The Creation Of Fear….
April 17, 2021
I have recently become obsessed with the concept of fear. No, not real actual fear, mind you, but manufactured fear, the one where a narrative is already attached to an object and theme. The stuff where we see in movies, books, and other differing parts of the creative experience. This thought became ever so prevalent with the events of this week and the new Amazon horror anthology series called “Them”, which follows a black family in 1953 and shows the fantastical side of pioneering a new neighborhood at that time.
Now, I have a ton of thoughts on this series, especially when it comes to the idea of ‘Black Trauma Porn’, but I want to focus primarily on the idea of fear. Namely, the questions that kept cropping up in my mind while watching this show:
Who was this for?
What was the targeted audience?
What was the purpose of this horror? And..
If this is a horror genre, then what level of fear is this supposed to generate?
You see fear plays an important part of our human psyche. The fear response starts in a region of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala helps coordinate responses to events in your environment, especially those that trigger an emotional response. This structure plays an important role in fear and anger. Why is this important you ask? Well, for the simple fact that one can reason that the creation of fear is a powerful device on messaging. So again, I always ask myself when pouring into a new horror, “What type of fear are they trying to convey?”
As I was watching this new series, I had this sudden epiphany that struck my brain. All of the things I have been witnessing over this past week, from recent harassment/killings of young men to the “trauma porn” I was forcing myself to watch. I realized one thing:
All of it stemmed from an idea of ‘Manufactured Fear’.
Now you may be asking yourself, how I am going to tie in all of the craziness from this week into a fake streaming series. The answer is simple. It all starts with the understanding that the root of everything is hinged upon the manufactured fear created by white supremacy. But before we go there, let’s first go back and figure out where the hell (pun intended) did manufactured fear come from?
While this subject can cause all sorts of derailment, I want to focus primarily on the horror genre, or rather its creation.
As far as Western culture is concerned, the horror genre began to crop up around the 18th century. Obviously, considering the referenced time period, we are strictly talking in the literary sense. Most literary historians credit Horace Walpole (Castle of Otranto, 1765) for creating the first horror story in a written form. However, it was Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who truly pushed this niche literary form into the popularity public consciousness with her famous novel, Frankenstein.
The Frankenstien story on its face was about the creation of a monster, unnaturally, who ultimately kills his creator. However, true discussion of the book highlights the social temperature at the time. You see, the public was wrestling with the concept of science (specifically the discovery of electricity). There was often a debate at that time of “whether man was dabbling too close to God’s work?” or “Were we moving too fast as society? Losing our soul in the process”. To people at that time, society was changing at such an alarming rate, and they were scared of where it was going.
Doesn’t that sound familiar? It should, because Fox New Tucker Carlson literally aired a segment on his show Thursday night (4/15/2021), talking about “Society moving too quickly scares (white) folks…and we need to be incremental with change”. He specifically cites the idea of ‘Replacement Theory”, which has been cited as the motivating factor for various acts of terrorism in recent years by angry white men.
In terms of the concept of horror, white people literally created a genre and scenario to justify the rationale of their current environment. Yes, it was for entertainment, but the point still remains, horror was created to explain the narrative of society. Fear was generated due to that narrative and used to justify the emotional response of society around them.
In other words, they manufactured fear.
Which brings us to the present day. You see, it is of my opinion that the essence that’s causing all this social turmoil is derived from white people’s manufactured fear of men (people) of color. It is from this inherent narrative of fear that the emotional reaction to dealing with situations involving men of color is to resort to violence and/or intimidation. You only attack and/or challenge what you fear. It is either that or run away. But what if you feel like the monster of bigoted views in which you created is out to finally kill you, wouldn’t you defend yourself against such a beast?
The problem is black & brown people have been regulated to fictionalized constructs of who we are. These narratives often times are borne out of bigoted stereotypes. It is why a 13-year-old black or brown kid, who had his hands up, would be considered a boy, but an 18-year-old who carries an assault rifle across state lines would be considered just a ‘kid’. There have been literal studies of how the bigoted stereotypes of towards a certain race, mostly created by manufactured narrative, seep into how one perceives the way they act, talk, and even the physicality of them. Whether it’s the ‘Mandingo/African Buck’ stereotype or the idea of the ‘Angry Black Woman’. These narratives infect the idea of how to deal with people with whom you in reality have no real understanding. It is no wonder the horror story of violence is always constant, because the fear is justified in how they view society.
When you take away the humanity of race and turn them into caricatures of bigoted tropes, you have nothing left but to fear the thing you created. A monster directly regulated to your societal scope. It does not have to be real, for it to be painful.
This is why we have to be careful of creating scary narratives surrounding people of color, even if it means delving into the fantasy of real black pain. Yes, the story of our oppression is important to tell, but when you lace it with images of black suffrage, physical and emotional trauma, and then slap the title of ‘Horror’’ story on top of it, the question must be asked.
‘Who was this horror designed to scare?” and “What emotional reaction of fear is this expected to generate?”
Whatever the answer are to these questions is, just know that the manufacturing of fear directly correlates to real world pain, and there is nothing fake about that.