So last month I attended HorrorHound, and for those with keen eyes you may have noticed I haven’t talked about it yet. This isn’t because I didn’t have fun. I had a fabulous time and ran around like the big geek I am, geeking out with other geeks. I also got a chance to talk to some publishers, podcasts, authors, etc and get a lot of networking advice and encouragement, which I very much appreciate. Seriously, these things are a blast. You come across some of the best people and it’s so much fun to kick around ideas, opinions, and experiences with everyone. And the people watching! Oh, the people watching! And since I also do costume design and construction, it was a chance for me to (finally) wear out some of my own creations (I was hoping to get a few commissions out of it…so far that was a wash, but at least I tried.)
So why haven’t I talked about it? Because there was one little incident that blew my mind so hard, that just sent my sensibilities into the stratosphere, that I’ve been trying to let it go before I say anything. And I can’t. So what you’ll get instead (for the moment anyway) is something of a rant and something of a dissection of a comment, because this incident really got me thinking.
To put said incident in perspective, a few words on me and my sensibilities. I’ve said it before, but in social situations I’m shy. The other secret reason I go to these things is that it forces me to interact with all sorts of people and pushes me past my comfort zone in the hopes that one day I won’t feel like crawling up a wall while mingling. So while I will be out and around laughing and having fun, part of me is usually quietly freaking out. I also am many things, and I’ll admit to being mildly flirtatious (again, if I am comfortable. this takes a lot.), but I’m also the most oblivious human woman on the planet when it comes to that sort of thing. Especially if I’ve got a project on the brain or am intent on networking or a task, I seriously will not understand if someone is into me. My brain doesn’t process that if the idea machine is going off, so a person either has to be really obvious or patient.
To balance out this aspect of my personality, I am probably one of the hardest women to offend on planet earth. I try to subdue this side quite a bit, as apparently this is surprising to most people who are more easily offended. But seriously, if you get to know me and I’m comfortable with you, at some point what comes out of my mouth will sound like a Kevin Smith movie. It’s just gonna happen. I try to be respectful, but you’re not going to obliterate that part of me. I’m also very relaxed when it comes down to how things are portrayed (this’ll come into play in a minute) with a few exceptions. I get that there’s a lot of testosterone running around at these things and in the genre in general. That’s cool. I’m not totally adverse to gore and violence (again, it comes with the genre) though I think it’s easier for me to read than to watch, oddly enough. I do have my personal limits and I’m pretty strong on where they stand. But if people want to watch movies with pretty women running around in short skirts and blood spattering across the scene, I mean whatever. (If this gives you a clue, I willingly chose to see The Punisher over whatever romantic comedy it was playing against the weekend it opened.) Language doesn’t bug me, a lot of things don’t bug me.
So let’s talk about what bugged me.
So I was talking to various publishing tables to find out what they’re looking for, what sort of thing they’ve put out in the past year. I met with a lot of great people – Post Mortem Press and Samhain were really fun to chat with, and the guys at Burning Bulb were also really accommodating. I actually can’t remember who I had the following conversation with (so that helps them retain anonymity), but I know for a fact it wasn’t any of them. So I’m talking to this publisher about a concept I’m slowly developing for a novel, and without going into details I really want to set it at various horror cons and sort of explore different relationships and power struggles via gnarly creatures as semi-metaphor, but basically it’s an excuse to do my own take on Lovecraft. And the protagonist is a woman (I’ve written men, I’m not uncomfortable with that, but I really want the protagonist to stay a woman in this one. Especially now.) and in reply to that I get this summation…To be fair, I am paraphrasing and summarizing. Maybe I even misheard. I really hope that’s the case, but since the person was standing right in front of me, I doubt it.
So I’m giving my lose outline of the story I have in my head and talking about the protagonist and the response was that generally women only go to horror cons to suck up to celebrities and/or get laid.
And what boggled my mind is he stood there expecting me to agree with him. I have no idea if he lumped me into this generalization (I mean I am a woman, last time I checked) or I was supposed to laugh and start ragging on women around us…Dude, I’m not going to do either. Neither is cool. I think I managed something like “Whatever, I’m gonna go talk to someone else…” and got the hell out of there before I lost it. Some friends that were around overheard the end of that conversation and immediately swept me away to a table Far, Far Away. While I have a long fuse, those I’ve relayed this to are amazed they didn’t have to post bail for me or something.
I mean really? REALLY?!
That kind of generalization is so offensive to me on so many levels. And it also got me thinking on the genre in general. So strap yourself in, gentle readers, because we’re goin’ deep.
