet”.
Horror stories are only slightly real.
The most important thing to remember about horror stories is that much of the naivete is artifice. It may be based in reality,
If you haven’t, you need to see an old black-and-white comedy called Arsenic and Old Lace. Like most early movies, it’s based on a stage play. The movie stars the very dashing Cary Grant and takes place on Halloween. Towards the end of the movie, Cary Grant’s character, who is a dramatic critic (think early movie critic), explains the phenomenon of ignorant characters walking straight into a trap.
The gist of his explanation is that people in plays and, by extension, movies don’t see or hear anything because they’re not supposed to. They’re in a story where everyone is play-acting. We could say the same of anything we see on stage, in film, or even on social media accounts: it’s a production. Not a genuine reflection of reality.
Just as most horror stories are just that: stories. They don’t depict reality even if they are realistic.
So, how do you escape being a victim in a horror movie? Perhaps part of how you escape is by recognizing reality and not being afraid to face it.
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