Nearly four years ago, I had a post about quicksand. In it I mused how it used to be a common plot device in the books and films I watched and read as a boy but seemed to have faded from view. The 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia has a poignant scene with quicksand.
This week the program Radiolab had a segment on quicksand in which it turns out that my sense that quicksand was a significant feature of popular culture that has slowly disappeared has some empirical support. There is a database of films that have quicksand scenes in them and after starting out small in 1900 or so, the frequency of appearance increased, reaching a peak around 1960, and then decreasing again to the present day. That jibes with my personal experience.
The segment also says that children are no longer afraid of quicksand. Why? It is not clear. Speculation is that fear of quicksand may have arisen alongside the exploration of new frontiers (there were fears expressed of the first moon landing craft possibly sinking into quicksand) and since there seem to be no unexplored regions being entered these days, the fear of quicksand has dissipated. The world seems to be tame and well-explored and so the danger of accidentally walking into quicksand and getting slowly sucked in seems minimal.
There are also apparently quicksand fetishists who experience sexual arousal by sinking naked or clothed into quicksand, either alone or with someone else. They presumably first tie a rope around their bodies so that they can be pulled out or have other means of escape. And there is a different type of fetishist who likes to observe people doing this. There are now guidebooks that direct you to the various quicksand sites, with useful information about nearby hotels, restaurants, parking etc.
So quicksand has changed from being something menacing to becoming almost a theme park attraction.
Since quicksand has a density about twice that of the human body, in theory you should not completely sink into it but stop about halfway. So why is it so dangerous? The problem is that the gooey mess sticks to you and your legs seem like they weigh tons, and so it is not easy to walk to the edge to get yourself out. And if you panic and start thrashing about, that makes it worse. So how can you get out if you happen to step into a quicksand area? This video explains what happens and what to do.
Here’s a more detailed explanation of how quicksand works and how to escape it if you should inadvertently step into a quicksand puddle.