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Whenever I am walking home alone, I am always paranoid that something is going to happen to me. I start to think about all of the horrible possibilities that could occur and I always feel as if I am being followed or watched. Even walking in an empty parking lot to my car scares me because I have a fear of being abducted. I, along with most people, was raised to be cautious of things like that. I was taught to always think of the worst thing that can happen, to be safe and to prevent the worst from happening.
I am scared of death because I do not know what will happen after that. American’s obsession with the dark side comes from the curiosity of death. This obsession came from the first death of a human being. That was when curiosity about death and the afterlife originated.
People do not know what happens after death and we are interested to find out more.
Americans today come across the dark side every day whether they realize it or not. Inquisitiveness about the dark side appears in books, movies, and television shows. The piece “Zombies: why are we so obsessed?” by Eric G. Wilson, refers to all of the zombie and vampire themed books, movies, and television shows in today’s society. “True Blood,” “The Walking Dead,” and “Twilight” are some very well-known examples he uses to capture our attention and also to answer the question why we are so obsessed with death.
“Maybe our obsession with zombies is a reflection of our fear of a pandemic virus that will transform us into flesh-starved corpses.
Or perhaps we are afraid of a global financial collapse that would result in cannibalistic hordes haunting burned-out cities,” (1) wrote Wilson. The author of this article does not even know the answer, but that is precisely the point, the answer to the afterlife will forever remain unknown. The answer to our obsession is simply mere curiosity about death and the afterlife. These shows are produced to entertain and meant to provide us some sort of relief to the lingering questions we ask ourselves every day, even though the answers are not concrete, whatsoever. Finding answers to these questions is why there are so many artistic pieces centered around the dark side which began the gothic era, circa mid 12th century.
Edgar Allen Poe is one of the first American authors of gothic literature. The reason Poe’s writing is so intriguing is because it relates to society’s curiosity or apprehension of death. His writing is so interesting because any revulsion the reader has about death or the afterlife is diluted because they are experiencing death through someone else’s eyes and not their own. There is nothing more intriguing than the unknown of the afterlife. There seems to be some sort of an addiction to receiving any knowledge or vindications about death or the afterlife. We can get these answers from reading gothic literature such as this by Poe. Poe’s writing is popular because of how it relates to our fear of the unknown. Americans are often obsessed with the dark side of human nature which is a reflection of this fear. The Masque of the Red Death is one of the many famous pieces of gothic literature written by Poe.
The short story takes place in Europe around the time of the 14th century where an epidemic of the Red Death, has killed off half of the population. Prince Prospero shut himself away in his castellated abbey with seven irregular rooms representing the seven stages of life. The most eastern room was light blue, emphasizing life and the subsequent rooms ranged from purple, green, orange, white, violet, and finally, the most western room was black. The black room symbolizes the gothic fear of the end of life. The sun rises in the blue east room, representing the beginning of the day and the beginning of life, and the sun sets in the black west room, signifying the end of the day or end of life. Prospero decides to invite the healthiest aristocrats to a masquerade ball in his castle. He and his guests foolishly feel safe and protected from the disease and death because the abbey is surrounded with “a strong and lofty wall with gates of iron.”
Once inside, no one can escape and no one can get in. In the black room, there is unusual décor. There is an ebony clock, which symbolizes death. It chimes each hour to remind the partiers of the fear they have about the ending of their lives. The masqueraders were considered grotesque. Towards the end of the story, an uninvited guest representing the red death, who is dressed as a corpse, interrupts the party. This creature walks from room to room and past the guests to the black room, the most western room. No one goes near the shrouded man except Prince Prospero who is following him angrily and “he bore aloft a drawn dagger.” He confronts the red death. Shortly afterwards there is a scream and Prince Prospero falls to the floor dead. The figure stands in the shadow of a clock and the partiers realize that there is no life form behind this mask. When they realize that, one by one the guests start to die. Poe ends the story with the irony of death being inevitable as much as Prospero and the partiers tried to avoid it. When the ebony clock symbolizing death chimes every hour, the guests stop everything they are doing in order to reflect on death.
