October 1999
s m u g
feed hollywood
by Brian Thomas

Phobics, Phonies and UFOs

Last month I wrote quite a bit about fear - or more specifically, movies that are able to frighten. But what kind of fear is that really? After all, when we sit in a dark theater munching popcorn, watching actors being stalked by other actors (or large animals, or puppets), we don't actually feel any sense of personal danger, do we? Even if we see a scene in which a psycho killer is sneaking through the theater we are sitting in at the time, we know that it's only a movie and the psycho isn't really in the theater at that moment. Reason tells us that the psycho would notice the camera following him around and get scared off.

What we're talking about is a projection. The film tricks us enough that we let down our guard and get caught up in the fantasy. Our imaginations help us fill in the blanks around the flat representation of reality. This is a very pleasurable experience, to imagine ourselves in place of the characters - getting into trouble, falling in love, climbing a mountain, having your head chopped off - gaining all sorts of secondhand pseudo-experience without really feeling any personal risk other than a couple hours of life (and $5.25 at a bargain matinee). You come away with a few ideas about what you could do in the same situation. C'mon, you definitely know you're not going to open that closet door when you know there's radioactive mutant killer cocker spaniel on the loose. You saw what happened to Rob Lowe when he opened the closet door in Revenge of the Radioactive Mutant Killer Cocker Spaniels II!

So it could be said that the movies can produce a kind of cooperative experience of fear. But then what kind of fear is a phobia? Our dictionary defines "phobia" as "a thick mucus secreted in the nose and throat". Huh? Oh no, wait, that's "phlegm". Damn Random House and their tiny print! What kind of publishers are they anyway? Like it doesn't matter what house they publish in? Wouldn't a Specific House be more practical?

Brrr. Shouldn't have tried that. I have an obsessive or irrational fear or anxiety of silly digressions. Aha! A phobia!

I admire the courage of those that face up to their fears, although I can't help but occasionally feel they're being a little odd. It's probably because I don't suffer from any phobias myself. I feel uncomfortable around snakes, but I rationalize that as an instinct based on a reasonable fear. Since many snakes are dangerous, it seems reasonable that they should make me nervous. I guess it's arguable as to what constitutes a rational or irrational fear.

In the comedy film Bowfinger, Eddie Murphy plays a flaky action movie star who is afraid of being abducted by space aliens. Steve Martin plays a poverty row filmmaker partially modeled on the great Ed Wood. Martin thinks that his latest feature Chubby Rain will be a colossal hit if he can get a huge star like Murphy to act in it. Of course, he can't afford to pay Murphy's multi-million dollar salary, so he comes up with a devious plan: he confronts Murphy with situations from the script and manipulates his reactions, filming it all surreptitiously with a hidden camera. Since the movie is about aliens invading the Earth, it plays on Murphy's real fears and wild, zany, hoo-ha comedy flows like cheap booze at the Smug office Christmas party.

You might say that Martin's character Bobby Bowfinger has a phobia about fame. A former child star, he goes to great lengths to try to maintain the illusion that he's still a player in Hollywood. This isn't so unusual - Albert Brooks' new picture The Muse is also about a Hollywood player who fears losing his illusory station in life, along with his sense of self worth. I know a guy named David "the Rock" Nelson who won some Golden Gloves championships in his youth. Now he spends most of his time telling people that he's a filmmaker because he shoots monster pictures in his back yard with a camcorder. And who's to say he isn't right - well, other than most of the people that see his movies?

Is Murphy's fear a phobia or not? The audience knows at all times that the aliens in the film are just ham actors with cheap costumes and clumsy special effects, but to Murphy they're taken as evidence that his paranoia is justified. Maybe you'd say that he was delusional, or just the victim of an inadvertent hoax - that since the invasion is a put-on, his phobia remains intact. But let's look at a few facts.

I personally know of about six or seven people that have been abducted by space aliens. All right, for the sake of argument I'll concede that some of them may be mistaken or just plain lying, so we'll call it an even six. So, using myself as a statistical sampling, the number of people alive today that have been abducted by space aliens is equal to six times the population of Earth!

Now this may sound a little preposterous to you. All right, we'll be even more conservative and say that half of them are liars. We'll also throw in another sampling: my cousin Louise who claims she doesn't know anybody who's been abducted by space aliens. That still works out to seven or eight billion people who've suffered the indignity of being taken from their houses, trailers or taverns in the dead of night to be probed, scanned and humiliated by people that don't even have a postal code of their own.

In this light, Eddie Murphy's 'phobia' about alien abduction doesn't seem quite so 'irrational', now does it? I still think his addiction to heavy make-up is a bit eccentric, but I wouldn't classify him as phobic. Numbers don't lie, my friend.

So phobias are only another case of the oppression of a minority. I may be afraid of Chicken McNuggets, but just because McDonalds sells fifty million Happy Meals a week (minus any kind of Bowfinger toy prize, I might add), they call me "irrational" and "obsessive". Well there's one thing they can't call me in such a situation. They can't call me "phlegmatic".



in the junk drawer:

and such
and such

·feature· ·net worth· ·ac/dc· ·smoking jacket· ·ear candy· ·feed hollywood· ·target audience· ·back issues· ·compulsion· ·posedown· ·the biswick files· ·mystery date· ·and such and such· ·blab· ·kissing booth·

·contents· ·freakshow· ·fan club· ·archive·


copyright © 1996 - 1999 fearless media