11 December 1998
After nine months of reviews, why no vampires? Why no Stephen King? Why, indeed, no horror?
Before answering, let's try to define a few terms:
Well, that was a nice exercise in futility, wasn't it? I suppose I shall have to resort to one legal definition of obscenity (Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 US 184 (1964)): "I know it when I see it."
Horror is not a genre. (Neither are "fantasy," nor "science fiction," nor "magic[al] realism," but in a different way. That is an argument for another time.) It is, at best, defined not by a "particular style, form, or content," but by an emotive effect. This effect is often far more powerful in works not usually considered to be "horror." For example:
So what is this beast that the marketing dorks in New York call "horror"? Is it just the presence of monsters and the unnatural? If so, then works as diverse as the Bible (again) and The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark qualify. I don't think this is what they have in mind. (If it is, Anne Rice will be out of a job very shortly.)
No, contemporary horror's unifying effect is an attempt to scare the living daylights out of the reader. Disgust isn't enough. That's why splatterfests fail so miserably, particularly for anyone who has really seen blood and guts splattered. TV reports just aren't quite good enough.
As I've remarked elsewhere on this site, though, the mass-produced horror peddled by the novel-writing machines in New York never leaves the whitebread for the ryelet alone pumpernickel. One can almost hear the creepy music starting when someone impoverished or "of color" comes on stage in such a book. I'm old enough to remember school before busing for integration left the South and swept the country. Most of these books are still pre-busing, in a sense, even when dressed up in contemporary scenery. As a member of another reviled minority group myself, I find this completely unacceptable. Even aside from race, though, the socioeconomic stratification in these books is enough to cause projectile vomiting that would amaze Linda Blair. When someone outside the protagonist's social class comes on stage (servants excepted), the Immense Gong of Pretentious Portentiousness clangs about an inch from one's metaphoric ear.
Well, what about all those vampires? With few exceptions, being a vampire just sucks. They're almost always independently wealthy, have unhealthy sexual appetites (but little difficulty in satisfying them), the IRS never asks for back taxes, and any angst they feel at the suffering they inflict is more than balanced by a rather extended lifespan. Actually, that sounds like a lot of high-ranking politicians . . . who, come to think of it, do a pretty good job of sucking the lifeblood out of their constituents.
Nonetheless, somebody is buying all of those horror books. I'm not sure how they choose, though. Thanks to the novel-writing machines, they're all very much the same. The audience is getting scared over and over again by the same book with different packaging. One could say the same about the Interminable Fantasy Series and much contemporary science fiction, with some justice. So I try to be very selective in my reading. And I don't read, and thus don't review, contemporary horror.
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