“While the chimes of the clock rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation…” (2) When the clock echoed its chimes, the people who were the most alive even took time to bring their activities to an end in order to think about death and what happens when their life ends. The oldest of the guests were confused, putting their hands on their heads to consider the lives they have lived and what would happen if and when it all concluded. The guests of the party focus on running away or avoiding death. They do not want to come into contact with it because they do not know what will happen to them. This is why when the clock chimes, everyone goes silent and dazes off trying to view their beliefs on what death would really be like. They also come to the realization when the clock chimes that someday, their lives will end. It is almost as if everybody goes through a temporary transformation when the clock echoes and chimes. They take a step back and face the reality that they cannot hide from death forever.
However, when the clock stops echoing, these thoughts are diminished and everyone resumes their previous activities overlooking the thoughts they just had, as if nothing had even happened. The guests continue to party with laughter filling the room. Later towards midnight, which is also the end of the day, symbolizing the end of life, this masked stranger suspends the party. The partiers immediately go quiet when they come to this realization that there is something bizarre about this figure. “There were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before. And the rumor of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise…” (2) The partiers discuss in a quiet manner what they think this unwelcoming intruder could represent out of curiosity.
They do not gaze away from it, attempting to discover the true inscrutability of this unknown figure. At first the guests are disturbed that something like this would even occur in a ball that clearly reprimanded anything to do with death. They express disapproval and disgust when they first perceive this distinguishing character. However, they then begin to communicate to one another in a hushed tone what they think this craze may be. The guests do not fail to glance away or stop conversing endeavoring to figure out what this spiritual disposition represents out of their curiosity of the unidentified and the unknown. Poe’s gothic literature is not the only piece that represents society’s obsessive curiosity about death.
William Faulkner is an American author of gothic literature in the 20th century that is also well known for his gothic writing style. Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily is a gothic horror story set in the antebellum South. The story is told in retrospect about a spinster named Emily Grierson. It begins and ends at her funeral and the narrator moves through her life from about the age of 30 until the age of 74. Emily is an eccentric aristocrat who lives with a very controlling father, who imprisons her in their home. At about the age of 30 her father dies but she is so eccentric and resistant to change that she refuses to accept his death for 3 days. “She told them that her father was not dead. She did that for three days…” (3) Her father left her only the house, and no money. She is in denial of the fact and refuses to accept the deterioration of her social status. One day, Homer Barron, a northern construction foreman and self-proclaimed lifelong bachelor, comes into her life.
In spite of the fact that she is penniless, she shows a condescending attitude toward him and feels that she is superior. “Because the ladies all said, “Of course Grierson would not think seriously of a northerner, a day laborer.”” (3) Eventually, she falls in love, but her love is expressed to Homer in the same way her father’s love was shown to her. Love equals control. Her tragic determination to keep Homer in her life and stop time leads her to murder the man. Years later when she dies at the age of 74, neighbors attend her funeral on the pretense of showing respect. However, it is their morbid curiosity that drives them to see her and her house. After her burial, the decomposed body of the entrapped Homer Barron is found in what appears to be a macabre bridal chamber and a grotesque shrine. Death and denial are recurring themes throughout the story. The death of the two men Emily loved most, her father and Homer, her denial of their deaths, her denial of her diminished status, and finally, her own death weave through the story from beginning to end.
Emily’s constant need for attention and approval lead her to be curious about not only death, but life as well. When she meets Homer in the story, she accepts carriage rides from him even when she hardly knows him and someone in her place typically would not associate with a northern laborer. An outcome of her father’s death is Emily’s newfound freedom and her birth of curiosity to what she has been missing out on in life. When she falls in love with Homer, she takes after her father and shows her affection peculiarly by controlling everything he does. Her cousins come to stay with Emily and as a result of this, Homer moves out. Emily then starts to relive her fear of being alone and deprived of attention. When Homer returns, Emily poisons him. Her curiosity about what her life would be like without him drives her to do this and he fear underscores her curiosity. To ensure that this never happens, she kills him. Curiosity about death appears throughout gothic literature from past to present but it appears in modern times too.
