Tuesday, May 27, 2014

WHAT SCARES ME: GENDER INEQUALITY AND THE VIOLENCE IT FEEDS IN AMERICAN SLASHER FILMS


-Elliot Rodger


On May 23rd, 2014 (my 24th birthday) I was reminded of why I started writing Day of the Woman in the first place.  After five years, Day of the Woman has matured to something a bit more refined than what I started when I was eighteen, but my message is still the same.  It's scary as hell to be a woman in today's society both on screen and off.  Six people were killed and thirteen were injured before the killer took his own life, and it was all because a man felt that women weren't doing what he wanted.  This was a blatant act of misogyny and it didn't harm only women, it killed four men who were caught in the cross-hairs.  A man was determined to kill women and attacked anyone that could have possibly stopped him.  Sounds a lot like someone else we know...
I need to kill Laurie Strode...and anyone that gets in my way.

Slasher films have come under fire for decades for its portrayals of female archetypes.  Obviously there are exceptions, but the overwhelming majority of these films show male characters attacking female victims, and if a female IS the villain, it's used as a "twist-ending" or isn't revealed until the end of the film.  Why?


Films are a reflection on the society they originate from, so in order to dissect the gender inequality of slasher films it's important to look at the way our society views violent men and women.  This is a PSA that shows what happens when a man abuses a woman in public vs. when a woman abuses a man in public.  If you didn't watch it, the results are exactly what you'd think.  When the man puts his hands on a woman, a gaggle of Good Samaritans immediately run to her aid.  When the roles are reversed, witnesses laugh at the man being beaten by his girlfriend, and no one intervenes.  Why?  It all goes back to the idea that women are the weaker sex.  When women are villains it’s used as a shock tactic because society thinks it's so ridiculous for a woman to be violent that it comes off as humor.  Witnessing the violence in action is laughable, but having the reveal after the violence has ended is horrifying not because it's a woman...but because your preconceived notions were wrong.  On the other hand, men are seen as monsters because they’re asserrting their dominance as the stronger sex and they’re punished for losing control. This isn't a "men's rights issue," this is a human issue.  If we truly saw women as equals to men, we would intervene when men are being abused and take it just as seriously as we do when women are abused.  Equality would help men’s issues just as much as it would help women’s issues.  So where does that leave horror?

What happens when a family lives without any female figureheads?

All of the major slasher killers, arguably the staples of American horror films, were all bred from complicated relationships with men that were violent to women.  Horror puts how screwed up society is under a microscope to show us how all these things (patriarchy, materialism, etc) birth the things of nightmares. Freddy Krueger was "the bastard son of 100 maniacs" when he was conceived from his mother, a nun, who was gang-raped.  Michael Myers (if we follow the Rob Zombie origin story and not the ridiculous cult nonsense of HALLOWEEN 6) was raised in a house with an abusive step-father and was brought to believe his mother was a bad person because of her profession.  Jason Voorhees was raised by a single-mother who was essentially punished for having a career and not living solely as a mother when those she elected to watch her son let him die.  Leatherface was raised in an environment where the patriarchy reigned supreme and his own femininity was the cause for much ridicule from his family.  Many people like to dismiss these slashers as just pure evil, but they're not.  If we focus on the initial introductions of these characters, (and not the one-liners or ridiculous mythos perpetuated in the sequels) it becomes horrifying to realize that any one of us could become a monster.  Forget about the movie magic of Freddy being able to kill us in our dreams, he's still an angry man hell bent on revenge.  They're all products of their environment, their mental state, and the societal experiences they were exposed to during the important stages of development.  These men were all brought out of a world coated with men showcasing violence towards women, and they continued a pattern.  But these horror icons came long before Elliot Rodgers...what does that say about society today?
Billy Loves Stu. Totally.
Elliot Rodger was a millennial, and a child born into the age of technology.  Elliot Rodger was misunderstood and extremely angry young man that found solace in those that agreed with him.  Even after killing six people and his 140 page "manifesto" hit the web, there are still men that completely sympathize with him.  20-30 years ago, Elliot Rodger would have been lucky to find someone that would agree with him but now he has an entire community of fellow angry white men at his finger tips that don't tell him "you're wrong," and instead, encourage "you're right, women suck."  SCREAM was a self-aware slasher film, and featured two killers instead of one.  These weren't mad-men, they were men who were mad.  Where Billy and Stu had similar interests and films, Elliot Rodger had the internet.  Finding someone that shares your love of destruction is a dangerous combination, and we all know nothing brings people together more than a mutual hatred.  People keep blaming Men's Rights Activists or the Pick-Up Artist community for Rodger's actions...but that's like saying Billy and Stu became killers because of horror movies.  Hell, Billy said it himself, "Now Sid, don't you blame the movies. Movies don't create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative!"  Billy was very, very angry about a woman "destroying" his parents' marriage.  Instead of feeling angry towards his own father for stepping out on his mother, he targeted "the other woman" and placed all the blame on her.  Elliot Rodger was mad that women wouldn't have sex with him and instead of trying to improve himself, he placed all the blame on other women.  Are we sensing a pattern here?  Blaming a woman and discovering a like-minded person was a recipe for disaster, and one we unfortunately became witness to happening offscreen and on the streets of Isla Vista, California. 

