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How The 1960s Made Us Scared Of Quicksand

Culture | August 31, 2019

By the time of 'Blazing Saddles' (1974), quicksand scenes were a cliche to be ridiculed. Source: YouTube

Why were we afraid of quicksand? On TV shows and in movies of the '60s and '70s, quicksand was a go-to plot twist that could be inserted virtually anywhere for a jolt of suspense. Quicksand scenes were common, far more common than actual life-threatening quicksand is in the world. The insidious and nearly inescapable wells of malevolent sand struck a disproportionate amount of fear into the hearts of those of us who are over 30.

Yet, thanks to Hollywood, young people spent an inordinate amount of time planning precisely how they would escape one of these death pits, should we ever happen upon one while out walking the dog. According to one quicksand enthusiast, quicksand appeared in nearly 3% of all movies made in the '60s. So what's the deal with quicksand?

A Quicksand Explosion On The Silver Screen

Where do you Stand on the Rise and Fall of Quicksand?(Slate)

In 1960, the quicksand trend was clearly gaining momentum. Quicksand played a role in Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson and the hokey sci-fi film 12 to the Moon -- yes, we went to the moon and found quicksand there. Few directors could resist quicksand's persuasive tug, as the stuff appeared in 1 out of every 35 movies in the ‘60s. The ubiquity of gloppy, suffocating danger would eventually make its way into our everyday lives.

Seven Oscars Worth Of Quicksand

No One did Quicksand to More Fanfare than Lawrence of Arabia (youtube.com)

The most notable cinematic quicksand moment -- the Citizen Kane of quicksand scenes, if you will -- occurs in the 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia. David Lean's biopic of T.E. Lawrence is one of the greatest films of all time, and it won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. And yes, it includes a scene in which a major character dies when he's sucked into a vortex of quicksand. Apparently, the slow inexorable pull from the earthly depths was too enchanting for even the best directors to pass up. 

Quicksand wasn't just a movie thing. It was constantly being used to spice up storylines on TV shows. Perhaps it was to be expected on The Lone Ranger, The Wild Wild West, Sea Hunt and The Rifleman -- but quicksand also figured in episodes of Gilligan's Island, Batman, and Lost In Space. On a 1967 episode of The Lucy Show, Lucille Ball and Jack Benny found themselves mired in quicksand. A decade later, in the second episode of The Incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner (Bill Bixby) found himself sinking into quicksand -- which made him so angry he turned into the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno). Can you blame us for thinking quicksand was literally everywhere?

All Sorts Of TV Shows Resorted To Quicksand

David Banner sinks into quicksand, and The Hulk climbs out, on a memorable 1977 episode of 'The Incredible Hulk.' Source: IMDB

Quicksand wasn't just a movie thing. It was constantly being used to spice up storylines on TV shows. Perhaps it was to be expected on The Lone Ranger, The Wild Wild West, Sea Hunt and The Rifleman -- but quicksand also figured in episodes of Gilligan's Island, Batman, and Lost In Space (twice -- damn that space quicksand!). On a 1967 episode of The Lucy Show, Lucille Ball and Jack Benny found themselves mired in quicksand. A decade later, in the second episode of The Incredible Hulk, David Banner (Bill Bixby) found himself sinking into quicksand, his cries for help being ignored -- which made him so angry he turned into the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno). Can you blame us for thinking quicksand was literally everywhere?

Quicksand Becomes An Allegory For Life

Real quicksand looks rather benign which is all the more evil (science.org.au)

As quicksand forced its way to the forefront, people began using its merciless, unrelenting pull to death as a metaphor for catastrophic current events. The first was the Vietnam War. Two books, Lucien Bodard’s The Quicksand War and David Halberstam’s The Making of a Quagmire compared the political mess of Vietnam to the slow asphyxiation of quicksand.

Then, during Martin Luther King’s incomparable "I Have a Dream" speech, he correlated the devastation of racism, both subtle and overt, to the demise one meets at the hands of quicksand. "Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood."

Quicksand Sucks Itself Out Of Hollywood

Not even comic strips weren't immune to the draw of quicksand (tvtropes.org)

Ironically, La La Land eventually beat quicksand so far into the ground it died out. According to Carlton Cuse, Emmy-winning writer, and executive producer, filmmakers ran out of ways to use it, “Adventure storytelling has to evolve. People use up gags. If you're working in an old genre, you have to figure out ways to make it fresh. I love love love adventure gags, but the best years of quicksand are in the past."

Ask any kid today, as Slate did,  and they just can’t understand the visceral fear that comes with sinking into sand one inch at a time. "I think people used to be afraid of it," says one fourth grader. "It was before we were born," explains another, "Maybe it will come back one day." Sigh, kids today. 

The Sexy Side Of Quicksand You Probably Didn’t Know Existed

Quicksand fetishes run the gamut. Some like to get down into the muck, while others just like to watch (Vice.com)

Since sex is always lurking in any pop-culture phenomenon, it stands to reason that someone out there is getting aroused by quicksand. And indeed, thanks to the ‘60s explosion and the connectivity of the internet, quicksand has become a fetish for thousands of people.

Whether it’s a desire deep in the loins to personally feel the suck of quicksand or simply watching clips of quicksand slurping down people in movies, the quicksand fetish is a real thing. Despite quicksand’s disappearance from film, it’s supposedly a golden era for the fetish thanks to the internet and imagination, "we just happen to be at the golden moment," says quicksand aficionado Duncan Edwards.

Tags: A Brief History Of... | Movies In The 1960s | Movies In The 1970s | Quicksand | TV In The 1960s | TV In The 1970s

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!