Introducing TTT: Terrible Takes with Troy
I’m leaning in with takes on topics some might consider controversial. Ever since the Gene Wolfe’s Dead Ass-Kissing Society came at me over my post on PEACE, I’ve decided to let go of worrying whether I’ve hit every angle of every argument, and just have some fun with it.
My mother—the Queen of Half-Baked Nonsense, to whom I owe much—never gave a crap whether people agreed with the cockamamie things she said, and we still get an inordinate amount of amusement about them to this day.
If life is a banquet, just consider this a little amuse bouche.
We’re out on the veldt, gathered around a cozy fire before bedtime, sleepy from a big dinner of Wildebeest à la Grub and Termite Eggs Drizzled with Wild Honey for dessert (my favorite!) Someone always starts singing “100 Jars of Goat's Milk Mixed with Cow’s Blood on the Wall” but you don’t mind because life is good, and you’re just gazing off to the edge of the firelight at the tall grasses thinking, “Gee, might need a wizz before I get in hammock.” You stand up and start to walk toward La Tree as everyone is laughing and singing and clapping along, not noticing you wandered off…
“DON’T DO IT!” we (the audience) are all screaming, watching you stumble away from the group, because what you haven’t seen is that strange cluster of markings in the grass, which might just be shadows and dead leaves, but as we stare at it, we realize it’s a face. A lion! A tiger! It’s a goddam hockey mask! Get out of there! Fool!
Seeing faces in things (SFIT), called parodoleia, is thought to be an evolved mechanism for the human brain to resolve incomplete stimuli into meaningful patterns—the quicker you see the psycho killer’s face, the sooner you can hightail it out of there and go make more babies who will see danger even sooner, and so on. (SIDENOTE: I have a very pronounced tendency to SFIT—literally everywhere—including and especially finding coconuts unreasonably adorable; I am constitutionally compelled to cuddle coconuts at the grocery store and give them a little shake to see whether they slosh or squeak.) Parodoleia is the active ingredient in constellations, and bunnies in clouds.
I assume with no citable evidence that this is part of a broader pattern-recognition ability, which allows us to distinguish balls from black mambas or people from pomeranians, and as we became more organized biologically and mentally, eventually lead to humans writing novels while cats are afraid of cucumbers. SFIT, I’ve decided, is the behavioral precursor, or at the very least an apt metaphor, for the human need to make sense out of nonsense through stories—life as found art.
Making Sense of the Senseless
And when we talk about “senseless” things, the most commonly referenced is Death. Never mind that we don’t know what happens after we die on the one hand; there’s the more important question of HOW we die in all its coughing, staggering, gasping, swooning, wheezing, rattling, screaming, squashing, exploding, sizzling, bloody horror on the other.
Put your hands together, and I submit that the Horror Genre itself is a way for humans to wrap our heads around the randomness of an otherwise senseless, meaningless, horrifying prospect to us. “God’s Plan” doesn’t really cut it most of the time, especially when there’s blood; we need to see how it will actually happen, our end—call it Exposure Therapy: Worst Case Scenario—evidence rubbernecking at car crashes. (On a trip to Kauai our Hawaiian driver “Happy” rubber-torsoed half way out his window to finally catch a glimpse of the dread effluvium. “Oh, there! I see it! There’s blood!” he declared triumphantly to a busload of white people grimly determined NOT to turn our heads.)
It’s not only to take away some of the sting—most people in horror movies don’t even see it coming, so the fear of an ax to the head is probably somewhat worse than the actual date with Lizzie Borden. It’s also to anticipate some of those random situations where axes are likely to come flying at us—through windows whilst looking out into the night, around dark corners, in showers with unlocked bathroom doors—and maybe take a few sensible precautions.
“Don’t open that door! Don’t go in the water!” The audience is screaming these things at you because we have seen this a thousand times before—these are not random dark alleys and eerie music just for fun—nothing good comes from sticking your head, hand or nose into dark places when you don’t know what’s lurking in there. Connect the dots, FFS, and live another day. (Why have 99.9% of people in horror movies never actually seen one?)
“Ugh, why, Troy, why?” some of you are undoubtedly asking. “Why, WHY talk about death?” Why, indeed. I maintain that if you are asking that question the Horror Genre was actually made for YOU.
DEATH: The Lottery Everybody Wins👻
If all campfire stories are ghost and horror stories, ergo, Horror must be the original genre because before we had hearths, lava lamps or recessed lighting, we all sat around campfires with our backs to the dark. Even going back to pre-fire days, when we only had the stars and the patterns we saw in them, it was all about those crazy immortals, the Gods, and all their children, the monsters. The stars and their myths, and ghost stories around campfires, are all about reminding us that we are mortal, at the mercy of more powerful forces.
Because it’s coming, you must know—all the old tales end the same way. If you’ve arrived on Earth, it’s always a round-trip ticket. Your number, at some point, will be “up.”
We like to think if we are rich, or beautiful, or powerful, or good, that maybe the ending might be different. But if watching or reading Horror teaches us anything, it’s that death is coming for all of us. Maybe not in the first scene, maybe not in the middle—maybe we’re even one of the lucky ones who survives the end of the movie because the audience was rooting for us and because someone has to toss the match into the fireworks factory and blow the killer back to hell—but even then, there’s gonna be a sequel, and the survivor of the first movie always gets the ax in the first scene of The Return. Horror reassures us, that yes, there is no escape.
So why worry? No need to freak out, Horror teaches us. Freaking out leads to rookie mistakes like tripping over your own feet, or tossing away your only weapon before that last murderous attempt on your life when you thought you had the all-clear. No reason to fret over the inevitable if you’ve accepted that it IS inevitable. The pattern is there, if only you’ll open your eyes.
Sure, take some precautions. Double and triple lock the doors, of course. Turn on the alarm. Silver bullets are handy.
Then, pop some popcorn; pour yourself a delicious beverage; nuke up a side of nachos. Turn out the lights (except the one at the top of the stairs, obv.)
Cue up “Terrifier 2” or “Smile” and feel a little chill run up your spine as you remember that you can abide just about anything except killer clowns and overly-earnest or impolite people.
Be fearless. Be brave! Go ahead—you got this. Until you don’t… 🙃
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Love this line: "...Horror must be the original genre because before we had hearths, lava lamps or recessed lighting, we all sat around campfires with our backs to the dark." I've done a lot of primitive camping in the wilderness and can attest to the very real fear of having your personage lit up for all to see and your back to the vast darkness behind you.
Awesome read, Troy. I love horror. I love the safe approach to being scared by the horror genre. But as I age, I also think about death increasingly more often. But that's ok, for all those reasons. It's coming. It'll eventually come. I don't want to live in ignorance of that fact.
The secret ingredient in clouds! 🤩
Great line and words about SFIT. The idea of you cherishing every coconut made me smile.
So... I've never read any Gene Wolfe. On my list though. Need to go seek out that post you mention ...