A glance at the calendar tells me it is October. I adore October — all my favorite things happen in October and is the colorful face of my favorite season. Any trip to even the smallest of shopping places is filled to bursting with reminders that this is the season of Halloween and we do love Halloween. From socks to underpants, candy and cookies, ceramic jack o’lanterns to animatronic dragons breathing “fire”, the accoutrements of Halloween appear to be everybody’s favorite. And while Halloween isn’t my favorite, even I have a pair of socks to commemorate what folks like about this season
One thing I can’t get behind is the love of scary things. Left to my own devices, my family’s Halloween decorations would be limited to friendly Caspar-esque ghosts and jack o’lanterns with features made of only triangles and circles. Mister Soandso has been very clear that my devices are not up to snuff in this part of our family. And why? Because Halloween is supposed to be scary. The scarier that better. Horror-riffic, even.
People do love being scared, don’t they? Not me, for sure. But other people do. This is a truth so true that an entire industry capitalizes on the apparent love of being scared that causes folks to not only buy tickets to see horror movies, but to buy tickets to improbable horror flick sequels. (“Friday the 13th”, for example.)
Our desire to allow ourselves to scared is so predictable and desired that Alfred Hitchcock told scriptwriter Ernest Lehman that, “The audience is like a giant organ that you and I are playing. At one moment we play this note, and get this reaction, and then we play that chord and they react. And someday we won’t even have to make a movie — there’ll be electrodes implanted in their brains, as we’ll just press different buttons and they’ll go ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ and we’ll frighten them, and make them laugh. Won’t that be wonderful?”
Wonderful indeed. Hitchcock understood human psychology – he understood how to control us — perhaps not all of us, but enough of us to capitalize on our desire to feel first scared and then safe. Marketers use this stuff all the time to get us to buy more stuff – to buy two cans of shaving cream so that both the men and the women in our homes have shaving cream to use…when what is inside the cans is basically the same. Don’t believe me? Ever wonder why the McDonald’s of the 60s and 70s all had red and yellow decor? Because McDonalds’ wants us to feel hungrier than we are and leave faster. (Read here and here for more about color in the food industry.) I first learned of this phenomenon back in sociology 101 (back in 1987) and these articles are all current – it’s been happening all along because it works!
So why am I pondering horror flicks and fast-food’s use of psychology?
Well, it appears the Supreme Court is about to get Brett Kavanaugh. And that, my fellow global citizens, is very horrifying.
Perhaps my statement seems either simplistic or hysterical, but I assure you, it is not meant to be brushed off as either.
We have been played by masters of psychology – so masterful that many who chafe at the thought of spending more for a meal or item at the store, don’t even realize what has happened. That’s right. We Americans love our independence, but seem to have no idea how that love has been used to control us.
That control keeps us distracted. It keeps the economy flowing in one direction. And that control keeps the power in the control of a very limited group.
We get scared and then we react. If that’s a horror movie at Halloween, then the reaction is probably the price of a movie ticket and an overly large bucket of popcorn.
But what if that scare tactic focuses on our safety? We might buy a gun or a security system. If the focus is our children’s health, we might decide to not immunize them and instead use a whole host of “natural” products meant to boost their immune systems. If the focus is job security, we might decide the answer is building a wall on our southern border. And so on. And in each case, the effect of our being scared isn’t that we are safer or healthier or more employed. Nope. The effect is that there is more money in the hands/pockets of the people selling us those guns or tinctures or border patrol policies.
The balance of power has shifted and that shift is largely due to the fact that we have been manipulated to fight against one another rather than notice what is truly at work. That fighting keeps us so busy that people are failing to notice what is really happening. Much like a diversion during a bank heist, the US citizens are fighting like crazy to make a life worth living while the very wealthiest folks are completely insulated from our in-fighting.
And why is this happening? Not only are we hooked on the feelings that being scared can give us, but we just might want this. According to Timothy Pytell, PhD, “demagogic populist leaders can mobilize the masses with visions of grandeur and fantasies of violence while the rest tolerate, or turn a blind eye, or perhaps see some possibility offered by the third path. Others out of either ignorance or a willful ignorance remain unaware of the dangers of fascism.”
The next time you watch a reelection rally of our seated President (which has never, ever happened before #45 took power), look at the faces of the people behind him. You will see the folk with visions of grandeur or fantasies of violence or a hope for a third path where only people who look like them have any pieces of pie. The psychology of so many US citizens has been manipulated so that the appeal of fear has led them to a place where the individual trumps society.
And that is why this truly is a time of terror. Because if we don’t stop thinking of just ourselves, there won’t be a society left. Instead, we will have a country where only certain people have any rights for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. And the rest will just be fodder for whatever the rich want to distract us with.
The “great American experiment” may well be concluded. The question is just how horrific will the outcome be?