Monday, 6 June 2011

Scary logos, explained

Have corporate logos ever raised tremors for you? You'll know what I mean if your sedate suburban childhood was marred by them. There we were, innocently watching afternoon television, and then at the end of a show, there would be a seven-second bumper clip showing the name of the production company. They were often done on a Scanimate, which was kind of a precursor to modern CG animation.

And these clips freaked a lot of kids out. Here's the most infamous -- the Screen Gems logo, also known as 'The S from Hell'.



The Viacom 'V of Doom' clip has stained its share of sheets (even getting sent up in Family Guy).


Look out -- here it comes!

And the Paramount clip. This one was known as the 'Closet Killer' version because of the music.


Seriously, what sort of maniac would unleash this evil so indiscriminately upon an uncomprehending television audience?

Inevitably, in online discussions about scary logos, someone will say "I don't get it! Why do people find these scary? I don't find these even mildly creepy!" Well, no, you don't, you thirty-plus well-adjusted adult. But perhaps if you were instead a person of a certain age and a certain disposition, things would be different. So, as a formerly timorous child, I am going to try and explain why scary logos can be scary.

I should point out that my childhood was for the most part happy and secure, and I was not overly neurotic. But there were some parts of my house, especially one part of the downstairs hallway which, in the dark of night, would require a little steeling of the will before hurriedly passing by.

My house had a garage, with a back door that opened to the outside. To get in, I would have to open the door, reach into the musty blackness, and turn on the light. I could never reach for the light switch without imagining someone with a large axe chopping my hand off. For some irrational reason, I associated this image with the song "Judy in Disguise With Glasses", which my sister used to listen to. It's a great song, but it has a sickly sitar ending that seemed, to a child about to go into a dark garage, to be highly suggestive of the stump of a wrist, dripping blood.

These memories are among the most vivid of my childhood, even as I'm aware they make no sense to others -- people who have never felt nightfear, or who had actual scary things to cope with in their childhood without making up silly things to frighten themselves with.

Childhood is a frightening and vulnerable time. The line between the real and the imaginary, the threatening and the comforting, is not fixed. Big people are kind and solicitous mostly, but they can shout or act unpredictably, and they are very big and complicated. Knowledge is power, and a child, having naturally less knowledge, is powerless even in a home where they are provided and cared for. And as memory and cognition develops, we experience an emerging consciousness. Maybe in the process of turning the cascade of input we get into the knowledge we're going to have, some information gets processed the wrong way, like swallowing some water the wrong way, and it turns into a coil of tentacle instead of a flower in a garden. A shirt draped over a chair in a dark room takes on the appearance of lurking. You are awakened by dreams that turn on you.

And sometimes in bed, in the dark of night, the desire to get up for a drink would be subdued by the possibility that something would grab an ankle, if an ankle were to venture out. Or not even that specific -- that under the blankets, one was safe, but that by projecting an arm out from under the covers, one was venturing into some unknown, and it would be best to stay covered. And in this suggestible state, the soundtrack in one's mind is all the tumult of noise from the day before, including -- possibly -- a thunderous seven-second fanfare from earlier in the afternoon.

For me, this is the one that kept me pinned in bed.



If you've forgotten the vulnerability of childhood, you may not understand how these attention-catching production clips can miss, and catch the breath instead. But if you're someone who still closes the closet doors tightly at night to make sure the things inside stay inside, then you will understand, and perhaps even nurture, this liminal territory of childish anxiety.

2 comments:

  1. But if what you are trying to say is that the reason for these logos being scary is due to the way the child comprehends it, couldn't it be the same with anything else? I'm sure music is played throughout the program inwhich can can be seemingly just as 'scary', so why is it the logos alone that are so widely discussed online as being so terrorizing?

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  2. I've never laughed so hard at a blog post, it just hit me at the right time I guess. I had just watched the mini documentary called "The S from Hell." Even though I was born in 1964, I never heard of this phenomenon of being scared by logos...but I was a sensitive child too...scared of the dark, terrified of slimy, unknown things under the water, etc...so I DO understand. You capture it so well with your words. Thank you ~B.

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