You know those idiots with the “No Fear” stickers on their trucks? They’re lying. Anyone born without the ability to be scared will not be long for this world. Fear keeps us alive by reminding us of what to avoid, and it floods our bodies with chemical reinforcements should we need to bring the hurt on some malevolent entity or sprint top-speed-plus away from danger. It’s a guard dog that lives in your brain. Also, going through a scary experience brings a sort of euphoric afterglow: you’ve survived, the air tastes sweeter, colors are brighter – you cheated death, etc… You came, you saw, you kicked its ass: let fly your mighty YAWP. And none of that would be possible if you had “no fear”. Puh-lease.
Dr Margee Kerr is a sociologist who studies fear and, unlike a lot of dusty-dull academics, she actually mucks about in the real world. For instance, she moonlights with Pittsburgh’s industry-leading haunted attraction “ScareHouse”, studying the fear of the guests, helping develop the best possible scares. For her book Scream, she lined up a series of fear-inducing experiences for herself: Toronto’s famous CN Tower Edge Walk, Japan’s notorious suicide forest, the most haunted place in the US (Eastern State Penitentiary), sketchy neighborhoods in Bogota, and so on. To up the ante, she experiences much of these completely alone, which, you will learn, really makes a difference. Her observations along this intense adventure involve a lot of hard science but are often extremely personal, as she perforce reflects on her own life and personhood. Research or not, that’s the kinda shit you do when you think you’re gonna die.
Of course, as necessary as it is, sometimes fear is damaging. Dr Kerr makes a lot of really interesting observations about the many shades and contexts of fear. It can be life affirming, but it can also be deeply traumatizing. She makes a solid case for the responsible use of fear as a healthy and useful entertainment. There is a ton of science in here, and if some of it is foggy in my head, it’s only because it was hard to slow down and let it sink in, much less actually stop reading- which was not gonna happen. This is a read that hits all the buttons. Useful for the scare-pro, no doubt – but also good for the soul.