Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Why Do We Enjoy Being Scared?

Today is Edgar Allen Poe's birthday. While there have been gruesome and scary tales going back to the ancients, Macabre or Gothic literature emerged as a genre unto itself with Poe and H.P. Lovecraft's writing in the 19th century. These were works of art for whom the scary was the point. It has become part of our popular art ever since.

Horror was originally invoked as a warning, as a tool to keep us from doing what we ought no. the point of the scary work was that we did not like the scary and the moral of the work was to avoid that which brought it about. But in art since Poe it has become mere entertainment.

Why do scary works, like the writings of Stephen King or the films of Wes Craven, attract us? Is the reason why it appears in the 19th century because modern life shields us from the intensity of emotion we experienced regularly before industrialization and horror takes us back to it? Is it that we have latent fears that are naturally a part of us, and the safety of modern life allows us to explore them casually? Is it like a joke where there is an incongruity between the scary world of the horror work and the more mundane one in which we live? Why do we love art that scares us?