First off, I really don’t care what people do in their social time. If you’re there and that’s the kind of fun you want to have, as long as you aren’t doing it on the table in front of me where I’m trying to eat or something, cool, enjoy yourselves, use protection. But I’m pretty sure women don’t JUST go to these things to get their freak on and have a story to tell. That’s like saying I go to Wal-Mart for a soul-wrenching religious experience instead of needing allergy medicine and socks or something.
– So because I’m a woman I don’t count as much as a male fan/performer/writer, since I obviously don’t know anything about the horror genre and am just at a place for carnal and emotional validation? Or – I know – maybe I just let my dude friends drag me there so I could get out of the house and have something to do, and look at the pretty crafts on some of the tables…while I’m not desperately searching for carnal and emotional validation?
– So because I’m a woman my opinion (and therefore my money) doesn’t count as much?
– So because I’m a woman, obviously nothing in the horror genre is meant for me?
– And since I’m a performer and a woman, what – my function in the horror genre is to take my clothes off and get cut up?
– Since I’m a writer and a woman do my ideas/portrayals not count as much in this genre?
Excuse me if you’re sensitive to language, but…
NO NO NO and NO AGAIN and NO SOME FREAKIN’ MORE
Look, I’m not naive. I am a woman and I get that sometimes we put people on a pedestal, we emotionalize stuff, we do the whole animus projection thing. But look around at one of these things and you’ll see just as many guys going ga-ga or nuts while meeting the exact same people and looking for very similar experiences, whether it be an autograph, a photo, a cool ten-second story of saying they met someone, or some sort of validation, whatever. This is called being a fan and liking stuff. So why does that suddenly become derogatory when it’s pertained to women?
This is actually part of why I want to write the novel…I want to mesh up fan/celebrity interactions with prey/predator interactions and blend it to the point where you don’t know who has the real advantage or not. There is a trove of emotional stuff to work with here and do some great psychological things with. But the gender distinction now kind of blew my mind. I don’t hate admitting I’m a fan of certain movies…I do think we’re at a day and age where fan tends to equal geek which (in popular stereotyped culture) equal people spending all their money on figurines and not holding down a job and aren’t able to get a date, and I’m finding that not only is that derogatory but it’s stupid. Can we please come up with something more interesting? Everyone’s passionate about something. It’s okay to be a geek. But when you apply that to a woman…then you label her a fangirl…
I HATE that word. I HATE IT. At the very best you’re not saying that she’s a female fan…you’re implying that she has no social skills and can only relate to the outside world through her one love affair which is her fandom. At the very worst you’re calling her a really specialized groupie.
I am none of those things, thanks. I hold down a few jobs, I pay my bills, I am constantly striving to carve out a place for myself in the world. I’m single and sure, if someone’s interested in me that’s a whole other ball game but I would never go anywhere thinking that that’s what I should be after or that’s what’s gonna happen. If someone’s interested in me anywhere (if they can get past the wall of obliviousness) it would be the same situation no matter who they are – if I like you back, let’s hang out or talk, if not, my apologies but no thanks. Yeah, I know a lot about certain movies/music styles/writing styles/etc and while I get can be passionate in my defense and love for them, it shouldn’t devalue who I am as a person. And to be fair there are a lot of people at these sorts of cons who are completely cool and will talk to you like you are a human being, including fans, actors, writers, musicians et al.
But that comment about women at that con brings to mind the thing that still kind of riles me about the horror genre. I get its testosterone-driven because that’s who’s mainly paying for those sorts of movies, but come on…
Just because I am a woman who likes the horror genre does not make me a slut or an innocent naive whatever trying to fill up an emotional black hole. My place in the genre is not limited to sex object, chainsaw fodder, or a combination of the two. I am a capable, creative person with a lot to bring to the table idea-wise.
While I go to talk to people, get ideas, geek out a little, and screen movies, it’s all because I love the horror genre. I love the freedom that it offers that you can’t really get when doing something set in the ‘real world’ or something entirely literary. I like the potential for visceral reactions, I love that it lets me push the boundaries. I like writing it, I like reading it, I like watching it, I love designing and building monsters and creatures…haven’t gotten to act in it yet but I’m totally open to it. I stinkin’ love this genre. And it hurts and irritates me to be generalized and swept away by that dumb of a blanket statement because I have certain body parts.
