The Endless Appeal Of Make Believe Darkness

Sinister, but make it safe.

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Just shut up and let him try, will you?

In this house, it’s okay to love DC and Marvel in equal measure. If you take issue with that, leave, and leave now. Batman is without question my favorite superhero (though Jean Grey gives him a run for his money), but if you think I didn’t scream like the Beatles were in town when everyone came back from the Thanos snap dead you’re out of your goddamned tree. Basically, if we have an enhanced in the field, I’m on board.

Now that we have an understanding, I’d like to talk about darkness. I have always been drawn to the dark, the sinister, the macabre. I like a story with shadowed alleys and sounds coming from attics and the general feeling that foul play is afoot. Basically if you take a Disney story and reshoot it in the Upside Down, I’ll purchase advanced tickets. As evidenced by the fact that there have been more Batmen than female Supreme Court Justices, I know I’m not alone.

A recent viewing of the trailer for 2021’s forthcoming The Batman got me thinking about the darkness, and how comforting I find it in fictional formats. I live for a new Batman trailer. Literally any component of the Wayne family franchise has my attention. This love is universal, and you can take that to the very limits of terrible acting. Who gives a hoot or holler who’s in the suit right now, we get to go back to Gotham! That twisted town is a beach in Barbados to me. I love that it’s an above-ground underbelly, with a default setting permanently tuned to lawless. I love that Gotham’s major export is felonies.

And it’s not just Batman, you know. I thrive in all sorts of shadowy fantasy. Halloween is my favorite season by a mile. I decorate my house from fridge to fire escape with haunting lights and decor, not a surface escapes without faux webbing and plastic skulls. Last year’s theme was “Tim Burton, Loosely,” and I purchased an entire roll of black and white striped fabric to straight jacket my apartment in. My bird skeleton encased in a cloche stays out all year, as does my three-pronged black candelabra. I love the somehow wrong and reverse ambience I create during Halloween season. I want a piece of it with me all year. I actually want all of it all year, but the dust is difficult to manage.

Malfeasance is a mood. I make Alexa play me old gramophone tunes and I want the wardrobe of a Victorian taxidermist. I crave ghost stories, I wish they made new Agatha Christie movies as often as Now! That’s What I Call Music compilations. The best ride at Disneyland is the Haunted Mansion, obviously. Sometimes I keep late-stage Harry Potter movies on in the background, for company, and there’s a ghost wreath hanging outside my front door from September 1st until Thanksgiving.

The thing about all the eerie that I’m drawn to: it’s fake. I’m only lit up by the dark when I know it can’t actually get me—or anyone else for that matter. I don’t want the dark when it’s real. I couldn’t sit through Making A Murderer, I have no interest in True Crime podcasts. For heaven’s sake I don’t go anywhere near the news. Any time the darkness, deviance, or downright suffering and death of human beings actually happened in real life, I’ll take no part. We can’t have actual evil around here, are you out of your mind?

I was never a goth in high school, dare I say my mother would have not only confiscated any black nail polish on premises, but she would have made me apologize to Walgreens for purchasing it and offered me up as an indentured shelf re-stocker as penance for wasting their time. I never broke the rules either, partly due to aforementioned terrifying mother but also just because I am authentically not a problem. I was a straight As, never-grounded, perfectionous angel baby my entire life, and even in my adulthood I can’t so much as cross a street with the permission of a municipal indicator light.

So there’s a strange incompatibility, my affinity for darkness as decor and distraction. Why am I so drawn to the mysterious, the misbehaved, the creaking floorboards of life while at the same time refusing to veer off course so much as not recycling an aluminum can?

I think it’s to do with safety. You’re reading the work of a woman who has to check the front door locks and oven knobs no fewer than thrice before she can sleep soundly, so it isn’t any wonder the only ghosts and goblins I want to anything to do with are generated by CGI. There’s also an internal switch of mine permanently flipped to avoid breaking the rules, and quite frankly it’s my least favorite thing about myself. I wouldn’t exactly get picked first for the Ocean’s 14 squad, you dig? Rulebreaking terrifies me! Why break the rules when you could just not break the rules and live a life of lawful peace and quiet doing a puzzle and drinking tea on a Sunday? It isn’t sexy, heaven knows, but I’ve never understood how someone has it inside them to be, for lack of a way to put it, bad. Unless they’re not a real person, in which case, gimme.

I have a deep love and respect for a good villain. I think villain creation and portrayal is fine art. I’d very happily spend an evening watching either Heath Ledger or Jared Leto’s Joker watch paint dry, so long as there was a television or laptop screen between us. I need that Loki film yesterday. Romcoms and beach reads entice me not an ounce. If there isn’t some deliciously dark undercurrent at work in a piece of fiction entertainment or experience, I’ll have none of it. It just doesn’t satisfy.

Going a step further down the basement steps, I actually find comfort in the darkness. That’s what really puts the twist in my bra strap. I watched that trailer for The Batman and felt instantly soothed when I saw those familiar, tortured characters together again in a color scheme resembling concrete. I couldn’t wait to get back to the world of Selina Kyle and Jim Gordon and a place where literally every character either is or has a demon. Happy ending people need not enter here. This is entertainment for personalities of another kind.

Isn’t it just the tits? Sadness makes me happy? It doesn’t actually matter how much I internally struggle with the fact that I want to live in a haunted house as long as nothing ever pokes me personally in the ribs. At the end of the day, it’s quite easy to love the dark and live in the light. Who would ever know, really? It’s just me in here, wandering around…sweeping the floors…talking to the skulls…nothing to see here…just me and the scratching sound in the wall…the flickering lights in the living room…nothing to worry about…nothing at all.

By the way, the scratching, the flickering? They’re real.

If you’re interested, here is the trailer that sparked today’s internet musings. What can I say? I’m drawn to duct tape and deviance. Enjoy.

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Shani Silver is a humor essayist and podcaster based in Brooklyn who writes on Medium, a lot. She also will not hear arguments that there has been or ever will be a better Batman than Michael Keaton.

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NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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