Fear is a normal and important part of human nature. It teaches us to avoid danger, to be cautious and make decisions that could save our lives. But many of us have irrational fears, myself included. We’re influenced by the people around us and, more often than not, the media we consume. Death, especially for comedic effect, is a normal part of children’s media. Sometimes it ends up terrifying you in the process, as our young minds failed to understand these are extremely unlikely to impossible scenarios. Thankfully I’ve grown out of these ones but I’ve been thinking about it lately. I’d be curious as to what Gen Z’s childhood fears were, as cartoons change to fit the times. Here are a few of young Lor’s fears, and the media that sparked them.
During a vacation as a kid, I and my family were walking around a harbour. A submarine was parked at the pier and the crew was offering tours for a few bucks. My parents turned to my brother and me, asking if we wanted to go. He said yes without hesitation. I started to panic, refusing to go in and waiting for them to return. Where did this fear come from? There are two major culprits, from my memory: James Bond and Pokémon. Let me explain.
I’m unsure what drew me to the James Bond films as a kid. Maybe the success of the Goldeneye game, the first FPS I ever played led me to a regular marathon on TV called “The 15 days of 007” (I’m sure it has expanded to more days now, with all the Daniel Craig additions to the franchise).
In 1999 The World Is Not Enough featured a climactic scene of Pierce Brosnan fighting inside a sinking submarine. Since he’s Bond, he gets out totally fine but the idea of being trapped in this metal box filling up with water terrified me. A childhood friend of mine, his mother died from drowning. So it was a real concept to me, not just a vague idea.
In episode 16 of the original Pokemon series, the trio of Ash, Misty and Brock, along with Team Rocket, are stuck in the S.S. Anne cruise ship as it sinks, upside down. This is heavily based on The Posiden Adventure, although I was too young for that. Our heroes use each of their Pokemon to get through a series of destroyed passageways, all while the ship continues sinking. Team Rocket only has a Magikarp, incapable of doing well, anything, and there’s a moment where you don’t even know if they managed to escape. Ash finds them clinging to driftwood, presumes them dead and starts pushing them back into the water! Absolutely no chill. If Ash was a passenger on the Titanic, Rose would be a goner.
It’s an oft said statement that “I thought quicksand would be a much bigger problem as an adult” — who can blame us when hundreds of movies, especially children’s cartoons, have characters sinking into quicksand? It doesn’t even matter if your story isn’t set in a jungle, it’s an easy concept to substitute: drying cement, swamps and bogs, even cookie dough (Kim Possible). Don’t move too much or you’ll sink, we were told over and over by media. I used to have nightmares that I was slowly sinking into a tar pit, taking years upon years to die as my body was fully aware of the surroundings, rotting or dead animals before me.
On the other hand, for many, this evolved into a fetish. Keep that in mind if you want to google quicksand scenes.
EARWIG EATING YOUR BRAINS
Now, this legend has been around for around 1000 years according to Snopes. Some believe this is why they’re called earwigs at all, but it’s actually from Olde English ēare, which means “ear”, and wicga, or “insect”. The story of these bugs crawling into human ears and eating through the brain tissue was the plot of a Night Gallery episode in 1972. A man is strapped to a chair while the earwig munches on his insides, screaming and begging to die.
Where I saw this was on the Canadian cartoon Freaky Stories, created fittingly as a Twilight Zone for kids. It featured many disturbing shorts and left a lasting impression on me. Hosted by a cockroach and a slimy maggot, they introduced them by saying “this is a true story, it happened to a friend of a friend of mine”. Obviously, as an 8-year-old, I had no idea this meant “it is fake” just as the “my uncle works at Nintendo” line was. Bug in the Ear followed a man in the jungle when an earwig wiggles through his ear canal. He and his crew go to a local shaman who ties a male earwig to a string, pulling out both the female and male insects. The man turns to the camera and you can see clear through to the other side. Ick!!!
Cannibalism used for comedy, especially a character being stewed alive, are tropes used for decades. It’s also an easy way for animators to use offensive racial stereotypes of indigenous peoples, drooling over their victim/next meal. I’ve never bathed in a cauldron—let alone a tub that needed to be heated by fire—so this is probably the most unlikely scenario of them all. Bugs Bunny got himself into this situation many times, thinking it’s just a nice warm bath. With vegetables… And herbs… Thankfully this is one I don’t think cartoons use much anymore.
Now that I’m an adult, I can look back on these fears and laugh. I took things very seriously as a kid. When I was around 5, another kid in my daycare “read my palm” and told me I was going to die young. For months I was terrified I’d drop dead at any moment. Then again, I’m still afraid of aliens. So maybe I didn’t grow out of everything.
If you’d like to check out more of Lor’s work, you can find it here!