Imaginary Horrors

Published on July 15, 2016 by   ·   No Comments

I haven’t watched the video.

I can’t.  I keep going to the link and I hover my mouse over it, but I can’t bring myself to press it.  To watch.  To witness.

I had the same experience when people would post links to Daesh execution videos – the journalist who was crudely beheaded, the Jordanian pilot who was doused with gasoline and set on fire, the soldiers who were placed in a cage and lowered into a pool to drown.  That human beings are cruel and stupid and victims of their own hubris is no surprise, but the depths of their ability to bring suffering to one another, to show us as unworthy citizens of the world is constantly shocking.

Horror 03A friend and I recently had a discussion about horror films; about why I love them and why she hates them.  She feels that anyone who watches the imaginary horrors on the screen must be some sort of psychopath, living out their bloody fantasies on the screen.  I can understand where this comes from – look around at the world we live in.  People commit real terrors as bad (or worse) than those captured on the silver screen.  Wouldn’t it be nice to believe that the cause of the abhorrent behavior was as easily identified (and potentially eliminated) as watching too many gory films?  That somehow Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th and Hostel are to blame for the worst of the human condition, instead of something hidden deep within our animal natures that doesn’t need any celluloid fantasies to bring it to life.

I enjoy (some) horror films because they tell stories; underneath the blood-soaked effects and the gratuitous nudity, there are often stories of souls abused and damaged beyond repair who visit their pain on those around them.  Slashers are my particular favorite, and many feature “monsters” who are the film’s first (not necessarily blameless) victims.  If the counselors at Camp Crystal Lake hadn’t been negligent in their duties, Jason Voorhees would never have drowned and Pamela Voorhees would never have picked up the machete.  If Norman Bates had received proper mental health treatment instead of being isolated in a rundown motel by his controlling mother, would Marian Crane have been able to find her redemption and marry the man she loved?  Yes, Freddy Krueger was a child molester, but if the parents of Elm Street had allowed the legal system to mete out his punishment instead of resorting to vigilante justice, would Heather Langencamp and Johnny Depp lived blissfully unaware of the horrors lurking beneath the surface of their quiet, suburban neighborhood?  In many horror films, the characters have to contend not only with monsters in their midst, but with a world that is fundamentally flawed, and lethally dangerous.

Horror 02A man in a hockey mask or a melted-and-repainted William Shatner Halloween mask are horrors that I can deal with.  I can process them.  The real world is harder.

Children shot dead in their classrooms is a horror I can’t fully wrap my head around.

49 people celebrating Pride being ruthlessly gunned down by a man unable to come to grips with toxic masculinity and his internalized hatred for his own identity is more than my heart can bear.

2 more black men being murdered by the forces that are meant to protect us and serve us as citizens; 2 more names joining a list of many, many more men and women who died because of their skin color is unfathomable to me.

Police officers being made targets because the rage of a community has no release except, it seems, through violent, unfocused revenge.

I prefer the imaginary horrors on my television screen because I still feel a sense of control.  If you obey the “rules,” you’ll live to see the end.  If the film you are watching doesn’t adhere to the outdated moral code so common in the 80s slasher film, you can just tell yourself, “This isn’t real.  This is only pretend.  Nothing here can hurt me.”  If your voice isn’t convincing enough for the scared child inside, you can always walk out of the theater, or click the power button on your remote.

There is no power button on the world.  We have to keep going, trying to pick ourselves up and make meaning out of the meaningless violence that humans unleash on each other.  We can resist that encroaching evil, attempt to bring light into the darkness, or we can let the darkness take hold in our hearts.  The darkness is there when we commit terrible acts, large and small, but it is also there when we see these acts taking place and treat it like the imaginary horrors of a film.

“It’s ok, Mommy. I’m right here with you.” (This isn’t real)

Facebook comments and posts about how “if those people would just learn to follow instructions…” (This is only pretend)

A white man being praised for his athletic prowess when he raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster; a black man is shot dead for having a broken tail light. (Nothing here can hurt me)

People don’t become violent because of horror films and graphic video games; we have horrific media acting as just one more artistic expression to help us make sense of the world in which we live.  A world that is increasingly violent and terrifyingly random.  When Norman Bates says, “We all go a little mad sometimes,” he’s not excusing his  own behavior but rather stating a fact of our animal nature: we all have the potential to be the best of humanity, or the worst.


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