I just read this post on io9.com about Splatterpunk and it really lit me up.
I don’t have grand commenting privileges over there, so I’m not sure they’ll post my comment (hooray, they did!) — but I didn’t really hit all the points I wanted to make in it, so I’ll make them here.
Basically his premise is that things weren’t as bad in the olden days, and we like splatterpunk more now due to a cultural ennui caused by technological disassociation.
I can’t argue that people are becoming more and more separate over time. In fact, I completely agree with that part…but the rest?
Oh man. Olden times were just as bad as they are now.
Just because one kid killing his parents or one mom killing her kids makes the news…in older days? That stuff happened all the time. And people knew what death was back then. For two generations, they saw it — World Wars 1 & 2, and then Vietnam. They saw their friends get gunned down, melted by chemicals, dragged back bodies covered in shrapnel.
Before that — try reading Wisconsin Death Trip. It’s a great book full of newsclippings from a town in the late 1800′s. Over and over again, entire households are wiped out by fires, disease, strange hobo-killings. It’s like (and I used this in my comment at io9 because I love it) all their problems were caused by occam’s vagrants, those damn hobos, the inner city black man of olden times.
It could be said that they didn’t need horror back then, because they lived it first hand. Maybe that’s why — apart from the horror that was the “don’t go out in the woods at night!” or “stay close to your parents!” morality tales of fairy tales — there wasn’t much horror until Poe started rocking it, because by then there was a middle class slightly removed from it who wanted to experience it again.
And so that’s where we are now. They won’t show you much on straight TV, without warning labels. No one here has seen someone else die of cholera, or touched a starving person’s distended belly first hand. Met someone whose face has been destroyed by acid.
So we’re insulated from reality, unless we go and seek it out ourselves. That’s where splatterpunk (and other horror) comes in, to show us the worst, and rub our faces in it like a bad dog. It’s why we seek it out, to know that that other is out there, happening to other people, to thank god that it’s not happening to us. It’s does the same job as looking at war orphans, gives you the cognitive dissonance of the horror, without the actual emotional component of “Sweet Lord, this is actually someone else’s brutally short and awful life.”
But that’s what I actually want from my horror. I may be alone…but I think the empathy component of horror is important. And that’s why while I make a point of watching almost every shitty horror film that comes out, ever (did you see “My Soul to Keep?” In theaters? No. That’s because it sucked. But I paid money to see it anyhow.) I don’t like the ones without the emotional component. Last House on the Left made me want to puke. I don’t go see any more Saws.
And — going far on from my original point — people are already so distanced from death in this day and age. Back in the day, with the wars and the germs, people knew what death looked like. Now? There’s two kinds — what you see on TV (“oh look, she’s just sighing to sleep!”), and what actually happens when your first relative slowly dies. That you’re completely unprepared for because it doesn’t map to TV or to anything movies have ever shown you.
I think if those kids in his Florida example knew how badly it hurt to get burned — if they’d known that when you get burned in a plastic bag and when they take it off, your eyelids will go with it because they’re melted on — they might not have burned that kid. Or maybe not. They’re kids, they have bad decision making processes. But if they’d been exposed to real horrors, and not just the sanitized horror of video games and movies, (sanitized because it’s not happening to anyone real, or that you’re actually supposed to care about, you don’t feel the heat of the blood or see the consequences of your actions) maybe they’d have given things a second thought.
This world we live in needs more empathy, at every level. And at its best, horror helps us create that — even if sometimes it’s empathy with serial killers, ala Dexter. But at it’s worst…splatterpunk and torture-porn by and large prepares you for a reality that doesn’t exist, about characters that you couldn’t give a shit about. And the more that I think about it, the less I like that.