Thursday, 28 July 2011

Fantasy and Madness


This is just a sort of strange rant that's been smouldering in my head ever since the massacre in my neighbouring country of Norway last Friday. Its pertinence may be peripheral, although it is in no way intended as irreverence. It's just that this is the only way I can come up with of talking about it.

I like war. And death. And torture and horror and unspeakable evil and monsters and gore and carnage and sickening, mind-bending terror beyond even the very scope of human reckoning. I think these are themes that attract almost all people, even if they have to look away a lot when they peruse them in the form of movies or TV-shows, or if they have to stop and check the closet when they're up late at night reading a book containing them. I especially like supernatural horror, and fantastical horror. I like the unholy offspring between Lovecraft's Yog-Sothoth and a mortal woman, large as a barn, contorted features and tentacles thrashing everywhere, hulking across the barren hills of New England. I like the endless sea of malformed orcs storming across the Gondorian plains to crash up against the walls of Minas Tirith. I like the sickening, sadistic surgeries doled out as punishments to create the Re-Made in the psychedelic nightmare steampunk dystopia of New Crouton. I like the intimate and sexualized agony of Clive Barker. I do like Pinhead, and I like the X-Files and Cube and I absolutely love the oneiric, skin-crawling visions of some of Lynch's darker stuff.

I realize now why I like all that stuff. Because it's not frightening. Not in the least. There is nothing terrifying or even particularly revolting about it, and people who tell you they think there is are either lying, ignorant or way too squeamish for their own good. Their fear, even if it's a fear they enjoy, even if it's a fear that's part of the thrill that makes the whole experience worthwhile for them, is the fear of a phobiac. It's irrational, silly to outsiders and not really genuine. It's a fear that you can get used to, that can become normalized, that levels out and becomes just another aesthetic nuance to either enjoy or pass up depending upon context and execution. And it's good that that's so. If we felt anything like genuine repulsion or fear when faced with Alien or The Thing, these wouldn't be the masterpieces they indubitably are. Horror fans may think this is the case, but they'd be wrong. The only people who'd get any added pleasure out of such works if they were truly horrifying would be people who enjoy Saw and Hostel and other terrible, despicable, worthless torture porn piece of shit pseudo-movies like that. And these people, I suspect, are anyway already too close to being antisocial for their own good.

The thing about good horror is that it's unreal. It's like a dream. It expands the mind, the teases and tickles and frightens but it doesn't linger. It doesn't leave an ooze of unease, at least not on a healthy person with a rational, critical mind. It doesn't make the sun look black for five mornings in a row after you've first encountered it. It doesn't make gulls screaming outside your window sound like the whine of the hinges of concentration camp ovens (like you imagine them to sound). It doesn't make babies' laughs and the smiles of strangers seem horrible and mocking, like they're wind-up dolls paraded about by some malevolent intelligence only to coddle and fool you into thinking you're really walking around in a real world filled with thinking, feeling, caring people who have a similar warm darkness behind their eyes like you do. It doesn't make food taste like air and even the simplest little domestic task feel Sisyphean and horrid. It doesn't do any of this, and in fact it may at times even make you smile.

There's only one kind of person who could smile at what happened in Oslo and Utøya, not to mention not feel any of the things listed above, and I'm seriously beginning to question if that's even a kind of person at all. The most terrible thing about real monsters is that the only way a normal person can think of treating of them is the same way that they themselves seem to treat of other normal people. Death and blood thirst breed, like some horrible, personified force taken straight out of the pages of a horror novel. Which is why they should never be allowed to escape from there.

Over and out,

Charlie O. Johansson

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