The Frightening State of Horror

So there’s this new movie coming out soon called Deliver Us From Evil.  It’s a story about a cop who goes around to all these spooky looking places filled with spooky looking things, as spooky people jump out of the shadows at him, seriously giving him the spooks.  The trailer has some well-done looking scenes, including a particularly unsettling scene with a plush owl that falls off a shelf and rolls toward a little girl in bed.  And what’s the cause of all this weird mayhem and spooky things?  Why of course, people are being possessed, for like the twentieth time in the last five years.  You’d think for once the exorcist would actually be worth a damn.

I touched on this topic before in one of my posts, where I talked about why I found horror fascinating as a genre.  You might remember that I also mentioned how I was getting a little worried with the state it’s currently in, constantly going over trope after trope.  In particular horror movies seem locked into this weird obsession with demons.  It’s always demons.  Every time something goes bump in the night?  Demons.  Every time someone does something stupid in a movie?  Demons.  Every time someone dies in a movie?  Well, you get the idea.

It’s no secret that movies these days tend to be criticized for being unoriginal, being based off of some kind of source material or being a remake of an older movie.  But horror movies in particular are notorious for that.  Even the Paranormal Activity franchise, a series I like, is all about demons.  It seems like every horror movie I see a trailer for ends up being about demons or hell.  There was one I learned about a month or two back called As Above, So Below that actually seemed intriguing.

It was about this group of archaeologists or something that decide to go down into the catacombs of Paris, which are notorious for being disturbing.  Predictably they get trapped and bad things start happening.  But it gets interesting in the trailer when one of the characters finds a piano that he remembers from his childhood, with the same broken key on it and everything.  So what’s the explanation for all of it?  Turns out it has something to do with the gates of Hell.  Of course.  It couldn’t actually be anything interesting could it?

Even video games have run into a dry spell when it comes to the horror genre.  Too many of the games today focus on loud pop-up scares and objectives along the line of “collect eight whatever and escape”.  Or they don’t even try, giving you mounds of ammo for your weapons and focusing more on creating big explosions than any actual ambiance.  Horror needs to be subtle in a lot of ways.  You can’t be truly scared by something if it just instantly jumps at you.  It needs to stalk you in the shadows first, allowing you to catch a glimpse of it as it skitters away into the darkness.

Dark Fall The Journal.

If this was a horror movie, there would be blood and pentagrams drawn on the wall. Because spooks. (Dark Fall The Journal.)

This is something that the Paranormal Activity movies are so good at (with the exception of number four).  They build up the tension with little odd things happening during the nighttime segments, which slowly build up into crazy disturbing things by the end of the movie.  Few people seem to realize the importance of build up.  It’s that feeling when something gets under your skin and creeps you out.  It’s that feeling that you’re being watched, that paranoia of what could be around the next bend.

Video games in particular are in a unique position to create some truly atypical horror experiences.  Eternal Darkness is one of those games that I feel really broke the mold, even if it is over a decade old now.  It not only had your typical freaky monsters, but it messed with your mind.  It would commonly break the fourth wall, making you think your controller was unplugged or that your TV turned off.  It even makes you think you accidentally started deleting all your saved games.  These moments are what makes it one of my favorite games of all time.

This is the kind of thing I want out of horror these days, some level of originality.  We can all agree that an abandoned mansion, asylum, hotel, or whatever is creepy, but there are ways to be creepy without always resorting to well-tread ground.  Part of the reason I talked about the horror games I’ve played, such as the Dark Fall series, is because I feel they find ways to unnerve or scare me without resorting to jumping in my face and screaming “BLARGH”.  I will admit that those scares can make me jump (hence the name “jumpscare”), but they don’t leave any lasting impression.  It’s that momentary knee-jerk reaction, followed by a weary sigh of knowing that they used the oldest trick in the book.  Loud noises aren’t that scary.  They’re mainly annoying.

But I do really get tired of all the demon story lines.  This family has an ancient secret, involving demons.  This house has a terrible history…involving demons.  This forest is known for being haunted……by demons.  This person actually IS a demon.  It just gets old when every demonic possession movie involves someone screaming “get out” in a deep, gravely voice right before a door slams shut.  Yeah we got it.  They’re possessed.  It’s spooky and stuff.  It’s not like demons are intrinsically bad as horror tropes, they just get old when they’re in pretty much every modern horror movie.

