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The Thrill of Fear: 250 Years of Scary Entertainment.

Children's breakfast foods depend on ghosts, zombies and ghouls for entertainment and sales appeal. Toys and games for all ages abound in horror themes. Books, films, television and advertising delight in scare and menace. Shouldn't intelligent people be avoiding such disturbing themes? Its purveyors say that the public can't get enough.

Horror has been a part of moral and religious instruction for hundreds of years. The devil and his cohorts played a great part in keeping inner life in turmoil, but not until the last three centuries has the uncanny been used for entertainment purposes.

For terror to have a universal appeal must it necessarily be linked to loathesome instincts? Or does dealing with the fearful under controlled circumstances provide some psychological relief for those who are pervaded with constant anxiety and apprehension?

Walter Kendrick attempts to reconcile the phenomenon of horror with the human race's aspirations for peace and tranquility. The more we attempt to sanitize death in the manner that funeral homes surround burials with descriptions of the "journey to a resting place," the more it returns to our world of entertainment.

Charles Darwin speculated that fear's instinctual symptoms evolved, like all other features of life, because they aided survival. "Fear was a response to some threat in the environment," Darwin explained. "Standing hairs . . . may make a threatened creature look larger and more terrible to the enemy or rivals."

The author contrasts animal fear of death, which is always imminent, with the human propensity to dwell upon it, agonize over it, and encounter every peril with overwhelming visions of annihilation. Perhaps our ability to visualize ourselves dead (unlike the animal) creates a need to assuage the constant self torture with death-as-play.

Kendrick takes the reader through art and literature of the past proposing that artistic merit may have taken second place to the grisly subjects but survived because their subtle purpose was to provide satisfaction with surrogate sufferers.

In our own time, the popularity of pornographic cruelty is hardly based on the viewers' blatant enjoyment of inflicting pain upon a passive subject. In psychoanalytic terms, the "pleasure" of viewing thinly veiled sadism and subtle acts of pain infliction could be the need for pacifying inner fears of being a victim oneself.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Vegetus Publications
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Words:373
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