There are some things that I don’t like, namely torture porn or gore just for gore’s sake. I’m not averse to blood and guts, but I do think that it’s become less of a tool for commentary and more of a marketing tool. Oh sure, yeah, you can say you’re pushing the limits but it’s a convenient way to entice people to pay to see it, isn’t it? You will also never convince me to sit there and watch sexual violence as a plot point for these movies, either (or really any movie.) Call it exploring dark topics, call it empowering because the woman in question seeks out revenge all you want…eeeh, it kind of borders on exploitation when the first half of the movie/book is in your face explicit footage of her victimization and the rest is random gore in the name of revenge. If you really want to make me believe that you care about her journey, then don’t show her rape/torture/whatever at all…or do it briefly in flashbacks and never up close. Focus the whole movie on her descent into obsession and mania with her thirst for making her attackers pay. I know a lot of people feel like this is putting the topic up for discussion by writing/doing movies like this. Here’s my issue with that whole thing: As women we have to work really hard not to be victims anyway. No matter how strong or empowered you are you eventually come to the realization that you do have to be careful in your life. This kind of victimization is a topic that is still pretty taboo in most circles, otherwise we wouldn’t have such a large epidemic of silent victims. And instead of making it an insightful point of discussion, by making it so extreme you’ve just reassured everyone that it is a horrific topic and made it that much harder to talk about. And what is this showing young adults? I’m not saying horror movies should be educational, but let’s face it: there are a lot of caricatures used in these movies and people are judgemental. So you end up getting the sort of reaction that ranges from “thank god that’s not me” to “well, maybe she deserved it, she shouldn’t have been so stupid.” Neither are good reactions for people to have about the topic matter, because they’re derisive and dismissive. In short, they’re just not helping.
With violence I expect a story to go with the gore – think the Sonja Blue book series (though this is a hard read for me and it does have elements of victimization in it). Yeah, it’s really graphic, but there is a lot of emotional stuff to go with the sensationalism. There is an actual story. In a movie I want the gore to enhance the story – not to BE the story. I want something sick and twisted that’s going to give me pause about going around in my daily life. I want a really revved version of The Twilight Zone (there was a reason that show is still remembered so well. It did its job and treated its viewers with respect.) I want to wonder what if…what if something like that is possible? What if that could happen to me? I want you to really make me think – I don’t want to be scared that someone could kill me with a spatula – I want to worry that the spatula will destroy the fabric of reality and allow demons to come through and steal the very fabric of my humanity every time I bake a cake. Keep that in mind – steal my humanity, not just rip my clothes off. I want to wonder about the people I pass on the street every day. I want you to turn me into a paranoid mess, not just toss a gallon of blood across the screen.
And if you can’t do that, then I at least want to entertained. I’m a big fan of horror comedy, psychological thrillers, and the just plain weird. I absolutely love Lovecraft – the thought that there might be something else lurking behind the normal waiting to tear everything that makes the world what we know apart…that’s freakin’ awesome. I am morbidly amused by stories with secret cults, secret outsider groups of people who are raising hell, and giant monsters that shouldn’t exist in reality. I love vampires, ghosts are fun, dream worlds are great, haunted houses rule. But no matter what my tastes are, there is a simple rule I like to stick to: If you’re going to ground a story in reality, do it. If you’re going to unground it, do it. But make it about the story. Everything else – the blood, the effects – is icing. Sure, put it in your story – but can you please try to even things out with the actual story and maybe not make every female character a big ol’ target?
I don’t mind some raciness and sex – I really don’t care if there are semi-naked people on the screen. I’m a straight chick, but I get that this genre is very testosterone-driven and that’s what sells. It’s cool, I’m not going to cringe or complain every time I see a pretty woman run around in heels and a short skirt. Let’s face it, in this genre you can’t swing a machete without seeing some boobs. And I get that. But I also feel it’s woefully one-sided. Where are all the hot guys losing their clothes for us female fans to appreciate?! Huh?? When do I get a movie with a hot guy being chased by a killer and all his clothes get strategically torn off while he’s running through a sprinkler?!
I get the allure and “danger” that raciness adds (Though if I’m going to have to sit through boobage, I prefer it to make sense in the context of the storyline, thanks. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure that’s called porn.) But here is where I get irritable: somehow EVERY woman in this genre is becoming more and more naked and more and more supermodelish. And the roles that are designed are either slut, virgin, mom, or some variation of the three and they are either 1. going through hell and going crazy 2. being victimized 3. some sort of combo of the two 4. supposedly going on the offensive but they end up crazy and victimized anyway 5. are some sort of bad-ass slayer, vampire, priestess, whatever as long as they’re really, really hot. And even then they’re probably going to get naked and killed, though in this case there may be implied lesbianism just for the hell of it or in the form of mind control. I’ve read and seen more of these plots than I want to, and what’s frustrating is that they have the capacity to be really good ideas…and then they turn into that.
