On the Basis of Horror

Horror movies and horror culture have become part of my personal brand, a residual haunting from my wanna-be emo tween years trying to sneak its way into my professional and academic life. In a way, I could almost blame my mom for this; she did name my little sister ‘Sydney’ after Scream’s Sidney Prescott. Interestingly enough, Sydney is the other spooky kid in our family- exploring horrorthrough make-up and her recent foray into horror movies, (and makeup as you can see in the header for this article). Recently, we’ve been talking about Scream and whether or not I had a favorite movie. When the unseen Ghostface asked Drew Barrymore, “What’s your favorite scary movie?” I felt personally attacked. How in the great wide world of film could she pick just one? And how in the hell could she pick A Nightmare on Elm Street? (An entertaining classic to be sure, but come on Drew, Halloween and Sleepaway Camp already existed!)  However maybe she felt restricted in what she could choose, maybe the seedy start to the slasher genre felt icky and left her reeling and unable to voice a real favorite- just like me.

Founded in traditions of sexplotation, racism and violence against women, horror is a difficult genre to reconcile. These overall themes, which are omnipresent in films produced currently, haunt televisions and movie theaters with the washed-up taste of age and mildew (which is what I assume the dead-end disappointments of oppression taste like— something long dead, rotting and best left buried). Fans of the genre are sterotyped as men who like their women scantily-clad scream queens, destined to blood baths and awkward on-camera sex. 

Alright, let me level with y’all, horror has come a long way from grindhouse films, and it’s fan base is rich and diverse just like the plethora of films rising to the forefront of the genre. I’m talking of course about the trend of female-led horror, and of Jordan Peele’s new horror empire.  Despite this push for more modern films that write women and POC as real people, not plot fillers to showcase some white dude as a hero, there’s still a sense of disgust whenever I identify myself as a horror writer, blogger, and fan. Now this disgust might stem from me. I’m an acquired taste at best (a dumpster fire at worst), but it tends to come from people self-identified as activists and feminists who believe I cannot exist both as a feminist and a person in-love with the genre.  It always comes as a bit of a shock. Me... on the opposite side of feminists? If only someone could tell my mom that, she’d have a field day! (Love ya mom). 

But seriously, for people who know me outside the internet, my “witch-bitch” and “burn abusers’  accomplishments” philosophies cement me pretty solidly inside the feminst bubble. The internet is something like the idealized American WildWwest where people say whatever they want and gang up to destroy things they don’t agree with en masse in a sort of perverted witch hunt. This cult-like mentality is part of what the cool kids are calling “cancel” culture, wherein a person is “canceled” for having problematic beliefs/opinions. Canceling a person can include cutting them out of your life, refusing to buy their products or products they endorse, getting people fired from jobs, or essentially black-listing them as an all-around bad person. 

Although the attention this culture gives to abusers and actual harmful problems is important, it can also be incredibly dangerous in how it reduces people to either completely good or irrevocably bad based on whatever problematic statement was made, regardless of context or the person’s larger existence in the world. It forces people into an almost religious dichotomy where one statement, even from years ago that the person no longer believes, is enough to damn them into a media frenzy that makes them out to be no better than Satan himself. This removes all room for personal explanation and the true gray nature of humanity, while also denying people the room to grow and change throughout their lifetime. 

Time after time we see celebrities being outed in the media as having said something racist, homophobic, and or predatory in the past while ignoring the change that person went through in the interim years. I’m in no way saying people always change, and I completely believe that racists and bigots who sincerely believe those things should be cut out of the limelight, but the larger implications of “cancel” culture levels little room for actual humanity. Instead, it paints the world into a place full of perfect people who can’t make mistakes or grow out of really toxic places. 

For me, this creates a struggle where I passionately love films that contain a lot of imagery that is, at times, racist, sexist and hompohobic. Because of that, I’m slated as racist, sexist, and hompohobic when none of those monikers line up with my identity or beliefs. As a society, we’ve forgotten that sometimes people can present toxic behaviors, but aren't toxic themselves (although they can be), and we’ve forgotten that even the most wretched and politically backwards of films can still be enjoyed without making the viewers inherently bad people. On the basis of horror, this is especially true, given the plethora of films that scapegoat murderous white men, maul women, and write off people of color. We need to learn to separate the person from the product so viewers are not being held accountable for the creator’s beliefs or actions within creating a film, and we need to learn that canceling everything Buzfeed deems as problematic requires us to “cancel” the liminal space where the majority of humanity exists.