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Just because it's scary doesn't mean it's stupid

Posted by Robin Abrahams  May 1, 2009 01:35 PM

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I like horror books and movies, which is a taste that often surprises people. "But you're so bright," is the general objection. For a good 10 years or so, in fact, in my teens and 20s I didn't indulge that taste, figuring that the folks who looked down their noses must be right.

They weren't, and I've been happily enjoying tales of werewolves, zombies, and ghosts ever since.

This article by Stephanie Zacharek in Salon is a good look at how horror functions as a metaphor. No, I don't believe in ghosts. But I'm interested in what happens when a person can't let go. I'm interested in what it means to feel haunted. I don't believe in werewolves, but I'm interested in what it means to lose your humanity. I don't believe in vampires, but I'm interested in what we do with people who prey on others. I'm interested in what scares us, and how we deal with that fear. This is what I enjoy about horror.

Ms. Zacharek looks at the trend of "killer plague" movies:

These movies do more than just lay out chilly what-if scenarios. Some of them are steeped in biblical morality: How do we react when we see fellow human beings in pain? When we see someone in danger -- a feverish individual, say, who may or may not be a zombie -- do we stop to help if doing so threatens our own safety, or do we opt for self-preservation? In most plague movies, there's deep mistrust of "the other," the outsider who may be infected (and it's often an outsider who started it all). Those kinds of stark divisions raise even bigger questions, sometimes amounting to a kind of civics lesson: What is it that keeps a society together, even if it's just a society of a dozen or so healthy (that is to say, uninfected) people?

Check it out.

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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