Torch-bearing villagers chase a monster through the dark night…
This is a scene from numerous horror movies; collectively, this scene becomes the most memorable, the most graphic, the most instructive message of the genre.
What does this scene teach us?
Perhaps the most important message is that there are times when it is socially acceptable to hunt monsters, and to hunt as a pack, as a mob of blood-thirsty avengers.
Nevermind whether fire-brandishing mobs misunderstand the monsters whom they hunt, monsters who may deserve more sympathy and compassion for who and what they are.
Mob justice was a more common phenomenon in ages past, particularly when there was little or no law to guide the hands of justice as a mob’s eager hands lynch some poor person trapped amidst the crimes of a community that lie in wait for some anonymous stranger to appear in their midst and be branded the villain of their crimes in order to satisfy the terrible fear, anger, and tension of an isolated village.
Supernatural causes for the disappearances of children and loved ones have also explained away the crimes of villains who hide as wolves among sheep and who manipulate events to shift the burden of their guilt toward whomever is hapless enough to make themselves a likely decoy to draw justice away from themselves.
The encroachment of law and order upon these communities, the shrinking of the distances between villages that have outgrown themselves, the appropriations of justice by church and state that tolerate little or no competition within their jurisdictions have all diminished the regular arisal of mob justice that might once have dominated many, most, or even all human communities.
However, mob justice accomplishes what the laws of god or man sometimes cannot; mob justice is sometimes still a useful tool by which to prosecute and punish some of the monsters that dare to prey on our communities. Consequently, we must find ways to teach successive generations to accept and to participate in mob justice, albeit there may still be little or no real justice to it at all.
The village was small, the sentries posted along the roads at night could keep no order within, each householder must keep order for themselves as best they could each night.
Around the burning embers of fires that have been banked for the night children and adults gather for stories told with chores. Mending and whittling, weaving or fletching, there was always work for idle hands, and there were always willing hands ready to find mischief as well.
Unruly children eager to explore were a potential threat to any family or community, a threat often kept in check by adults eager to make some mid-night mischief of their own.
Fathers frightened their children if they ventured out alone in the dark, stalking them, preying upon their innocence and trust.
It was a father’s duty to keep their children home; a wayward child might be accused of any sort of mischief if they were seen away from home alone. Nevermind if the accusations were ever true, if ammounting allegations against a child accused of criminal mischief could not be disproved they would harm the standing of the child’s family in their community.
Of course, much mischief could always be freely perpetrated in some adventurous child’s name.
Consequently, a child who would not obey, who would not stay in their home at night, was a liability.
A good father might simply lurk in the dark and pretend to be a fiend or ghoul or wolf or bear. Their wayward child would be duly frightened; or if not, something worse would happen, perhaps a scolding or a spanking.
A cruel father might not bother with any foolery, they might simply beat their wayward child black and blue to instill the necessary fear that would keep them safely at home minding their chores and lores.
And of course, children who escaped their parents rule at night might meet far worse fates than their fathers’ wrathful warnings.
Many unsuspected people might stalk the night with malign intents.
After all, everyone had some business in the night, business that might leave them without useful alibis or without their constant vigilance within their own homes.
Loose talk in taverns helped many criminals find their victims, victims that included a mark to frame for their crimes.
Any stranger passing through might do as a diversion for a mob misdirected by their own collective guilt over their own secret crimes, crimes that various mob member may hope to lay at the feet of a stranger silenced by a noose and then condemned with planted ‘evidence’.
We remember the voices of our bullies, some of whom were really shouting with their fathers’ voices, chiding or abusing us with the same words they learned at home, words used to hurt them, words which our bullies transformed into words with which they empowered themselves to hurt us in their places.
If we had had more close family and friends we might have learned to imprint on other people more successfully. If it takes a village to raise a child, then it is because a child must be imprinted upon a broad spectrum of people to gather a healthy range of values, skills, morals and good behavior.
