I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the TV series Community (mainly because I think the principle character, Jeff Winger, is an insufferable, unsympathetic asshole and I just wish that someone would punch him every time he speaks) but one thing that I saw in an episode recently stuck with me: one of the characters, Troy, making a distinction between nightmares that are “spooky monster scary” (‘good’ nightmares) and nightmares that are “grandma died scary” (‘bad’ nightmares).
Sadly, it’s occurred to me that I can’t even remember the last time I had a good nightmare. When I was a kid, I had them all of the time; ghosts hiding in dark rooms, witches, talking skulls…I even had a recurring nightmare from the time that I was diapers until at least six years old that Cookie Monster from Sesame Street would leap-up from behind my bed and bite my hand off (oddly though, I was never actually scared of Cookie Monster when I saw him on TV*).
I still have nightmares, but they’re not the good kind. They’re stress dreams, mostly, about being chewed-out by professors, or having my parents die in a car accident. And frankly, they’re a great deal less amusing than the ‘spooky monster’ sort one gets as a child.
Talking to people, it seems this is an almost universal experience as you grow-up; your nightmares become increasingly (and depressingly) probable.
My guess as to why this would be so is that, when you are a child, you are still haunted by primal fears; I would guess that even very young children are instinctively frightened by the idea of monsters with rows of sharp teeth and I think that such fears make a lot of sense**. However, as you go through life, you gain experience and your mind becomes more and more aware of what fears are probable things about which to worry in our society. Thus,wolves are out, nuclear bombs are in.
*The nightmare, according to my parents, derived from an uncomfortable experience when I was a baby: we went to Pizza Hut for supper one night, and I panicked at the sight of a six-foot-tall man in a Cookie Monster costume who would not go away, in spite of my screams of terror.
**It’s tempting (at the risk of sounding all ‘evo-psych’) to say that people would be genetically predisposed towards such fears, but the idea of passing-on specific fears through heredity doesn’t appear to make any sense at all.