So, this year has been weird. In the last seven months many of us have spent more time alone than ever before, and, as much as arts and entertainment can be a great way to bond in person, they are just as important when we’re stuck in our rooms. This term, I’m going to be asking Lawrentians what piece of art or media has gotten them through quarantine, what captured their imagination or made them feel less alone during these hard times. From the silly reasons to the serious ones, what is it and why is it important to them?
A lot of Lawrentians have been turning to the purest comfort media during the pandemic: Animal Crossing, pop music or soapy TV shows. Senior Sarabeth Brandt, on the other hand, took the opposite approach and has been binging horror movies during the months where it feels like we are all living in one. “I’ve been a horror movie fan forever,” says Brandt, but over quarantine, they have dove deep into the genre, exploring how horror tropes and films mirror the loneliness and fear we all experience during the Coronavirus pandemic and today in America in general.
Brandt started this binge in March when they were at the London Centre. The COVID cases in London had skyrocketed from 11 to roughly 300 in one day, and, with that, Brandt and their friends decided to sit down and watch pandemic-related media. From that moment on, they began looking at horror movies with a more critical eye and questioned why they gravitated towards tales of terror and danger during such a terrible and dangerous time. A masked Brandt sat on the floor petting my cat and pondered the appeal of watching scary movies during a pandemic. “Yeah, lets dig into the psychology of it like some kind of nerd,” they laughed. “[The movies] curb the feelings of isolation and force me to encounter conceptions of discomfort before they actually get to me [in real life].” They felt that watching movies like “Contagion,” “The Lighthouse” and “As Above So Below,” just to name a few, almost prepared them for the worst of the world through the synthetic experience of media.
It was Robert Eggers’s “The Lighthouse” that really stuck with Brandt out of all the films they watched. Their oversimplified plot summary set the scene: “It’s about two working class men in the Gilded age. They’re lighthouse keepers who get stuck on an island and go crazy and fight each other.” Brandt at first ended there, saying they liked the film and that to delve deeper into it would be almost pretentiously academic for a silly scary movie. But pop culture, film and TV directly impact how we perceive and interact with the world. With that in mind, Brandt continued, “I’ve been exploring my own discomfort in my current situation and also, I guess, how feelings expressed in horror movies have parallels that can be easily drawn to now, so like … ‘The Lighthouse.’” They continued, “It’s about two working class men …[and] if I use the [academic] theories I’ve learned, I find that a lot of the plights and frustrations that are explored in that film, like not daring to dream of prosperity, being treated like **** even though you are an honest worker, realizing that any power you could possibly work for is fake, are connected to the world we live in right now.”
Brandt understands that this is just one reading of a very complex movie, but they see how it connects to the beaten down and often hopeless world we live in, especially as college students. We are graduating into one of the worst job markets the U.S. has ever seen, and we fight every day on campus not only against COVID, but against the sense of loneliness and isolation that comes with physical distancing. “People are frustrated [with the state of the world,” and when you throw those themes into an over-exaggerated horror narrative, they come alive for people like Brandt, and it makes them want to dive deeper into the frustrations and discomfort that those films portray. “It’s one of those things;” states Brandt as they conclude, “[you’re] probably not going to die on like, a lighthouse island, but it’s definitely one of those things that makes you think, ‘oooh, gotta watch yourself.’” That’s what these movies seem to be for Brandt; they are cautionary tales, and they can be learned from. Pop culture and reality have a give and take relationship, one influences the other and vice-versa. Brandt knows this now and can enjoy a good horror movie without forgetting that real life is not that dissimilar from being trapped on a lighthouse island with a dead end job and, subsequently, going crazy.