Betrayer is a new game I've started playing recently. It takes place in the early 17th Century and involves all sorts of supernatural weirdness. It's not a jump out at you kind of horror game, but it's dripping with atmosphere. It's something unique in a sea of clones.

Betrayer is a new game I’ve started playing recently. It takes place in the early 17th Century and involves all sorts of supernatural weirdness. It’s not a jump out at you kind of horror game, but it’s dripping with atmosphere. It’s something unique in a sea of clones.

I guess what I’m trying to get at here is that we should be trying new things.  Yes old castles are scary.  Yes demons are freaky.  Yes dark forests in the middle of the night are creepy places to be, but they’re all so obvious.  That’s the problem with them.  We know them too well, so we expect there to be spooky things there.  There are settings out there that are ripe for horrific atmospheres and stories, such as the bottom of the ocean.  Being trapped deep beneath the ocean surface is a terrifying prospect for me, and one I don’t see explored often.

Horror as it is right now is stuck in a deep rut.  It’s a record that is constantly skipping.  If it stays that way, I’m fairly certain it will eventually die out.  There are interesting ideas out there, in both games and movies, but there need to be more of them.  I’m all for dark corridors and distant, creepy noises, but sometimes I would like to be exposed to something new.  With modern technology we can go places and explore ideas that we had no conception of even just fifty years ago.  The problem is that people become all too content with the old and the familiar.  There’s nothing wrong with the safety of what you know, but all of human experience didn’t come about because people stayed with what they know.  Embrace the unfamiliar, and you might be surprised with the results.

And that’s all for this week.  Next week’s post will be barely illuminated by your flashlight as you pull open the old wooden cellar door.  Until then, have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 

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Ideological Rumble: Evolution vs. Creationism

Humans are fascinated by their beginnings.  We like to know who we are in the world and where we belong.  We like to know where we came from and where we’re going.  This can range from where we were born, to where we want to go to college, to where we want to work for the rest of our lives.  But the epitome of human mystery is the origin of life, the beginnings of our race.  To that end, there are two schools of thought in modern times that deal with that idea, and they are two terms you’ve probably heard of before: evolution and creationism.

Most likely you heard of these two ideas together not in the sense of their ideas, but in the sense that their constituents tend to butt heads often in public discourse.  Interestingly enough,  it’s not about the specific ideas within their schools of thought, but rather where each should be taught or put on display.  Essentially, they are competing for space in the public domain.

The Ideas

Before I go on, I should probably briefly explain what each one is, just in case you’re reading this and have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about.  Evolution is the idea that our ancestors were the descendants of older animals, in our case apes.  It’s the idea that through a variety of natural processes, animals change and form to the demands of their environment.  Giraffes evolved to have longer necks, turtles evolved to have protective shells, and so on.  It’s the predominant scientific theory for our origins, put together by one Charles Darwin in the 17th century.

Creationism is a different idea, that the numerous species of animals that inhabit our planet with us were created in an act of divinity.  Essentially, it’s the idea that all life has a creator, a being who decided to infuse organisms into the planet (read: God).  Creationism is also commonly called Intelligent Design.  It is a common proponent of religious fundamentalists, and is very closely linked to religion itself.  Unlike evolution, as far as I can tell creationism doesn’t have a single, unified creator, but rather developed as a counter-idea to evolution itself, with its adherents at one point being called “anti-evolutionists”.

Now for those of you who have followed my blog for a while, you probably remember that I’ve said at least once or twice that I am not a religious person.  I was never raised that way, never went to church, never believed in God even for a moment.  So it’s probably obvious which side on this debate I’m going to fall on.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that creationism and evolution can exist as separate schools of thought.  One does not necessarily need to eclipse the other.  The problem that is going on here is one of appropriateness, specifically in relation to where each idea is presented.

The Schools

The time most people probably remember evolution and creationism coming up in the same breath is when a debate is started about what should be included in a school’s curriculum.  Recently, such debates have become more and more common, with more creationists trying to push the idea of creationism into the science classrooms, under the idea that they want to encourage people to look at both viewpoints.

Now if this is actually their intent, that’s all fine, but I have my reservations about the true motives of such people.  But if it is actually their true motivation, we have to ask ourselves if such a thing is appropriate.  Should creationism as an idea be taught in a science classroom?  For my part, the answer is no.

