Obsession can manifest itself in many different ways, and all are terrifying.
Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you
The above lyrics are taken from a song written by British musician Sting for his rock group The Police. Although “Every Breath You Take” is often classified as a love song this is incorrect. The song was written during the break up of Sting’s first marriage, and the words are not a tribute to a loved one. They are actually written from the point of view of a seemingly well-intentioned stalker, and they are actually about the subject of this month’s newsletter – OBSESSION. If you’re still unsure here’s the second verse:
Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I’ll be watching you
It’s hard to know how to introduce a characteristic as diverse and with so much potential for horror as obsession. I may be cheating by using the lyrics of a pop song to introduce this topic, but it’s the shortest and most direct example I can find of this attribute. Anyway, a pop song is a form of poetry, and it’s really quite a good way of describing obsession. I wanted to use my dictionary’s definitions, but they seem a bit vague:
obsess – preoccupy continually or to a troubling extent ► be constantly worrying about something.
obsession – the state of being obsessed ► and idea or thought that obsesses someone.
Those definitions merely touch the surface of obsession, a feature so intense it’s unpredictable. There’s no telling which path it will follow, and no indication of how, if or when it will end. It can start off as an interest in something as simple as a computer game or a book you’ve just started reading. Perhaps it’s the desire to keep the kitchen clean and tidy or an enjoyment of a certain type of food or drink. These relatively normal activities or occupations probably feature in many of our daily lives, and not one of them is dangerous or threatening… until something happens to cause that interest to germinate, and take over the personality. Suddenly what was an ordinary activity is anything but, and it becomes the single most important occupation in your life. It lurks on the fringes of everything you do, slowly tainting and poisoning different aspects of your life until nothing else is as important as… your obsession.
The development of an obsession from an interest can be a story in itself. The housewife paranoid about cleanliness and tidiness may vacuum the crumbs from the carpet while her visiting friends are sitting on her chairs eating biscuits she’s baked for them. They laugh at her behind her back, and one day one of them, as a joke, pushes a biscuit under the cushions. They can’t wait for her reaction. She discovers it after they’ve left, because she always removes and washes the cushion covers when she’s had visitors. The sight of the chocolate stain from the biscuit icing triggers a terrible rage. After taking the cover to the local dry cleaner and watching them remove the stain she calls her “friend”, and invites her round for tea… just the two of them. She says she has a problem that only her friend can solve. Naturally the friend cannot resist the invitation… from that day on all visitors must sit on plastic sheeting, and the phrase “house-proud” takes on a whole new meaning.
The words “obsession” and possession are very closely linked. An obsessive character with an affinity for a particular singer or writer may want to possess a copy of every record or book produced by the object of his or her obsession. The obsessed person may go to extreme lengths to complete his/her collection of the artist’s works; wandering through dubious neighbourhoods looking for hidden second hand shops to purchase old copies of the artist’s work, bankrupting him/herself to buy missing books/records or stealing missing copies of material to achieve a collection of the object of his/her obsession’s work. In the most extreme cases the obsessed character will do ANYTHING to possess material produced by the reason for the obsession.
One book that has always held a morbid fascination for me is J D Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”. I’ll admit I’ve never read this book, because the effect it’s had upon various people is, to me, terrifying. In fact the reaction to this book when it was first published in 1953 was such that Salinger became a much more private person. In 2001 the book was the second most widely read in US high schools, as well as being the most banned book in the country. It’s frightening to think that a writer has produced a book that is not only controversial but is also responsible for the attempted assassination of a president and the murder of one of the 20th century’s most talented musicians:
After shooting John Lennon Mark David Chapman sat down, and started reading his copy of “The Catcher in the Rye”. His obsession with the book is considered a key motivating factor in the terrible murder he committed.
The man who tried to assassinate US President Ronald Reagan, John William Hinkley junior, was reported to be obsessed with “The Catcher in the Rye”. The obsession that made the news, however, was his fixation with the actress Jodie Foster and the film "Taxi Driver". He tried desperately to contact her when she first started studying at Yale, leaving her notes and messages – to no avail. He decided that shooting President Reagan would be the best way to get her attention.
Perhaps the most “interesting” obsession – for a writer at least - is the one that develops when a character becomes obsessed with another person. A chance encounter or a brief initial meeting is all it takes to start things… something about that individual makes such an impression that the obsessed person can’t stop thinking about him/her. The obsession may evolve into a very unhealthy, dangerous relationship that can have tragic or even fatal consequences – for one or both parties, as well as their friends and family who may try to intervene.
The lengths to which an individual will go to guard an obsession can be extraordinary and disastrous. What causes a person to become obsessive is also interesting, because often there is no logical reason for the fixation. Refer back to the words of the song in the newsletter introduction; stalking is a form of obsession, and these words were written when a marriage began to disintegrate. Did he feel this way because of rejection? Was he angry because he would no longer be a part of her life? The fact that Sting instigated the break up makes these words even more interesting – he may have rejected her, but perhaps he doesn’t want anyone to replace him in her life. How does she live her life knowing that he’s watching “every move she makes”? And how will he react if she does?
It’s not easy to deal with an obsession, which means that for a horror writer this topic offers unlimited possibilities, scenarios and plot convolutions. It’s also a subject that may be closer to home than you think, because most people have some form of obsession, albeit one they’re able to keep in check and under control. Think about it – is there some habit or activity that is very important to you? Like access to the Internet, email or WDC? What happens when your telephone line goes down, and you find yourself unable to down emails, access your favourite websites or log on to WDC? How helpless do you feel? Do you feel angry? Helpless? What would you like to do to the people who don’t seem to want to fix the problem? And what would you do to get the problem resolved? Your answers could form the basis of a great horror story!