Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Horror Fiction is also about Redemption

Today is Election Day; but I don’t want to talk about the elections.

Let’s talk instead about—horror fiction and redemption!

This is a principle that is best explained through example.

Almost everyone who has any interest in the horror/suspense genre is familiar with The Walking Dead, so we’ll focus our attention there.

Millions of viewers were turned off by the Season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead. I know I sure was. Some reviewers called it “torture porn”. I can’t disagree. Torture porn is more or less what it was. 

The Walking Dead was launched six years ago on a high note. 

Yes, there were flesh-eating zombies. Yes, the setting was a post-apocalyptic USA.

But TWD of 2010 or 2011 also put the best of the human spirit on display.  

The characters were genuinely sympathetic and likable. The stories were compelling. 

The first few seasons of TWD depicted normal people trying their best to balance survival and morality in a world gone awry. That’s a metaphor that everyone finds useful.

TWD of 2016 has become a very different beast. Gone is any sense of real human virtue holding out against the dark side. What we have now is merely nihilistic violence and despair.

“But that’s real, man!” some people would say. “And that’s what horror fiction is all about—an unflinching look at the dark side!”

Yes—and no. Horror fiction certainly does look at the dark aspects of life on earth. No other genre is more concerned with basic questions of life and death, good and evil.

But if horror fiction is to be nothing but the depiction of sadistic violence, then why even waste time creating characters and stories at all? Why not just watch ISIS beheading videos? (After all, they’re very “realistic”.)

Horror fiction should examine the dark side of life. But horror fiction serves no purpose as art if it does not also show a path to redemption, as well. 

This is not a call for Pollyannaism. The darkness is real. But the darkness is also something for human beings to struggle against and triumph over. This is a principle that goes all the way back to Beowulf (one of the first “creature-based” horror tales). 

Look at all of the really good, enduring works of horror and you’ll find a contrast between good and evil, versus a one-sided depiction of evil. 

Horror fiction, at its core, is about people facing evil and preserving their humanity. Read the early novels of Stephen King—Carrie, The Stand, Christine, etc. In each of these novels you’ll find a reaffirmation of the moral/spiritual principles that make us human.

The Season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead contained no hint of redemption in the face of evil. Its message was: The world is fundamentally bad, evil rules, and human life is ultimately meaningless.

This is one of the reasons why a once great show has become such a drag to watch. 

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