Anyone who has taken a science class has run into a little thing called the scientific method.  It is the method by which all scientists collect and interpret data about our world.  It starts with an idea, which scientists hammer into a hypothesis.  Then they design an experiment to test and either confirm or debunk their hypothesis.  After the experiment is executed, the data is analyzed and a conclusion is reached, regardless of whether the hypothesis is confirmed or not.

So what’s the problem with creationism then?  Why can’t it be taught in a science classroom?  Because, it breaks the scientific method.

It cannot be tested.  You cannot, I repeat, CANNOT design an experiment to test for God.  How would you go about doing that?  God is such an intangible concept that science has neither proved or disproved.  Faith and science will intersect from time to time, but on the whole they are very different things.  Science finds its answers through rigorous application of scientific experiments and methods, and carefully examines the evidence to reach its conclusion.

Faith, to me, is a much more personal thing that instead of experiments requires introspection.  Faith is commonly belief in spite of the lack of evidence, which is why it is called faith in the first place.  However, sometimes to me it seems that faith is belief in spite of the evidence, which implies a certain stubbornness on the part of many faith-based people.  But, like before, faith and science are not polar opposites.  They will sometimes intersect on subjects, just in different ways.

But the differences between them lead me to say that creationism should not be taught in a science classroom because it cannot be subjected to the same scrutiny as scientific theories.  And besides, you don’t go into a church to learn about something that isn’t religion, so why would you go into a science classroom to learn about something that isn’t science?

Creationism’s Place

One thing I’ve commonly run into when I talk about this subject is that people assume that when I’m saying that creationism should not be taught in science classrooms, I’m saying that it shouldn’t be taught in any classrooms.  That’s not the case.  I do think that creationism has its place, but it is not a valid scientific theory.

Creationism is something more akin to a philosophy, a sort of spiritual thing.  It relies on far too many assumptions and gut feelings to truly be taken seriously as a scientific theory.  But as a philosophy, I could see it being taught alongside many other ideas in a philosophy class.  But if people really want it to be in the science classrooms, then that’s a problem.

I understand that a public school should present different and even opposing ideas to encourage open-minded discussion, but what does it say about them if they try to pass creationism off as true science?  Here they are, trying to teach kids about the rigors of the scientific method, and then they present them with a theory that can’t even go beyond the hypothesis stage, thus breaking the method completely.  It kind of makes them look a little incompetent now doesn’t it?

Pushy Pushy

The main problem I feel here is that many religious fundamentalists are incredibly pushy with their ideas.  They want their voices to be heard all around the nation, in every facet they can insert themselves into.  Now, a big part of our country is the idea that we have free expression to share our various ideas, but it only goes so far.

Churches and religious groups commonly set a double standard in this country, where they want to be free to practice and preach their own ideas in private, but also want to force people to include their ideas in all areas of public discourse.  It’s like how churches don’t have to pay taxes to the government because of the separation of church and state, but the Mormons were able to use their money to influence the outcome of Prop 8 in California.

What it comes down to is that religious people sometimes don’t understand the way our country works.  They say they very highly value our freedom of religion in this country, rightfully so because it is a very powerful idea.  However, they tend to make a grievous error of interpretation, or at least they choose to ignore it, I can’t really be sure.  They fail to realize that freedom of religion also means freedom from religion.  They like it until it doesn’t suit them.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too, as the cliché goes.

Closing Thoughts

The debate between evolution and creationism is one that is most likely going to continue raging on for some time.  Neither side shows any signs of backing down.  It’s sad in a way, because I feel like both ideas have their place on our society.  But there are groups of people who believe that one must destroy the other, that in the end there can be only one.

Not being a religious individual I commonly find myself on the side of science far more often than on the side of religion.  But as I’ve said, I believe both have a right to exist.  In fact, I don’t believe that they are opposed to each other in any way.  The way I tend to go about it is that each is a different way of interpreting the world.  One uses measurements and observations, and the other uses faith.

But neither should trample on each other’s territory where at all possible.  Science doesn’t belong in a church any more than religion belongs in the science classroom.  Co-existence is possible, we just have to realize it.

After all, we share the same planet together so we may as well get along.

And that’s all for this week.  Next week’s post will shoot itself directly into your FACE.  But until then, have a wonderful week everybody.

 

 

 

 

The Blame Game: The Role of Journalism in Mass Media Events

Just this Sunday in Las Vegas, something horrible happened.  Two cops were gunned down in a local CiCi’s restaurant by a man and a woman shouting “this is a revolution”.  They retreated from the restaurant and ran into a nearby Wal-Mart.  After killing another person inside the store, they were confronted by cops at the back entrance.  After a gunfight, the two of them turned their weapons on themselves, executing a form of a suicide pact.

