The Intersection: Dear Horror Genre, Let’s Talk

15 Mar

Dearest Reader, I hope you don’t mind taking a side-quest into Horror today. Horror, as I see it, is related to Science Fiction and Fantasy. Yes, it’s its own entity, but it’s related via Surrealism. Sometimes they’re so closely related that it’s difficult to separate one from the other. (See Alien, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Attack the Block, Pitch Black, and Event Horizon to name a few.) I used to consume a great deal of Horror[1], but at a certain point I no longer felt safe or welcome — even as a viewer. So, I left it behind, but I think I may be wandering back in thanks to a number of new releases and well, a certain podcast that I’d also like to recommend. (Women in Caskets, I’m looking at you. :)) WiCs reminded me of how much I miss Horror, and of how much I’ve missed.

Understand that I say the following out of love. I believe it’s entirely possible to love something and criticize it at the same time. In fact, I feel taking a more nuanced position regarding the subject of one’s fandom is being a responsible fan. That’s a notion you’re going to see addressed over and over in this column. Get used to it. And yes, I am a fan. Writers are some of the biggest fans out there. Also, understand that I am, in part, speaking to myself as a writer. Due to my resolution to weed systemic oppression out of my work, I’ve come to know that I’ve internalized an impossible amount of misogyny, racism, and other forms of oppression. It’s hard work, ridding my creative garden of all those awful weeds. The roots go deep. This, from someone who is actively working on it. I don’t expect perfection. As I’ve said before, human beings aren’t capable of being perfect. However, being a better human, a better writer, and a better fan is one of my main goals in life. So, here goes.

Things I’m done seeing in Horror:

Persons of color being killed first, and background characters of color being used as ‘flavor’ fodder. Oh, Preacher (the tv series). [sigh] I’ll be honest here. I didn’t even notice the issue with the show until a friend, Tade Thompson, pointed it out. (Bless him. Buy his books!) I only knew I was vaguely uncomfortable, but I chalked that up to Preacher (the comic) being made of wall to wall uncomfortable.[2] It’s one of the things I love about it. Still, the opening sequence has serious issues that shouldn’t be repeated.

Female characters whose sole contribution to the film/story is to be fodder for the Big Bad. They can’t run. They wear high heels and improbable clothing.[3] They have very few lines that aren’t screamed or moaned. They have the life-spans of mayflies and the character arcs to match.

Women’s sexuality being used to punish women. This morality play trope needs to die. It was all the rage when I was a kid. In truth, it was probably invented long before that in the 1950s B-movies (see I Was a Teenage Werewolf) and not the 1970s/1980s Slashers. Nonetheless, it was designed to curb teen promiscuity and has since evolved into something even more ugly — not that it wasn’t hideous from the start. ( <sarcasm font>Because, as you know, Bob, sex = women. It’s their entire purpose in life. They control sex. They also vanish when they’re no longer sexually appealing.</sarcasm font>) The kids I knew totally saw through the not-so-hidden “don’t have sex, kids” message. They thought it was a joke. So, let’s just say it was never terribly effective.

The act of brutalizing women being used to titillate the viewer/reader. Holy crap, I’m tired of seeing women being murdered on screen via Slasher movies. I also despise shots of women being butchered while naked or mostly naked. (Joss Whedon avoided doing this in Cabin in the Woods, thank the gods.) This sexualization of violence toward women normalizes abuse. It’s an aspect of rape culture.

Women’s sexuality being portrayed as something horrific. This gem started with the Victorian era and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and if there’s one reason I dislike that novel, this is it. Over and over, women’s sexuality is shown to be dangerous, horrifying, and out of control. Never mind the white dude chowing down on random necks everywhere he goes. That’s just a normal sort of bad. A naughty man having a bit of fun. Dracula’s “brides”? OMG, run for the hills! Lock yourselves away! Get out the holy water and crucifixes! Argh! Let’s include vagina dentata under this one. Women are totally alien creatures that can kill you with their vaginas. It’s like some man never played Peek-a-Boo as a baby and thus, never acquired the concept of object permanence. “I can’t see my penis! It’s inside a vagina! Arggh! I’ll never get it back!” Give me a break.

The portrayal of trans women as dangerous aberrants. Okay. This one is for Silence of the Lambs. Great movie and even greater novel, but the way the subject of transgender is treated is fucking awful. For the sake of all the trans women who die every year, please, don’t. Transphobia kills human beings. For real.

So, what do I like in Horror? The psychological angle on stories. I enjoy storytellers who thoughtfully examine uncomfortable subjects. For me, that’s what Horror is for. There’s a great deal out there in the world that makes people uncomfortable. It’s not like there’s a shortage of unexplored topics. For example, I want very much to see Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Mike Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts. Also, one of my favorite Horror/Comedy films of all time is The Final Girls. It’s Feminist and fun and well… I’ve gone on long enough. So, I’ll leave you with The Final Girls trailer. Enjoy.

Image from The Final Girls (2015)

[1] You should see my vast Stephen King hardback collection. Also, Shirley Jackson remains one of my favorite writers of all time.

[2] Also, speaking as someone stuck in Texas. It displays so many of the things I dislike about my state.

[3] Because nothing says “Today, I think I’ll mow me down some zombies whose mere scratch or bite can change me into a mindless revenant…” like sleeveless midi-tops, micro-mini skirts/shorts, bare legs, garter belts and stockings, plunging necklines, and you guessed it … high heel boots.[4]

[4] Oh, Resident Evil Alice. There are so many things to love about you, but your work wardrobe needs some re-thinking. I simply don’t understand why you’re not decked out in  the full body equivalent of the deli worker’s chainmail glove. You know, the one that OSHA safety regulations require while using a meat slicer? Surely, zombies are more dangerous than working in a delicatessen?


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