As true crime grows in popularity I sometimes stumble across people on the internet having the conversation that every true crime and horror fan has had with themselves from a young age: why are we attracted to the things that scare us? If violence from men is such a real danger for women, why do they consume podcasts about serial killers who do the exact thing they’re so afraid of? I like to tell people it’s fun to test the waters. I want to be able to think about my fears and experience them in a safe environment. When I’m driving in my car a true crime podcast might send a shiver down my spine, but the subject is usually far away, locked up or dead.
Whenever I go on vacation I like to pick up one of those “ghost stories of ____” books at a tourist stop. They have them everywhere, if you look. They’re usually short, easy to read books that go over the history and local legends of wherever you’re visiting. It’s fun to kind of add a creep filter to the vacation, something you can turn on and off when you’re sightseeing and you want to see what the place has meant to different people through the years. When I visited New Orleans I watched The Skeleton Key, when I stayed in northern California I read The Girls, and as I made my way to a little town in Iowa to stay in a haunted axe murder house, I reread Stephen King’s nearly perfect short story, The Children of the Corn.
It occurred to me when I was shopping for medical masks following a lot of hand-wringing about coronavirus during the democratic primary debate that it would be an excellent time to rewatch one of my favorite pandemic movies (see also: World War Z) Contagion.
In case you missed it, Contagion is a 2011 movie with a star studded cast that shows a fictional version of what could happen during a global pandemic. Lots of people die. Lots of people panic. Some people profit off of the chaos. Desperate people become violent. In only a few weeks, the world we know slips away and is replaced by a more brutal one where people will do what it takes to survive.
I’m not alone in craving a rewatch. Contagion has been sitting at the top of Amazon’s “most popular” rental videos for a month now, goading people to lean into their fears instead of stuffing them down. You can rent the movie and stock up on flu supplies and face masks at the same time.
To be clear, this proposal is meant to be a little bit silly. I love being scared, especially when the threat is something I could later on deal with in real life. If you’re a germophobe or your anxiety is already running away with thoughts of a global pandemic, maybe do some self care and decide not to listen to this suggestion. You don’t have to do everything you read about online. But if you’re a horror fan and you need to blow off some steam after reading coronavirus headlines, watching Contagion is a good way to spin the release valve on your anxiety and stress.
We are far away from the fictional super virus the film depicts which infects one in twelve people worldwide, killing a quarter of them. For people like me, seeing the worst case scenario is a helpful way to put the present in context. My brain is going to go there whether I want it to or not, so I may as well let it happen and then use it as a way to fact-check my own worrying.