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Laughing in the face of fear

| Wednesday, October 24, 2018

I can count the number of horror movies I’ve seen on one hand. Not only am I not a particular fan of the genre, but I actively try to avoid it. It started in middle school, when I went to see “Mama” and hated every minute of the movie. I couldn’t finish “Jumanji” until 10th grade, and that isn’t even supposed to be scary. This summer, I begrudgingly watched “The Conjuring” with friends, though I spent the majority of the movie with my eyes closed. Needless to say, I really, really dislike horror movies. The reason is simple: They scare me, and I dislike the feeling of fear.

I’m not the only one. Plenty of people share my dislike of horror films, and I’m sure even more share my aversion to fear. The fear of fear is probably as natural a feeling as fear itself. Fear follows us from the movie theater and shows up on amusement park rides. It affects us when we’re in a fight with a friend or planning for the future. Fear, like any emotion, has incredible range. It can be as petty as the fear I feel when watching a scary movie or as profound as fearing for your life. Though opposite extremes of the spectrum, the feeling in both circumstances is the same. The solution I’ve found, then, is simply to avoid situations that induce fear, whether they’re fictional or real. Quite recently, though, I’ve discovered a new cure: humor.

Master Pancake is a comedy troupe based in Austin, Texas, that screens films while comedians provide live comedic relief. Everything in the theater is the same as a typical movie theater — massive screen, comfortable seating, buttered popcorn — except for three seats in the front row reserved for the three performers who sit alongside the audience with mics in hand. My friends and I went to see the classic horror film “Scream,” which I had (unsurprisingly) never watched. I wasn’t sure what to expect; my friends assured me I wouldn’t be scared, but I couldn’t help but remember every other one of my horror movie experiences.

In some ways, the experience was similar. The movie they showed was the exact same classic horror film with all the jumps, screams, blood and creepy voices. The only difference was the comedians’ perspectives on it. They laughed at it. They joked about it. They pointed out the ridiculousness of it all. When a character was trying to be serious, they undermined his or her delivered line with a punchline of their own. I found myself laughing throughout a horror film. Sure, there were times when I felt that familiar drop in my stomach, but I enjoyed the experience — but not because I wasn’t scared. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel afraid. I felt the fear, and I laughed at it.

So maybe the solution is not to eliminate or avoid fear. Maybe we ought to face fear head-on, change our interpretation of it and laugh at it. It’s not a change in emotion, but a change in perspective. Fear is an inevitable feeling, and trying to avoid it is ultimately a useless attempt. But perhaps by recognizing it and dealing with it, we can become better equipped to deal with it when it does arise. For my part, I plan on not going to bed when the late-night horror movie comes on, but on watching it and laughing at the fear.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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