But wait, women always survive in these horror movies!  Yeah, but...
Sweaters in summer? Get out of here.
Women survive in horror movies if they act in a very particular way.  Elliot Rodger was angry at "stuck-up, blonde sluts."  Who usually dies early in a slasher film?  The Lynda Van Der Klok types in HALLOWEEN, and the Tina Gray types of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET are always the first to go.  If you're blonde and sexually fluid, you're going to die.  What keeps you safe?  Being a virgin. The responsibility of survival is placed solely on the woman and her sexuality, which is exactly what we do to rape victims and what a lot of defenders of Elliot Rodger are trying to claim.  While #YesAllWomen gains momentum, there are still people saying that it's a woman's fault for not giving Rodger what he wanted...in the same way that we say "if you wouldn't have had sex, you would have survived" to women in slasher films.

One-liners aside, Freddy is a total creep.
Are slasher films responsible for mass murders and misogyny? Absolutely not.  Horror movies are not the problem, but they're a hell of a way to reflect the ideals of society on a more dramatic level.  Successful movies have attributes that audiences can relate to, and if we're accepting reality in films where men will kill everyone in their path to punish one woman...what does that say about our society? Even more terrifying, after a few installments in a slasher franchise, we're almost viewing these villains as an anti-hero and somewhat defending their actions.  Jason Voorhees is just listening to his mommy, Freddy is seeking revenge for his own death, Michael Myers had a rough childhood, Leatherface's family taught him violence at a very young age, and the Ghostface killers all really, really hate Sidney Prescott.  Instead of saying "kill these monsters," were asking for 10 sequels and the bloodshed of innocent victims. If films glorify killers and we want more of these films, does that mean we'll get more of these killers? No, not until we first address the culture and society that these films reflect.

Friday, May 2, 2014

HOW CAN YOU WATCH HORROR WHEN YOU'RE DYING?

I should probably get the Human Centipede drawing tattooed on this bad boy.

The last few months have arguably been the most difficult months in my life. I apologize in advance for seemingly abandoning this site, but I've been a little bit...preoccupied. I wasn't sure if I was ever going to write about this, but if I allow illness to overtake all the things in my life that I love, then I'll never truly be cured.  Here's the truth of it all: I have/had pancreatic cancer. To save you some googling, pancreatic cancer has a 4-6% survival rate in the United States and a 3% survival rate in the United Kingdom.  A team of doctors removed a tennis ball sized pancreatic tumor, 40% of my pancreas, my entire spleen, and 20+ lymph nodes.  I spent some time in the hospital and I'm still going through recovery.  There's a 40% chance of the cancer coming back and considering I'm only 23, that's an arbitrary number because the statistics are based on a majority of people suffering from the disease being 25+ years my senior.  As of right now, I'm cancer free.  However, I have to wait 5 years to be determined truly out of the woods.  I don't want to sound like a John Green novel, but I really am a ticking time bomb. I've had to accept that there is a very distinct possibility that I'll show up at a doctor's office to find out I'm going to die.

It's been really horrifying and I'll be the first to admit I've avoided blogging on here or on Icons of Fright because I always leave a little piece of myself in everything that I write.  Knowing that I could very well be gone in a flash, I've been selfishly holding on to each piece I have left.  I've always prided myself on being a strong woman, but god damn if cancer doesn't make you feel the most vulnerable you ever will.  I've always watched a large amount of horror movies, but since being diagnosed I've found myself almost exclusively watching horror.  From my initial emergency room visit to the entire hospital stay and now in recovery, my media consumption has been dominated by horror movies (Well, and Monday night viewings of RuPaul's Drag Race).  It's one thing to explain away watching some of the depraved stuff you see in horror movies when you're healthy, but how can you watch horror when you're dying?

