Are You Scared?


In keeping with the October/Halloween theme, this week’s Pop Culture League asks the question: Are you scared? What frightens you the most?

For the purpose of the discussion, I will dispense with real world fears, the kind of fear that Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke about in his “Four Freedoms” speech, or clinical phobias. There are true and debilitating fears, physical, emotional and psychological. There are everyday anxieties and abstract worries, such as the fear of missing a work deadline or speaking in public or being rejected by a crush. These kinds of fear deserve a serious discussion at another time. In the spirit of Pop Culture League discourse, I will tackle fear as entertainment. Delightful fear, if you will.

Fear as a defense mechanism is probably critical in ensuring the survival of our species in the scope of our evolution. Fight or flight. In that evolution, fear and pleasure both happen to activate the same amygdala region of the human brain. This physiological development has certainly bore fruit for the entertainment industry, as consumers will actually pay to be frightened. According to the Haunted House Association, there are over 2,000 haunted attractions in the United States. The Halloween Attraction and Haunted House Attraction industries combine to generate over $1 billion a year.

An actor plays the role of Lizze Borden at Killers: A Nightmare Haunted House at Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural Center on Oct. 5, 2012. Photo credit: Timothy A. Clary.

Not to mention the plethora of annual year-round horror conventions. Events such as Monsterpalooza, Horror Hound, Mask Fest, Scare LA, Spooky Empire, Days of the Dead and ScareFest attract tens of thousands of attendees and are fertile retail targets for mask makers and special effects makeup artists.

National Retail Federation 2016 survey estimates that Americans will spend $8.4 billion this Halloween season. To be fair, a good portion of that spending is on superhero costumes, equally true for children and adults. (Ah, but–as a nod to last week’s Pop Culture League topic–zombie costumes are in the top 10.)

Moreover, horror movies collectively have already grossed over $442 million so far in 2016. Hollywood has produced an average of 20 or so horror genre films a year since 1995. Horror franchises like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Saw, The Conjuring and Paranormal Activity, to name a few, have been box office gold.

In short, fear is very lucrative. Let’s face it: we just love a good scare.

The Conjuring 2 has grossed to-date $102 million.

As mentioned, there is a neurological explanation with the amygdala. But I will posit another reason, that fear is the ultimate escapism. To be transported to an environment that simulate danger without actual physical harm triggers adrenaline, gets our heart palpitating, and then offers psychological (and physiological) relief because it was all made-believe.

Oculus Rift

This is escapism at its best. Clearly as demonstrated we will gladly dole out lots of money to experience it. I will predict that the fear experience will be huge in the Virtual Reality platform (Oculus Rift, Google VR, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear, PlayStation VR, among others). And I can’t wait for the invention of the Holodeck™.

Check out the other fantastic takes on fear:

G.I. Jigsaw

Green Plastic Squirt Gun

Mr. Smith’s Plastic Bubble

The Toy Box

More here.

Are You Scared?

Immediate Reaction to the Debate

I thought Chris Wallace did a great job in what has to be a very difficult position. He kept the discussion on point and moving. Trump was much more in control than he was in the other two debates. It was a draw… but…

Trump shot himself in the foot again. He’s already getting criticism (rightfully so) from both sides of the aisle about his refusal to say he would accept the result of the election. He continues to dispute his own running mate (Pence), campaign manager (Kellyanne Conway), and daughter (Ivanka), who have all publicly said he would accept the result.

Then there’s the inexplicable attachment to Putin, insofar as to discredit all the interdepartmental agencies which have concluded that Russia is behind all the government hacks, specifically the DNC’s.

Twenty more days until Election Day.

Immediate Reaction to the Debate

Citizen Trump

Arguably the greatest film ever, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane continues to resonate. The issues and themes of the film are as relevant today as they were in 1941. It’s widely acknowledged that the character Charles Foster Kane was partially based on newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. In a twist of fate, life is now imitating art, in part at least. Here are two examples:

Apparently, Trump isn’t the first to call for a special prosecutor to investigate his political opponent.

Then there is Trump’s claim that the election is rigged:

The best art is relatable, provocative and prescient. Citizen Kane has those attributes.

Citizen Trump



HBO has another hit on its hands. Westworld is a slowly unraveling mystery that is delightful so far three episodes in. But as the Man in Black says, there is a deeper level to the game and I look forward to every turn of the maze that the show takes.

Equally enticing are the themes that the show explores. Morality, ethics, loneliness, free will, consciousness, God, and of course, computer technology are just some of the big concepts that come to mind. I think one underlying connecting theme is the search to understand ourselves. No matter how advance the technology, how vast our knowledge becomes, or how much progress we have made intellectually, the greatest mystery of all–one that gnaws at us–is understanding ourselves. That is the true maze.

The show has already generated great capacity for fan theories. For good reasons. Westworld is richly compelling with luring narratives and visual stimuli. However, I am not keen on fan theories and all the chatter that accompanies the itch of speculation. Sometimes the beauty is in not knowing and letting it unfold.


