Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Hook on the Hand

So one of the things I didn't get around to mentioning in my The Cemetery post is the use of the urban legend commonly known as The Hook. It comes up twice - once when Rick is telling ghost stories at the Halloween party* and again when Dorian is killed by the Ripper. Just before his death, Cyndi finds a hook attached to Dorian's car:

If you're not familiar with the story, The Hook dates back to roughly the 1950s, and like most urban legends, serves as a morality tale for hormonal teens, much the same way fairy tales like Red Riding Hood warned young women against predatory men of court back in the day. The quick and dirty version of the story is thus:

A young couple are parked up down some lovers' lane. The radio plays while they make out. A breaking news story announces that a serial killer has escaped from a local mental institution and can be identified by the hook on his hand. The couple decide to leave, with various spins on the end of the story following. Either they get home to find a bloody hook dangling from the car door, or for some reason the man has to leave the car, and the woman later finds him dead. Some variations see her hearing strange thumping on the roof of the car, only to discover said serial killer up there with her boyfriend's severed head. One version sees her finding the boyfriend hung from a tree over the car, his nails scraping the roof as his body swings back and forth.

However the story ends, the message is clear: keep it in your pants, kids!

Now, clearly this is a warning against loose morals and sexual experimentation, and we could even link to back to the real-life Phantom Killer case of 1946, but I'm not here to talk about horny teens and the fates they richly deserve. I'm here to ask questions. Two questions, specifically.

First - why is the killer an escaped mental patient?

And second - why the blazing hell would someone who'd been instutionalised be allowed to keep a hook on their hand?

I mean, look, I know mental health care in 1950s America wasn't the best, but we were seeing a move towards more community-based care and less underfunded, understaffed, brutally poorly-run institutions. In any case, I have to assume that even the worst asylum going wouldn't let someone with a hook for a hand just keep that hook. Especially if that patient was also a serial killer and also certifiable insane as the story implies. That's just...really bad practice, you guys.**

Also, for the record, I think a hook is probably a really inefficient way to serial-kill people.

But let's circle back to question one. Why does the story conflate mental illness with murder? Why is a mental patient automatically dangerous, or a killer?

I noted with Help Wanted and The Mummy that there is a tendency in Point Horror books to make the villains "crazy." I guess it's an easy literary shortcut - they're doing bad things because they're mentally ill! Case closed. And of course nowadays you don't have to wait long to hear "was he mentally ill?" whenever a lone white male goes on a mass shooting spree. This clearly completely ignores the fact that many of us with mental health problems never bloody kill anyone***.

We can blame it on the era. Like I say, mental health care in the 1950s was undergoing a change, but the change in treatment options wasn't necessarily followed by a change in understanding. The stigma surrounding mental health continues to this day, and the understanding of conditions evolves slowly, with social understanding tending to lag behind medical understanding, because let's face it - "sociopath" is just such a cool term to throw around.****

You would think, for a 1950s warning against whipping your dick out in public places, you wouldn't need the added "scare" of the killer being a crazy guy. We can talk about the abnormal psychology that might lead someone to become a serial killer, for sure, but there are always exceptions to the generally accepted "signs." I'm not here to say serial killers are not mentally ill, though. I'm here to say mentally ill people are not destined to become serial killers, and that the conflation of "mentally ill" with "dangerous" is itself a damaging stereotype. And it's so prevalent in the news, in literature, and even in old spoopy urban legends, that it feels worth reiterating as often as possible. Psychotic is not psychopathic. Depressed is not dangerous. Hooks are not good murder weapons.

*Even though this is categorically not a ghost story, Rick, you moron. I'm glad someone knocked you out.

**And don't tell me he could have got the hook after escaping. Where's an escaped asylum inmate going to find a hook? Like, how much effort is that kind of person going to put into find a hook they can attached to their wrist and use to kill people? There are easier ways to kill people, that's all I'm saying. 

***Even if Karen is super annoying.

****That was sarcasm, by the way.

No comments:

Post a Comment