You should have seen my nurse's faces when they came in my room and saw this on the TV

One of the more obvious answers is "Because I like horror movies, damn it."  Horror is a huge part of my personality and it's where I find the most enjoyment.  I'm not stupid, I know how "strange" it is for people to accept the fact I'm a bonafide horror junkie.  Considering I don't stereotypically "look" like a horror fan, the general public usually sees my love of horror as something "quirky" or "interesting" that makes me unique.  When you're in a hospital, you don't want to be just a number.  I was lucky that while I was staying in the hospital, I was the youngest patient on my floor by about 30 years.  The nursing staff loved me because I didn't need someone to clean up my bowel movements and because I'd crack jokes with them at all hours of the day.  The fact I loved horror movies was something very unique to me and gave my nurses a reason to talk to me about things other than my illness and allowed them to really see me as a person, and not as a diagnosis.  Maybe that's an incredibly vain reason for watching SyFy for hours on end in a hospital and possibly horrifying the other floormates when there's nothing but screaming heard from my television, but it made a genuine difference in the quality of my hospital stay.
The TV edit of THE RUINS is garbage, by the way.
Horror was also the ultimate tool of escapism.  I needed the distraction.  Everyone around me was either crying or filled with a forced positive attitude.  Doctors and nurses were constantly telling me what to do to survive, how lucky I was and bringing me flowers and stuffed animals from people I haven't seen since high school. My parents and boyfriend were painfully retelling the story over and over and over to anyone that called and I had more social media notifications than on my birthday.  Being the center of attention like that is exhausting.  If I had to hear "how are you feeling?" one more time, I was going to rip out my IV and stab someone with it.  All I wanted to do was scream or blow everyone's heads off and since I couldn't do that...I watched it on TV.  There was something incredibly therapeutic about watching other people literally tear off their skin when all I wanted to do was live inside someone else's.  It's a lot easier to forget you're dying when you're watching other people do it in front of your eyes.  There's a safe distance because you're watching someone other than you suffer, but the reality is that no one is actually getting hurt. For me, it helped to see the pain and terror I was feeling personified on film. It permitted my anxiety to come out, be acknowledged, and socially comforted.

Did you know they let extra-terrestrials get medical degrees?
The ultimate and universal appeal of horror is the desire to survive despite tremendous odds and uncertainty. How could sick people not enjoy that?  The other part is the need to realize it could be worse. I may have cancer, but they can cut that out of me and I can (hopefully) move on with my life.  I just watched a chick get arrowed to death by some indigenous people on her spring break.  I may have staples down my stomach, but those will get removed and this other girl just took a nail gun TO THE FACE.  Okay, so I can't have sex for a month or two, but this guy was just killed while he was IN his girlfriend.  As ridiculous as some horror movie deaths are, there's a reason 1000 WAYS TO DIE had 4 seasons.  Luckily, we have people like Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton (SAW IV, V, VI, 3D, THE COLLECTOR, THE COLLECTION) that profit off of this idea and write stories with inconceivable death traps that the victims cannot escape.  The flip side to that is even if it can be worse, you become a rock star in your own mind - Hollywood's got nothing on me.  I beat THE deadliest cancer on the planet, I'm pretty sure the Jigsaw killer can kiss my ass.
Avoid husband bulges and you'll be just fine.

At the end of the day, horror makes me feel better about myself because it rewards all the virtues of living a healthy lifestyle.  Don't drink, don't smoke, don't fornicate, don't do drugs, and you'll survive.  I'm a non-smoker, I don't do drugs, I'm a responsible drinker, and I don't have mindless sex.  My doctors were baffled that they even found my cancer because of how healthy I was and the fact I showed zero symptoms.  Hell, I volunteer with the homeless and used to run a tri-city Halloween food drive for the less fortunate and I STILL got cancer before I was old enough to legally rent a car.  That's some straight up bullshit. It was so frustrating to sit in a hospital with cancer after living a healthy life while I watched people on social media brag about cheating on their girlfriends and stealing from their bosses.  I'm not one to knock people's lifestyles, but I got cancer and I'm sort of a goody two shoes! What kind of shit is that?!  Horror movies let me see the poetic justice I was craving.  I spent the first two weeks screaming "It's not fair!" at the sky, and I wasn't wrong.  Life isn't fair, but horror movies...usually are.  People like me survive, and when you're actually dying, that sort of ideal shown in the media makes a world of difference. We shouldn't need a masked slasher to improve healthcare but one certainly would help.

Hospital stays on Halloween night? Aw, hell naw.
Cancer changed my life, but it did not change who I am.  Horror movies have always been my go-to in terms of making me feel better, and that includes coming face to face with your own mortality.  I'm not looking for sympathy, and frankly, I don't want it.  Sometimes things happen in life that are uglier and more horrific than anything we can imagine, and while some people may crave hope and Nicholas Sparks movies, I want something to scare me that isn't coming out of a biopsy.  I want something to take me out of the terror that is very, very real and allow me to feel sad, scared, and angry at something other than myself.  I don't want to watch my mom cry in my hospital room because she can't save her baby girl, I want to watch Katherine Thorn struggle with raising the Anti-Christ in THE OMEN.  I don't want to look at the hideous scar on my stomach, I want to watch James Woods pull a gun out of his in VIDEODROME.  Call it shallow, but I needed a prescription for some high-quality schadenfraude.  How can you watch horror when you're dying? Honestly? How could you not?
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