Long Island Medium is a television program on TLC about a woman named Theresa Caputo, who supposedly can come into contact with the dead. The spirits speak to her to reassure those who were left behind of whatever concerns them. This provides closure to the people that have lost those loved ones. Long Island Medium is a well-liked show because it provides people with answers about those they have lost such as if they are okay, if they are in heaven, and what they are feeling. Curiosity about loved ones people have lost is the reason for the show’s popularity and it shows us how society is obsessed with the dark side. “I have been channeling spirit for 11 years now, and everyone wants to know what happens when they die,” says Caputo. In regular episodes of Long Island Medium, Theresa Caputo will be doing necessary daily activities and she will come into contact with the spirits. While at the supermarket, Caputo encounters two women and one of them has a baby in a stroller.
She approaches them regularly. “My name is Theresa and I’m a medium,” she says with a smile on her face. She then goes on to the woman with the baby that she feels that there is energy between a mother and a father having a recognition and excitement towards the baby. She then goes on to ask the mother of the baby if her parents had died. The woman, Vanessa, from East Meadow, tells her story about how both her parents had passed away and she never got to say goodbye. “Just know that your dad is stepping forward along with your mom acknowledging the birth of your beautiful son,” she says politely. Vanessa smiles somewhat morosely and manages an “okay.” Caputo persists with telling Vanessa that her parents are watching over the baby by the rocking chair in the baby’s room. Vanessa’s mother’s spirit tells Caputo of the baby’s yellow room in their new house and Caputo says this to Vanessa. Vanessa and her Aunt smile and laugh in disbelief. “Just know that her soul is with you because she says you don’t feel her,” Caputo goes on. Vanessa said she never felt that her mother was with her spiritually.
“I always say that. I can’t believe you just said that,” says Vanessa. “Your mother is leaning over and kissing you and saying that she’s proud of you and that you’re going to be an amazing mom.” Vanessa nods and begins to cry. It seemed as if she was waiting for some kind of answers for years. She was curious to find out vindications to how her parents were and what they thought of her. Almost every human being has experienced death in some way. An inference on why this show is so notorious is because of the human intellect that there is an afterlife, but it is just unknown. Society preys on any type of justification on what happens after death. There are other modern gothic shows on television that show society’s curiosity about the afterlife and the unknown, but in fictional forms. Pretty Little Liars is a show on ABC family about four girls who are trying to solve the mystery of the death of their closest friend Allison.
Shortly after the confirmation of Allison’s death, all four girls start to get disturbing texts and messages from an anonymous person who calls themselves “A” Their deceased friend Allison was the only one they told all of their secrets to. They figured since she was dead that all of their secrets were safe. However, “A” knows everything there is to know about all four of the girls’ lives. Every situation that happens to them whether it is financial, romantic, or criminal, A is the first person to know about it. The girls reunite and figure out that they all receive these messages from A. They try to unfold the mystery behind A along with trying to configure the clandestine of their friend Allison’s death. They start to wonder if this A is really Allison and if she is still alive. Attempting to unravel this enigma leads them into life threatening positions which change their reputations and self-confidence.
The obsession in finding out the unknown of what happened to their friend and what happens to them in the result of trying to solve this mystery is the consequences of their simple curiosity. In the beginning of this hit series, the girls’ beloved friend Allison, whom they confided in, mysteriously disappeared. Questioning of her disappearance was the uproar of the town. Shortly afterwards, the police found her dead body. When all of the girls start receiving the same, eerie text messages, with information that only Allison knew of them, they start to question if Allison is really dead, or if her spirit is within the messages.
Their curiosity of the unknown leads them to questioning what really happened to their friend. If the inhuman had no sense of curiosity, they would not find themselves caught up in the drama an anonymous figure is trying to provoke. Their curiosity leads to this obsession of finding out everything there is to know about their friend’s death and what really happened to her. If society was not curious about the afterlife and death, we would not have all of these books, stories, television shows or movies revolving around the dark side. The essence of mystery is what attracts society to creating any source of material to find any information. Curiosity is simply in our nature. If there were no curiosity, billions of dollars would not be made in trying to provide people with some sort of answers to what they are seeking. Curiosity birthed America’s obsession with the dark side.
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