I was having a comment conversation the other day with another blogger Caitlin Kelly, a freelance journalist from New York who at the moment is teaching at the Pratt Institute. Her post, which you can read here (and I highly recommend you do), was about how the effect of all the horrors going on in the world and being reported to us by the media. I mentioned in my comments that after digesting all the real horrors, it’s not uncommon for me to immerse myself in fictional horrors. Caitlin replied that one of her students, who “has seen his fair share of horrors”, also prefers the genre of horror. I said that for some people, horror acts as a kind of therapy.

Now, some of you who are reading this will probably be thinking “Horror? As a kind of therapy? We’re still talking about the genre where serial killers can be heroes, what trait your character embodies can determine whether you’re killed or traumatized, and fans debate on how good a movie is based on use of suspense, special effects, and gore, right?” Yes, we are still talking about that genre, but just bear with me.

Look at a news feed, particularly one devoted to global events or major issues facing Americans today. This is probably what you’ll see:

  • ISIS murdering Shiites, Yazidis, journalists, and anyone else that they don’t like.
  • Ukraine fighting both its own people and Russian insurgents.
  • Hamas attacking Israel and Israel firing back (and it’s only a matter of time before that starts up again, mark my words).
  • Several cases where police have shot and killed unarmed black men, with the most recent and famous case in Ferguson, Missouri.
  • Congress’s constant squabbling and bickering
  • An immigration crisis that continues unabated
  • Ebola spreading throughout West Africa and father beyond
  • Kristen Gillibrand, a well-respected senator and possible 2016 presidential candidate, being sexually harassed by older, male senators
  • The suicide of Robin Williams and the hurtful responses from people and groups such as Westboro Baptist Church, Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, and Gene Simmons (my article on that is here)
  • CeeLo Green making horrific remarks on the subject of rape on his Twitter account
  • Justin Beiber is in trouble with the law again.

Depressing to read, isn’t it? What’s worse is that this is only the tip of the iceberg. All over the world, people are facing discrimination, violence, poverty, illness, corruption, greed, incompetence, and just about every other horror under the sun. And these problems are huge, multifaceted, and difficult to resolve. In fact, there are many people who may have multiple opinions on how to resolve just one of these issues. And assuming that the people in positions of power are able to come to an agreement and implement some sort of solution, there’s no guarantee that the issue in question will be fully resolved or not or will leave lingering micro-issues that will eventually grow and become major issues in their own rights.

“It’s true, I got defeated by some snot-nosed brats. I don’t like talking about it, though.”

There’s that. And then there’s the stories told within a horror novel or the latest scary movie. Let’s take Stephen King’s IT, for instance. The antagonist is a shape-shifting demon that can take on the form of your greatest fear and prefers the form of a clown. Well, that looks tricky to defeat, but it isn’t as hard to pin down or as multifaceted as an insurgency group or a virus or children brought to this country illegally fleeing violence and poverty. And guess who defeats It? Seven kids. They face their fears, band together, and defeat the monster in its own lair as kids, and then most of them come back as adults to finish the job. And after they’ve fought It for the second time, It’s dead. It isn’t coming back in any form ever again. Sure, at the end of the book the characters start to lose their memories of their war with It, but the story ends on a happy note.

In this way, horror stories–fictional horror stories–can act as therapeutic. We see very real versions of hell unfolding at home and abroad, and then we dive into a story where the characters are fighting their own hell. And we know deep down it’s fiction, but we don’t care. We sympathize and empathize with the characters. Occasionally we even recognize ourselves and our own brutal, tortured pasts in one or two particular character. And we see them defeating demons, exorcising ghosts, kicking serial killer butt, solving murders, and sometimes even bringing back the dead! Sure, plenty of people die in these stories and a good number of them end up traumatized by their experiences. But they usually defeat the enemy, they come out of the conflict stronger, and they sometimes even find romance.

What a horror novel can do for us.

And that fills us with hope. We think to ourselves, “Sure it’s fictional, but I see myself in these characters and the problems they face. So if they can take on ultimate evil and defeat it, what can I do?” In essence, horror takes the feelings of depression and jaded cynicism out of us and fill us with possibility and optimism. Weird, I know. These are stories that aim to scare us and fill our dreams with terror. But horror can do that and lift up your spirits too.

Horror is certainly one of the things that can lift up my spirits when I’m feeling down.

Has horror ever made you feel better after you’ve been feeling down? What happened? Why do you think you felt better afterwards?

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