Fear and Suspense in Brussels

fear cliffhanger Hitchcock crash collision car

The Brussels lockdown was an anxious time, and we’re all more relaxed now. That’s because we’re safe, right?

In fact, while no one has been killed in Belgium by terrorists during the recent period of alerts, 755 are likely to have been killed on Belgian roads in 2015 – about 15 a week and more than twice the rate as the UK and the Netherlands. But few people seem worried by this. Look around you and see them talking on mobile phones at the wheel, ignoring speed limits and driving after drinking.

Perhaps Alfred Hitchcock would have understood why.

Shock and surprise – such as when a bomb goes off all of a sudden – have a limited impact on us, according to Hitchcock. But tell an audience that a bomb is going to go off under a table where people are sitting in quarter of an hour, and they will be in tenterhooks.

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense.

After the terrorist attack in Paris on 13 November, we were warned that something similar might be unleashed upon Brussels. That is, we were waiting for violent, suicidal cult members to try to kill us and our children – an exceptionally nasty form of suspense.

Road crashes, however, don’t create suspense. Personal experience makes us feel safe: We’ve crossed the road and been in cars thousands of times, mostly without any problem. At the same time, people are killed on roads so frequently that crashes rarely make the news, so we are not forced to think about them much.

So when someone we know gets killed we are shocked. They, like us, had been in and around cars for years and survived till then.

When we pass a crash scene – and see mangled cars and a body on a stretcher – we are also shocked, because we’ve passed a junction like that many times before.

But when the victims are not close family or friends, the feeling of surprise soon passes, as Hitchcock understood. And we have a few drinks, get in the car, send some messages – and ride our luck.


Illustration uses image from pixabay.