The stunned community in Vegas has been struggling this week trying to make sense of what occurred.  Why did this happen?  What were the two perpetrators thinking?  What possessed them to commit such an atrocity?  These are questions that journalists can, and should, try to answer.  And they’ve been doing a fairly good job so far.  They’ve uncovered the anti-government rhetoric that the two killers had, interviewed neighbors and acquaintances who confirmed that the two were zealous in their stance against the government.  They may have even uncovered a manifesto belonging to the perpetrators.

But there’s a problem.  I’ve seen where this leads.  The path these cases tend to go down is one of scapegoating.  Journalists will answer the questions very quickly, and draw attention to the victims immediately after the event takes place.  But in the following weeks, that most likely won’t be true.  Because it happens the same way every time.  Inevitably, we as a society become obsessed with the perpetrator or perpetrators of such an act, to the point where we want to find a reason for their behavior.  We want to know what made them that way, and we want the simple answer.  So naturally, we try to find the one thing, the silver bullet so to speak, that explains everything.

It would be easy, wouldn’t it?  If we could just lob the blame unto one particular person or entity and leave it at that.  But life is never simple, and this is where modern journalism tends to do us a disservice.  Journalists in the period after the event tend to focus far too much effort on the person who carried out the act, even if there really isn’t anything new to report.  It breeds this strange curiosity that often borders on psychotic obsession.  It creates this illusion that we live in a horribly dangerous world full of crime, when the reality is that crime has been on a general downward trend over the last couple of decades.

Something needs to change.

The Victims

Everyone remembers the person who stepped inside the Sandy Hook school and opened fire on the students.  Everyone remembers his story and his psychotic mental state.  But no one remembers the victims.  No one remembers the heroes.  No one remembers Victoria, the schoolteacher who hid her students in the lockers and then told the shooter that they weren’t in the classroom.  She died that day, protecting those she taught.  And I saw her name mentioned once, as a tiny part of the larger story.

And you know what the sad thing is?  I’m not even completely sure her name was Victoria.  Everyone remembers the villains.  Few remember the heroes.

And that’s where it can start to change.  The news tends to give far too much attention to the crazy people carrying out these acts.  If they could focus more on the victims, those who perished as a result.  If they could focus on the heroes, those who laid down their lives to protect their fellow humans.  If they could focus on the people whose stories really matter, then maybe society as a result wouldn’t be so cynical.

If we focus on the victims more in our news coverage, then we take away the spotlight from the perpetrators.  Part of the reason I think these people do what they do is because they know they’ll get attention, and lots of it.  They have these delusions of grandeur, of going out with a bang.  They don’t care if they live or die, because they know people will finally pay attention to them.  I say don’t give them that attention.  Give the psychos one less reason to act out.

Journalistic Integrity

Part of the reason journalists do what they do is to help inform the general public, and that’s where I feel journalists have been dropping the ball in the past decade or so.  Think back to the aftermath of 9/11.  It was a horrible event, to be sure.  No one’s doubting that.  But the journalism industry as a whole dropped the ball during that period.  They’re supposed to answer the five Ws: who, what, where, when, and why.  They did a good job on the first four, but they didn’t with the fifth and final one.  They didn’t try hard enough to answer “why”.

This is partially due to intense patriotic backlash.  Any journalist that tried to publish anything talking about how Osama Bin Laden was upset because the United States government was placing troops outside the borders of Saudi Arabia  was immediately labeled as unpatriotic and dangerous.  People didn’t want to hear that the United States was interfering in affairs that weren’t its concern.  People didn’t want to hear that on some level, the United States had provoked the attack on September 11th.

This allowed the government, and particularly then-president George W. Bush, to create a scenario where it was good versus evil, black and white.  They attacked us because they hated our freedom.  They were against our ideals, so they had to be stopped.  And thus began the Afghanistan War, a war which still isn’t entirely over to this day.  Sure, the real reasons behind it were far more complicated than the good versus evil dynamic, but no one cared to listen to them.  Everyone wanted the simple explanation.  They did back then, and they still do now.

The Fourth Estate

Journalists were originally conceived as watchdogs for the people.  They were seen as figures who would question and tear down the government at all costs, to expose any wrongdoing on the part of politicians and other elected officials.  They were to keep the government in check, and make sure it wasn’t abusing its power.  But now, that has changed significantly.  Journalists no longer question the government as harshly as they used to.  It’s high time for things to change.

