It’s almost Halloween, my least favorite holiday of the year. It’s not the dressing up in costumes or the handing out candy or the parties that bother me, it’s the dark, scary, ugly, gory images and stories, and the fascination with evil and cruelty they sometimes encourage. I’ve always been easily scared. I can’t even watch the trailers for scary movies, much less the films themselves. I plug my ears and close my eyes when the trailers come on, even in a crowded movie theater. I’ve never read a horror novel, although as a child, I read plenty of ghost stories. But the stories I liked were the ones with romantic ghosts seeking a lost love or hoping to atone for something they’d done wrong.
I’ve heard about the studies that say engaging in scary activities is good for us because it creates a safe way to face our fears. And I accept that, to a certain extent, we humans are programmed to be fascinated by the macabre (myself included). But we also have free will and can choose what type of art we interact with.
People make fun of me for refusing to watch or listen to gruesome stories. They try to coax or shame me into participating. They insist that “this story” isn’t that bad, and then they try to tell it to me, even though I expressly asked them not to. But I stand my ground. Because no one should be forced to dwell in a place that feels uncomfortable to them. It’s not up to us to say what type of art someone else should explore. People have different reasons for refusing to interact with certain types of art. I won’t make you to listen to my folk albums if you don’t pressure me to listen to heavy metal music.
I speak so often in this blog about all the ways art brings us together and creates connections, and someone’s refusal to engage in a certain type of art is just another opportunity to connect. When you discover a friend has a particular aversion to an art form, you’ve been given the chance to ask why. And if they are willing to tell you, you are given the gift of learning something more about that friend, something that might be deeply personal.
It’s about respect. It’s about allowing people the freedom and space to be honest about what they like and don’t like, and honoring who they are. That’s not to say we shouldn’t offer to expose someone to a new art form, if they are willing to give it a try, but no one should ever be forced or shamed into engaging in art. That’s just another form of bullying.
So if you love scary stories, I’m happy to picture you with a popcorn bowl on your lap and a blanket pulled up under your chin and a your hands partly over your eyes. Me? I’ll be watching some silly old romantic comedy. We’ll both be happy, and that’s what it’s all about!
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