I’m sorry, but not everything that takes place in your story is a source of eroticism. It just isn’t. It is one thing to show a woman who has been through hell breaking down while changing her clothes – this happens, she can have a good cry and still be semi-naked. That’s acceptable to me. But when the camera shot zooms in on her upper body even though I’m pretty sure that tears come out of her eyes, that’s when I feel things get ridiculous. Yes, I get you may want to make use of your unrated version, but here’s the thing: you would get more people in the seats if you can get your women audience to identify with that female character. And they’re not going to identify with her by looking at her nipples. Think of it – appeal to both genders and you get more people paying to watch or read your story. At the end of the day I would like this genre to not totally be reduced to a teenage male version of sexuality and violence. That may be a big demographic, but do we really want to be promoting that this is okay and acceptable to said demographic? If the point of horror is to scare people, can we please actually get back to that?
I also get the allure of a creature killing people while making love (the people making love, not the creature…I’m not sure even an evil creature could be that good at multi-tasking.). But somewhere along the line it’s gotten so that those scenes are again a showcase of female assets and not a legitimately uncomfortable scene that should make you wonder if your most private moments are really private and safe or not.
I also want more female antagonists. This does not include really hot vampiresses that strut around in vinyl and when they are killed their death throes look like an orgasm. I mean antagonists, as in girls that would give you nightmares because they will not have any mercy on your body or soul. Why can’t we have someone like Freddy or Jason be a woman? What happened to all the normal-looking quiet librarians who are actually cannibals because they believe that eating their dates means the guys will be a part of themselves forever and ever and that’s true love? I’m just tossing it out there, and I know I’m generalizing, but women can be pretty crazy. We naturally go for the jugular. Think of every mother that defends her kids no matter what. Think of every woman who goes apeshit over her dream being kicked over. Think of every ticked off chick you’ve ever known on a hormonal bad day – you know at some point you want to run from a few of them. Now give them a chainsaw. Or claws. Or an evil artifact. Or something. Why do the dudes get the better antagonist parts and women get to be sex objects, victims, or crazies who end up pathetic or dead at the end of the movie? Chicks can be evil masterminds too, yo! For every over-the-top plotline I’ve seen or read, I can almost guarantee you that I could match that or go a few steps beyond. Trust me, women are far from pansies.
In a genre that gives you so much wiggle room…well, I have high expectations because there is so much wiggle room. That’s why I hold what I watch and read to high standards – because in a genre where you CAN be that imaginative, there’s no excuse for using the same gimmicks over and over again. I’ve said over and over that I expect anything I read or watch to make me feel. You could argue that anything in this genre will do that, especially if it’s over-the-top. The thing is I want to feel, not just feel gross. There has to be something that will make you want to really wonder if you’re safe or not long after reading or watching. If all you can remember is the effects, then that’s nowhere near good enough for me.
I personally love exploring what makes characters tick. I think that’s why gore movies don’t always satisfy me…I don’t really care if Leatherface wants to torture and cut up people for his family to eat…I want to know why. (Yes I know there’s a prequel that’s supposed to explain this. It doesn’t explain nearly enough for me. There’s barely a story there, it’s all effects.) It’s not the how that’s always the freaky part, but the why. The story shouldn’t lose precedence over sensationalism – if anything they should both find a middle line and work together.
I want to re-affirm that I love this genre. There are a lot of movies that I absolutely love or feel do a really good job at what they’ve set out to do: (these aren’t all and are off the top of my head) Repo, Evil Dead2, The Shining, 30 Days of Night, The Friday the 13th series (well parts of it), Lost Boys, Blair Witch, Emerging Past, the Hammer Films, The Orphanage, etc…Ghostbusters, Gremlins, and other dark comedy/horror hybrids are great.
I also love schlocky, dumb movies. I am a sucker for B-Z grade movies that are just ridiculous. This is where I loosen up on my standards, because if you are so bold as to be really ridiculous, well, then I’m going to watch it if only for comedic value. Like I said, anything with giant killer mutants is okay with me. Or sentient plants, those are fun too. Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead People is a guilty pleasure of mine. Seriously, it’s not that I’m trying to have taste, because I will fully admit that I don’t have it.
And I have a lot of others that I respect even if they disturb me (The Exorcist, Paranormal Activity, etc). Because that’s what the genre is supposed to do! I want to think and be genuinely freaked out, not be so grossed out I can’t function. I get stretching the boundaries, I get once upon a time splatter and gore films were a way to carve out a niche that didn’t yet exist. I will even go so far to say that even though I don’t personally care for the early Wes Craven stuff and things like Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the original one. forget everything else), they do accomplish their goals.
Books that I adore include: The Sonja Blue series, a lot of various things by Lovecraft, N by Stephen King (and a lot of his other short stories), The Haunting of Hill House, Dracula, Lord of the Dead, World War Z…these are good solid titles.
But that’s just my opinion. Because what do I really know? I’m just a girl.