On Getting Out

The trailer for the latest Halloween movie—landing more than four decades after the original—is so hard-pressed to titillate that the grisly deaths are shown rather than teased. Predictably, we see the gray-haired Jamie Leigh Curtis enveloped by an old house on Halloween, interacting with various teenage carnage fodder.

That trailer made me think about Getting Out—how it’s a twisted game we play with ourselves. Whether it’s out of the house (harm’s way) or out of a franchise that’s outlived any plausible narrative, we’re always messing it up.

Tragically, many residents of Florida’s Lee County didn’t get out of the path of Hurricane Ian because officials waited to tell them to evacuate. This was a collapse of the harm’s way aspect of Getting Out, although you’d think that a state with 3.5 million people (a lot of them seniors) at risk for coastal flooding would have a plan to prevent folks from Getting Out by virtue of drowning.

When the crypto market imploded in May and June, it was the little-guy retail investors who suffered roughly $1 trillion in losses by having got in at the same moment the speculators were Getting Out with big advances on that $1 trillion. True, the Securities and Exchange Commission did charge Kim Kardashian with hawking a crypto asset security to her millions of followers without disclosing that she was paid to do so. But her $1.26 million in penalties amounted to a no-no tap on the wrist.

The springtime crypto distress served as a warmup for the larger stock market tumult beginning in the summer. With persistent inflation and a looming recession, people don’t know where to get out to. Buying real estate is not an option with interest rates through the roof and property hard to find, and saving accounts are useless with their higher interest rates cancelled out by inflation.

Fearing that you won’t get out creates panic, which can bring down markets and even kill on a large scale. We just saw the deadly effects of a soccer stampede at a stadium in Indonesia, where more than 130 people died. Eleven thousand kilometers away, EU leaders are said to be planning how to prevent panic and chaos in a potential mass “Get Out!” event should Russia detonate a nuclear bomb in or near Ukraine.

The world is being held hostage by Vladimir Putin because his conception of leadership has no reverse. He sought evidence from his advisors that an invasion of Ukraine would be successful, and he used that bogus data to justify sending World War II-style streams of tanks into a neighboring country. Now he doesn’t know how to reconcile Getting Out with his lifelong project of Being Putin, so he is gang-pressing conscripts on the streets.

Great Britain famously got out of the European Union in 2016 but is only now—after COVID, the bungling of Boris, the death of the Queen, and the installation of a useless idiot—seeing the stark consequences of that seemingly sanguine decision.

The United States has never been able to make a “good” exit from countries we shouldn’t have been in in the first place. The Biden Administration did a bad job of Getting Out of Afghanistan, but then it had been working for months to try to get Americans to leave. They waited until the last days and hours, so that the focus was on them rather than Afghan allies.

The rush to get out often leaves a burden on those left behind. For residents of New York City, COVID was all about Getting Out. People with money had no problem doing that, but the city suffered from this gaping absence. Some essential feeling of public died with COVID in the city and has yet to come back.

After COVID, large portions of the country seemed to be Getting Out of their jobs and mysteriously managing to do well without employment. Now no one understands how you even assess the strength of the economy and whether plentiful jobs are the new normal or merely a statistical blip.

Hedging against risk used to be the stuff of folk wisdom, like Kenny Rogers singing “you gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” But it seems to me that Americans have become dangerously impulsive, bucking the behavioral economics concept of Loss Aversion, whereby people experience losses asymmetrically more severely than equivalent gains.

Getting Out has become Priority No. 1. And why not? Amazon and Target will give you a refund before you’ve even sent back your stuff. It makes sense to do our worshiping at the Temple of the New, entirely on our phones. We make flight reservations at the drop of a hat, expect dozens of people to fly anywhere in the world for a wedding, buy things impulsively at 3 a.m., get tattoos out of boredom and get many more six months later when the boredom returns.

Impulsiveness, anxiety, and narcissism drive this compulsion to be among the first out, because if you’re not Getting Out you’re being Left Behind, which for too many of us is the worst possible thing that could happen.

Sometimes I think this stems from the Boomer/Gen X cultural wound of growing up with parents whose initial bad marriage collided with the meteor of the Self in the 1970s and imploded with casualties in the 1980s. The marriage rate in America peaked in 1970 and the divorce rate peaked in 1980. The four-decade decline in divorces would seem to be good news for the institution, but during that same period, marriage rates have plummeted even more.

In short: the facility of Getting Out of a situation leads to Getting Out of an entire idea—whether it’s married life or representative democracy. Maybe that’s why people still pay for another hit in a slasher franchise: nostalgia for a world where not everyone is paranoid, where they are done in by their naïve trust, by not Getting Out. §