An example might help clarify some of this stuff (you’ll recall that, as always, I’m just making this up as I go). Let’s consider horror — novels, movies, etc. And since we’ve mentioned Stephen King here before, and even have him on record somewhere as saying his late-70s novel ‘Salem’s Lot was about Nixon, let’s go with that.
Books like that rely on a key feature of small-town life, one familiar to anyone who has spent any time in one (or, really, is even close to someone who has spent any time in one): The ability of everyone in town to know, but not know. Everyone in town knows, and yet doesn’t know, that Tom is a drunk; that Dick beats his wife; that Harry is gay. When King writes (quoting from memory) that the evil was the town, this is what he means. If you know Dick beats his wife, you have a moral obligation to step in. But since you can’t really do anything, continued social existence requires that you not know. So we all pretend to believe that Sally tripped and fell face-first into a door three times this month…
That’s the horror of ‘Salem’s Lot. We all know, but don’t know, what goes on behind closed doors, so it’s terrifying, but not really surprising, when we all know-but-don’t-know that Tom, Dick, and Harry are all vampires.
But the horror of the plot — the mechanics of a spreading vampire infestation — depends on another kind of ignorance, this one total: The ignorance of communications technology as it existed in the late 1970s. Count Dracula could do his thing in 1897 because London was the biggest, most anonymous metropolis on earth. So long as his coffin cleared customs,* the Count could disappear completely. He probably could’ve done the same in 1987 (with considerably more effort up front), but by 1997 he’d be SOL, and in 2017 he’d be a YouTube star before he bit his first neck.
The potential horror of what goes on behind closed doors, in other words, is neutralized in a world where everyone compulsively broadcasts what they — and everyone around them — is up to, 24/7. #MyNeighborIsAVampire.
Which is why your modern horror movie, novel, whatever, has to be entirely exterior. The Walking Dead tv show solves the technology problem by destroying the world; movies like It Follows elude it by giving everything a strange retro-80s aesthetic, so that we don’t notice all the places a quick google search or cell phone call would’ve solved the problem. The “torture porn” movies, of course, take place in Eastern Europe, or Latin America, or someplace equally benighted. There’s no small town or suburban horror anymore; there can’t be.**
So how does one do horror in this, the most ideological age in human history? Well, here’s one all the critics were raving about. I haven’t seen it, for reasons that will be painfully obvious when you read the Wiki summary. Ready? Here goes:
Black photographer Chris Washington is apprehensive as he prepares to meet the family of his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage. Later, at the Armitage house in rural Upstate New York, Rose’s brother Jeremy and their parents, neurosurgeon Dean and hypnotherapist Missy, make disconcerting comments about black people. Chris witnesses strange behavior from the estate’s black housekeeper Georgina and groundskeeper Walter….
Chris awakens strapped to a chair in the basement. In a video presentation, Rose’s grandfather Roman explains that the family transplants their brains into others’ bodies, granting them preferred physical characteristics and a twisted form of immortality. Hudson tells Chris the host’s consciousness remains in the Sunken Place, conscious but powerless. Although the Armitages target mainly black people, Hudson reveals he wants Chris’s body only for sight and his photography skills.
Sorry for the length of that, but there it is, the least subtle agitprop for “slavery reparations” ever conceived by the mind of man. The honkies be stealing our bodies!!!!
The Sadists (see comments on the below post) have convinced themselves they’re living in a world where the KKK lurks around every corner. Whether they actually believe this is immaterial; they sure act like they do, and that’s what counts. The interesting thing, though, is that the proliferation of social media has made this a horror movie without a villain. Seriously, I ask you: Where are all these “white supremacists” to be found?
It’s not rhetorical. You know, and I know, and everyone with half a brain knows, that there are probably two or three honest-to-god White supremacist groups out there… that have about seventeen members each, nine of which are undercover Feds, and the other eight are informants. The funny thing is, every time they manage to find a real White guy killing an actual Black guy — the officers who arrested Floyd, Rittenhouse, the guys who dinged the original Jogger, George Zimmerman (“White Hispanics” count) — it soon becomes painfully apparent that the Jogger had it coming…
Much like the phantom rapists on college campuses, the phantom racists not only don’t exist, they can’t exist. They’re the ‘Salem’s Lot vampires, 2020 edition — if they really existed, they wouldn’t last five minutes without a garlic-and-stake-wielding mob showing up, courtesy of Twitter. Social Media enables witch crazes to be ginned up at a moment’s notice, but can they be extended indefinitely if they never find a witch?
Eventually all ideologies collapse in on themselves, because the whole point of ideology is to stop the unstoppable flow of time. The very tools they use to make everything public might, ironically, only hasten the ideologists’ demise.
*Which would’ve been one hell of a scene, had Bram Stoker been able to transcend the conventions of the Victorian gothic to pull it off. Stephen King actually did send Barlow’s coffin through customs, disguised as antique furniture — if he wasn’t too coked-out to remember it, I bet he had a hell of a time writing that one.
**King’s son (writing as Joe Hill), for the record, actually gives horror with modern technology a go in his debut novel Heart Shaped Box. It has some genuine scares… but y’all, there’s just no way to make emailing a ghost scary, and the story all but falls apart in the scenes where the main character is basically in a netherworldly chat room.Loading Likes...