Preview Chapter of Remember the Future: The Distortions Unlimited Story


“When Jim Foss, the owner of Party Palace, saw the Andromeda mask, he asked Ed if he could make more to sell. Although Ed didn’t realize it at the time, this was the beginning of his career as a professional monster-maker and also the beginning of Distortions Unlimited.”

We are excited to present for preview an early draft of the chapter, “Humble Beginnings,” of Remember the Future: The Distortions Unlimited Story by Lee Lambert, author of The Illustrated History of Don Post Studios, who was given unprecedented access to the archives of Distortions Unlimited and the lives of co-owners Ed & Marsha Edmunds.

The book, to be released in September 2017, takes readers behind the scenes at Distortions Unlimited, the haunted attraction industry’s leading supplier of props and animatronics, and explores the company’s humble beginnings as a Halloween mask company in the late 1970s through to the present. Distortions and its owners, Ed & Marsha Edmunds, were the subject of the Travel Channel’s Making Monsters TV show.

[Read as a flipbook | Download the PDF]

Preview Chapter of Remember the Future: The Distortions Unlimited Story

Trump’s Campaign is Straight from the Internet Troll Handbook

Donald Trump
(Photo credit: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Donald Trump is an historical anomaly. There is no reasonable explanation for him. At least not at the moment. The context is too limited. Sure, we could probably explain how there is a Donald Trump. The why is more elusive.

A common definition for an internet troll is a person who sows discord by starting arguments or upsetting people, by making inflammatory remarks with the deliberate intent of provoking an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion, often for their own amusement.

This seems to fit quite well. Trump’s political career reeks of trollish behavior. From birtherism, the Mexican wall and the Muslim ban to a media-politico conspiracy, Clinton coverup and “locker room” talk. There doesn’t seem like a day goes by without something outrageous that comes out of his mouth. His whole campaign is a troll on America and our political system (Trump’s brazen disregard for the 1st Amendment and the ridiculous #repealthe19th hashtag being propagated by some Trump supporters are prime examples).

Trolling is how Trump came into the mainstream. He’s actually been doing this for four decades. But it was the internet, Twitter specifically (see the exponential jump in Trump’s followers), that really enabled his startling rise in the political sphere. Trolling is the how. Perhaps a social scientist has more insight into why the archetypal Donald Trump exists.

The closest thing I could come up with is a quote from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, spoken by Michael Caine as Alfred: “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Fitting, as it is widely reported in the media that the Trump campaign is now engaging in a “scorched earth” strategy.

Trump’s Campaign is Straight from the Internet Troll Handbook

Dodgers Advance to NLCS

(Photo: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

What a game. The 7th inning alone lasted an hour and 6 minutes. With the Dodgers leading 4-3 against the Washington Nationals in the bottom of the 7th inning with no outs and 2 runners on, LA’s manager Dave Roberts made the second gutsiest move of the night by brining in closer Kenley Jansen, who has never gotten more than six outs in a game. Jansen was potentially being asked to get nine outs.

Brining the closer in to pitch in the 7th inning was only the second gutsiest move, because in the 9th inning Roberts brought in ace Clayton Kershaw, who had thrown 110 pitches two days before as a starter in game 4. Kershaw got the final two outs and the team mobbed him on the field. The Los Angeles Dodgers are advancing to the National League Championship Series versus the Chicago Cubs.

First year rookie manager Dave Roberts has so far proven Dodgers management made the right decision to hire him. With no prior managerial experience, Roberts replaced Don Mattingly, who never seemed comfortable in LA. It’s difficult to imagine Mattingly would have made the kind of maneuvers Roberts did tonight. Roberts has demonstrated that he isn’t afraid to take risks. Tonight it paid off spectacular. Mattingly would likely have played it safe and called a conventional game.

Tim Kurkjian of ESPN called this “one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen with all the drama, all the intrigue, and all the moves.” I’m still in a little bit of disbelief that Roberts brought Jansen in for the 7th inning and Kershaw saved the game. Oh, the last time Kershaw got a save? It was in 2006 in the minor leagues with Jansen as the catcher.

Dodgers Advance to NLCS

NY Times Responds to Trump’s Threat

The bottom continues to fall out from Trump’s campaign. After the New York Times published the article, “Two Women Say Donald Trump Touched Them Inappropriately,” Trump had his lawyer send a cease and desist letter, which of course threatened that he would sue for libel.

The response from the Times:

“If Mr. Trump… believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticize him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.”

I would think in The New York Times’s 155 years of existence it has received countless threats like this. I would also think the Times has stood up to people more imposing than Donald Trump.

As a aside, if it seems like the Trump campaign isn’t very well prepared for all these allegations coming out–as evident by the Trump Tower huddle when the Access Hollywood recording came out and with the surrogates scrambling for a coherent counter–it isn’t surprising. According to a Bloomberg story, Trump rebuffed any attempts by his campaign to perform self-opposition research, which is traditional (and wise) for anyone seeking public office. Makes you wonder, what does he have to hide, even from his own people?

NY Times Responds to Trump’s Threat