As communities outgrow their village sizes the people of a community grow too numerous, trust breaks down, children must become more isolated by fear and change from a healthy range of human contact.
We grew up alienated from our family, we grew up with few friends. We learned to flee from the people we loved the most. We learned to be afraid of anyone we hoped to be friends with. We learned to abandon any hope of ever fitting in with family, friends, or any other communities of people.
Is it so strange we feel so alone and tormented today, even when we are held in the warm embrace of our girlfriend, Tina?
Is it so strange that we must contemplate how our relationship with Tina must end?
We do not want Tina to leave us, but it must seem to Tina, at times, as if we have already abandoned her.
We do not want to hurt Tina, but we hurt everyone we love; we do not see how it is possible not to hurt anyone we love. We must believe that Tina must choose to leave us because we cannot be the person she once loved.
This frightens us terribly, how can we change this awful prognosis?
We can scarcely speak to Tina without hurting her, and yet our silence is another punishment Tina must bear if we hold our tongue. And it seems we must hold our tongue or else we will somehow lash her with our tongue without ever meaning to.
But oh! Far worse when we deliberately speak in ways we know must hurt her.
We are a person who has been broken out of the world of human societies. Perhaps we broke ourselves free, perhaps we were outcast, perhaps we simply slipped through the cracks and gaping chasms of some insufficient interest in our welfare.
We were raised by monsters to become a better monster.
We eat bitter meals from violated altars, accepting a faceless form of charity stolen from communities that cannot otherwise succor us among themselves.
We might seem to have been tamed by our own timid needs, but we cannot be included; we remain wild, a creature without solace, with no kind amongst whom we may find a home where we may feel we truly belong.
We hate this life, and yet, we must also love it, because it is the only life we know.
We cannot join anyone in simple pleasures.
Going to a movie is a torment; visiting a park is a pain.
There is nowhere we may go where we do not feel the knives of our alienation more deeply thrusting through our anguished, broken hearts by seeing other people, people who seem safely embedded in their tidy lives, lives we cannot find ourselves included amongst, even when we are warmly made welcome.
Perhaps we should have taken someone hostage.
Oh wait, we have done that before, we have done that many times.
We see how other people hold themselves hostages, we have seen how other people hold others hostage as well.
Taking hostages is a time-honored tradition, even a duty, albeit a duty we have tried to shirk from.
Were we able to adequately imprint upon and bond with other people we might be able to participate in the hostage games being played out all around us without any qualms, our misgivings swept aside by our societies’ and cultures’ willfully blind dependence upon holding everyone hostage.
If we refuse to be a hostage then we become a hostage to our own refusal, we become a hostage by our ostracism, a hostage to the social isolation that results from our failures, and worse, from our refusals to play the game.
If this is not yet another paradox, then this is still just how things really are.
It is a good thing we cannot kill ourselves, for otherwise we surely would. Alas, our commitment to life is more like a lunatic’s commitment to an asylum. We may be locked away forever with only ourselves for solace.
Are we mad to choose to believe we may still find any relief from our pain?
We are terrified of making friends and yet we must always still hope to find them.
Must we always hurt others in response to our own pain?
Love, Grigori Rho Gharveyn,
aka Greg Gourdian, Falcon, Chameleon, Roger Holler, etc., et al, ad absurdum, ad nauseum…
The antagonists and protagonists of today’s horror shows are becoming increasingly confused, such that it is easier to be more sympathetic toward the monsters and more judgmental of their victims. This might be a good trend, except that the solutions to the problems portrayed in their stories remain violent and too often still rely on dehumanizing the characters their audiences are being directed to admonish.
Please remember, all the heroines and villains of our horror shows and legends are metaphors for human beings; when we are taught to believe in the inherently evil natures of any group of people, whether they are portrayed by zombies, vampires, lycans, animals, or aliens, all of our heroes, villains and monsters are also always ourselves.