Call me nasty
I like my horror nasty. Really vile, in fact. I find myself drawn to depictions of rape, abuse, torture, masochism and murder, preferably all taking place at the same time. The contrast between slithers of tenderness and utter nihilism turns me on. At the same time, I teach diversity and genre cinema in a racially diverse institution. I like it. It means the supposedly liberal values prevalent in most of the social circles I move in are not taken as de facto truth in class debates and are instead investigated, evaluated and developed. This is important to me as I have recently been surprised by the polarity in posts on my social media time lines from horror-film loving friends. Half say certain films (and their distributors) should be censured by the community for featuring fascist or anti-feminist views while others gloat over girlie pics, share memes of racist stereotypes and lament Facebook’s anti (ladies’) nipple controls, yet never post guy porn. We are, my friends, in the pit of paradox.
The issue with such approaches is that they are reflective of a schism of attitude within the genre (and specifically horror) community itself. The ‘L’ of our ‘liberal’ is a drunk driver’s ‘L’ plate at best as we promote inclusivity, but are often pretending in the most dangerous way possible. Consider the oh-so-sexy (dammit, they are) Soska sisters. We are happy to wave the feminist banner and ‘like’ their pictures, but how many have gone as far as to say what we actually like about their vastly different films beyond the vacuous “you’re so gracious and talented”? The Soskas, in fairness to their notions of feminism, are doing what they need to do to get shit done. Posing for increasingly pouty pictures develops the drooling fan base who will buy their DVDs rather than simply pirating them. It’s far more friendly to wank to a signed poster than a supercilious screen, isn’t it?
We want the privileges of liberalism without the responsibility to safeguard its core values. This is normal in a culture in which sex sells and folk don’t think, but some of us are trying to persuade the BBFC that we are au fait with the dangers and can rise above it. I’m not sure we really can.
Sexy and we know it
Say what? Within so-called niche film-making, we are sold everything from cinema tickets to magazines under the banner of Lady Liberalism and congratulate ourselves on being the educated elite. Yet how often is it that you see a non-white male (who’s not the bad ass), physically disabled person (far less sexy than a ‘psycho’) or indeed a non-‘sexy’ female adorn the cover of a magazine? The fact is that we are, I think, knowingly supporting fake liberalism. It is a political philosophy and business framework that has evolved to allow the permissive within the notional taboo. We laugh at the ‘strange’ and delight in the naughty, but stay safe by keeping the genuinely new at bay by refusing it publicity unless it’s different enough to sell anew but ultimately supports our status quo.
Conversely, the supposedly opposite point of view – that we should censure throwback film and media – is not much better. It is equally dangerous because it’s so damned high-minded. Pretending absolute purity is as bad as posting PR-pressured porn while claiming feminism because it refuses to face facts. People behave badly. We desire and sometimes do the wrong thing. Representing that shows us what we look like and can be a great teacher. Censoring it is to deny the issue exists and we learn nothing. We need to self-police to ensure we know the sorts of acted-out behaviour that are appropriate and the basic difference between fiction and reality. The sad thing is we often don’t: England is a country of Sun readers and the family of the Daily Mail. There’s also a lot that read The Guardian. We’re used to being fed our values and being within social circles in which questioning them results in being outcast. It’s no damn wonder that philosophically, censorship legislation is concerned with ‘corruptible’ audiences – we are bloody lambs. I’m not talking about committing the occasional atrocities, I’m talking about our tetchy lack-of-debates on everything from slut-shaming to who ‘can’ say the word ‘nigger’.
I have no answers (other than any debate started by this piece) for how to move forward. I wish I did. My suspicion is that current community leaders – magazine editors, platform controllers and the like have the means to make the change. Sadly, most often they quash the debate. Look at the recent Lianne Spiderbaby scandal. More effort was arguably expended lambasting the idea that a pretty girl had the temerity to use her assets than was expended on finding a way to protect the community and good horror writing in the future. Better to fan the flames for answers than lay down the law, surely? Her plagiarism was wrong, but what she did got her given work by guys. By the way, how many male horror authors have gorgeously gothic profile photos on their books and web pages?
Women in Horror
Women in Horror Month/Festival/Fanzine whatever is not a great thing. It reinforces a very gendered femaleness – acting out, rather than simply being and sexy scream queens rather than simply someone with a cervix. Desire’s great, but not when it means only certain physiques need apply (talent optional, tits a DD). Last time I checked, that was called eugenics. Blunt tools like the Women in Horror wagon might unfortunately be necessary as making a point of biological difference signposts general damn diversity. At the moment, we are ending up as flailing priests trying to keep control of flocks of the currently-converted rather than being the people who are going to roll the cameras on what may be cinematic purgatory. We’ll have our little competitions for new faces at film festivals, but what do we really do to develop them? Pretty press photos are useful if they open that door crack a little bit further and prompt the interested audience to give other folks and ideas a chance (and not just because they’ll slog for nothing). The reason we need to focus on the new is the million and one remakes everyone whinges about. The reason those remakes are there is that people haven’t had the chances. Saying “if you need to make a film, you’ll do it” may sound hard-line, old skool and horror-buff-esque, but some people simply cannot do that owing to family, friends or other circumstances. Rather than pitying (or pillorying) them, we should rally round because it’s in our own interests for new and interesting products. If we love genre, we will adopt a blind approach to the talent behind the camera, the magazine and anywhere else. We need to help more folk through of all varieties no matter who they are, what they ‘know’ or how long they profess to have loved horror.
For the love of genre, separate fact from fiction, sex from stereotype and give freaks a chance.