Fear is an odd thing. I met someone the other day who had a fear of ketchup - not just a dislike of ketchup, mind you, a genuine phobia. It made me wonder about what causes fears and that led me to realize that many of the fears I have today are caused by something I saw in a movie or TV show. So, for this post I would like to talk about movie-created fears. I’m not talking about things like sharks, spiders or demonic possession - those things are all inherently scary. The kind of phobias I'm talking about are fears that people normally wouldn’t have, if it wasn’t for things they’ve seen in movies. Things like. . .
- Basements/Attics - If there's one place in your home that's haunted, it's probably the basement or the attic - at least, that's what movies want you to believe. We have been conditioned to believe that the highest and lowest points of our home are the creepiest. The scariest thing I've found in my basement so far is the occasional non-venomous spider and the most frightening thing in the attic is the possibility of inhaling fiberglass insulation. Yes, I still may run up the stairs when I leave the basement, but that's only the continuation of a childhood fear that pale, demonic children with black fingernails are going to grab my ankles - which was brought about because of a movie I saw on TV years ago.
- Hockey Masks - I don't know anyone that is afraid of football helmets. Shin guards don't inspire fear and elbow pads don't make grown men tremble. However, because of the Friday the 13th series, the protective gear that hockey goalies used to wear on their face is forever associated with serial killers. An interesting fact is that Jason didn't even don his iconic mask until the third installment of the franchise, but he rarely goes without it these days. If you saw someone walking down a dark alley wearing one of these fiberglass masks, I can guarantee you would either quickly turn and walk the other way or wet yourself - and it's all because of movies.
- Static on the Television - Truth be told, this film-created fear will probably soon be going away. Digital television signals have all but abolished a static signal on the TV, but, back in the day of analog television, it was a common occurrence. This "noise," as it is called in the nerd world is simply caused by electromagnetic signals prompted by cosmic microwave background radiation (duh!), but because of movies like Poltergeist and The Ring, static on the television makes us feel like something from the other side is trying to communicate with us or going to jump out of the TV and kill us.
- Showers - Showers have been a safe way of washing oneself since the times of the ancient Greeks. They didn't become commonplace until much later, but in 1960, Alfred Hitchcock took the safety and comfort of a nice, warm shower and stabbed it in the face. Since that time, showers have become a place of vulnerability, a place where you make a conscious effort to lock the door and a place where you constantly look over your shoulder to make sure no one is lurking behind the curtain. Semi-transparent shower curtains make this movie-created fear even more apparent.
- Motels - Speaking of Hitchcock, it used to be that a private, out-of-the-way motel off of the main road was a pleasant and welcome find. Nowadays, however, because of movies like Psycho, Vacancy and Identity, all these quaint establishments will get is a leery sideways glance as you hit the gas and speed on down the road to find a La Quinta Inn. In the past, people may have been worried about sleeping in dirty sheets or the occasional cockroach, but it is because of movies that solitary motels make us fear for our lives.
- Summer Camps - Don't get me wrong, parents have always been concerned about sending their kids off to some random campground with a bunch of other kids. But there is a real difference between worrying your kid is going to get into mischief and worrying they are going to get impaled through the stomach with a fireplace poker. Movies like Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp have made us believe that groups of youth gathered in the forest are a magnet for serial killers and monsters when, in fact, they're just a magnet for mosquitoes and minor misdemeanors.
- Little Girls - Before movies and TV taught us otherwise, if we saw a little girl standing in a graveyard, crying, we would have run over to see what's wrong and tried to help. Additionally, the laugh of a little girl used to brighten the room instead of bringing a chill to the air. But Hollywood has used the creepy little girl stereotype so often that people now assume any little girl in pigtails wearing an old-fashioned dress is a ghost or a demon. Don't believe the hype - I have a young daughter, and she's only evil 27% of the time.
- Clowns - I put the blame for my fear of clowns (or "coulrophobia") squarely on the ruffled shoulders of Tim Curry, who's portrayal of the Stephen King character "Pennywise" haunted my nightmares for many years. Professional clown organizations have tried their best to fight against the Hollywood stereotype of these comic performers, but the influence of film and TV and their portrayal of evil clowns is much greater. Granted, there is something intrinsically unsettling about someone who has a permanent smile on their face, but most clowns are nice, personable people who just want to entertain kids and make a living - except for the ones who are serial killers (*cough*Pogo*cough*).
- Backseats of Cars - We've all seen that moment in a movie when the character gets into a car and thinks she is safe, only to have something large and evil pop up in the backseat. Because of this film trend, people tend to be afraid of the backseat of their car and may make cautious glances in the rear view mirror. However, if you think about it, backseats are highly visible locations. A quick glance though the windows as you're approaching the car will let you know if the ax murderer is really lurking back there, and most likely, he's not - he's waiting for you in the basement.
Now, before you faithful readers reply with a comment that says something like "CLOWNS ARE SCARY NO MATTER WHAT!!!", I want you to take a moment and trace back your fear for each of these items. I'll bet it originated with something media-related. Would you be really scared of any these things if it wasn't for movies and TV shows? Can you think of any other examples where Hollywood has taken something innocent and made it frightening? Do you have any other film-caused fears?