The Horror of the Mundane
Much horror fiction involves some sort of supernatural agency visiting despair, terror, and suffering on the living. Most of the rest features depraved mortals whose love of torture and sadism borders on the fantastic. It’s cathartic for the reader and writer both, letting the fear and worry and stress that builds up during the course of everyday humdrum human existence relieve the pressure. Stephen King’s Danse Macabre does an excellent job exploring horror in this light – if you like horror at all, you should read it; it’s fun, funny, and informative – and talks about some of the everyday anxiety that ends up being expressed through popular movies and books. For example, he posits that the reason The Amityville Horror was such a success when it was first released is that it hit a nerve among people going through the financial instability of the inflation-crazy 1970’s (what if your house was haunted and you couldn’t sell it? The horror!). He also talks about the 1950’s era of giant bug movies (fear of living in the Nuclear Age) and alien invasions (fear of the Soviet Union). Basically, it forms a road map of national anxiety as expressed in horror films and books up to the early 1980’s. The book came to mind after this morning.
I made a comment earlier today about the horror of the mundane, and the phrase has been dwelling on my mind ever since. When I wrote “The Space“, which is actually a Cthulhu story in disguise, I found that the most horrific elements to me were the mundane banal details of poor Frank Ebbets’ life. His existence as a corporate drone, following the same routine every day because he had to and had come to like it, seemed to showcase the slow, painful stealing of a man’s soul, bit by bit, drawing out the torture through a thousand papercuts of tax filings, parking problems, commutes, domestic strife, and all the rest. It reminded me of a scene in a book I once read, where a vivisectionist gets his bloody hands on an immortal. The torture doesn’t kill him physically, but has a brutal effect on the psyche. At the end, I was almost happy for Frank: finding Nyarlothotep’s car at least brought his life to a merciful end, saving him from the utter depressing futility of his life’s struggle.
It makes me wonder if the current success of the Zombie genre has some root in the American psyche, some fear that there really are zombies, and they are us. Mindlessly moving from one place to another, driven to perform the same drudgery over and over again, with no real end or reward in sight. Chasing the endless waves of The Next New Thing being advertised on the ubiquitous programming we watch day after day, buying the things we’re told to buy with the money we earned at the place we have to go. Even when we’ve worked ourselves to death, still we’ll be forced to go on, shambling and moaning, all communication with the outside world lost, unable to speak, with only a kind Kervorkian bullet to the head giving us our final rest.
Or maybe it’s just me. Heh. I do have an Employee Day function tomorrow, full of team-building and motivational speakers, and right now a large-caliber bullet to the face seems like a pretty sweet deal in comparison.
Honestly, though, my own biggest fear isn’t the supernatural. I don’t worry about ghosts or ghouls or stalkers in the night, nor do I fear a serial killer or mad axeman breaking into my house. What makes me scared is the life-stealing mundanity of life, allowing days to go by without noticing them, rushing through the workweek to get obliterated on the weekends to celebrate the fact that for a pair of days you aren’t shackled to some desk. That scares me. The idea of waking up one day to discover that a good chunk of your life has suddenly disappeared, lost in an endless series of workdays and television and distractions. That – that terrifies me.
Pink Floyd sums it up best for me in Time:
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.
Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.
Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I’d something more to say.