Like the school shootings and the incident in Vegas, there isn’t just one factor in it that affects everything.  It’s not just journalists.  It’s not just the public.  It’s not just societal values.  It’s all of them, and more.  To start with, journalists should be more hard-hitting in their questions.  Don’t take the easy answer.  Push the hard questions.  Don’t report what people want to hear, but what they need to hear.

The public needs to push its journalists, and encourage more dynamic thought.  There are too many organizations like MSNBC or Fox News out there, who are so obviously bent towards one viewpoint that they can’t even begin to understand the other.  Journalists are going to have opinions, just like any other human being.  But they need to understand that we the public need to know all sides of an issue, and we need to push them to do so.  We need to let them know we are not satisfied with simple sound bytes and press releases.

Journalism cannot be bogged down by fear, because then it can’t do what it needs to do as an institution.  But at the same time, it cannot be allowed to run rampant with the same stories over and over again, or we end up with a dozen different stories analyzing the mind of a killer, and none telling the stories of the victims and heroes who put their lives on the line.  In the end, you have to ask yourself a question.  What do you want journalism to do for you?  Do you want it to give you the facts, the hard-hitting details behind the big issues facing our country and the world at large?  Or do you want it to recycle junk stories about smart phone apps and pointless speculation?  I know my answer, because if the face of modern news is the video below, then I weep for what has become of our once proud institution.

 

 

Things need to change.  And it all starts with asking for more.

That’s all for this week folks.  Next week’s blog will be the focal point of the six o’clock news (I wish).   Until then, have a great week everybody.

 

 

The Pitfalls of Fandom

There exists a unique subgroup within the fan base of the show My Little Pony.  They call themselves “bronies” (a combination of bro and pony), and they are typically made up of young male adults who watch the show.  Originally a show written for pre-teen girls, it was retooled somewhat once the creators realized they had attracted this unique group of fans.

So why, you ask, am I talking about this?  I am talking about this because the very existence of this brony fan group has created some of the most caustic and hateful dialogue I have ever seen on the internet.  The amount of hatred spewed forth is legendary, and never ceases to amaze me.  Now you’re probably wondering whose side I’m going to pick.  Am I a brony backer or a brony basher?  In truth, I am neither.  Both parties are guilty in this war of hatred.

On the one hand, you have the anti-fans, who spew forth hatred toward the legion of bronies.  They call them all manner of hateful things, sometimes implying that bronies have lewd thoughts about ponies.  On the other hand, you have the fans who immediately assume that anyone who doesn’t like the show is a xenophobic racist who isn’t secure in their masculinity.  Each side continually perpetuates this group of stereotypes about the other, creating an incredibly volatile relationship.  It’s become so bad in some ways that you can’t look at almost any Youtube video’s comments section without running into hate for bronies and from bronies.

But this is just one example.  Plenty of cases exist where the mutual dislike between two fan bases evolves into outright hate.  Star Wars vs. Star Trek.  Microsoft vs. Sony.  PC gaming vs. console gaming.  It is the problem of self-identifying as part of a particular fan group.  Even if you don’t want to be sucked into it, you inevitably are.

A War of Stereotypes

The fighting between fan groups usually takes the form of something similar to the brony versus non-brony concept I outlined above.  Usually it involves perpetuating some set of stereotypes about the other side.  In the case of PC vs. console, it goes something like this.  PC gamers are always elitist jerks who think they are better than everyone else, and console gamers are always immature little twelve-year-old kids who like to shout racial slurs into the microphone.  Sure, they are true in some way, but they breed this line of thought which leads to each side immediately assuming the other is simply full of that kind of stereotype, which is simply not the case.

I have dabbled in both PC and console gaming.  I don’t consider myself to be an elitist jerk, nor do I consider myself to be an immature twelve-year-old (I think the fact that I am now a college graduate immediately disqualifies me from that).  It amazes me how much crap people will sling back and forth, and all over something so inconsequential as which gaming system you play on or what TV shows you watch or don’t watch.  Nerds/geeks (I’ve given up trying to differentiate the two) can be some of the most intelligent but belligerent people you’ll ever meet.

And I wish that it didn’t have to be like that, in much the same way that I wish the online gaming community wasn’t so hateful and xenophobic (as I talked about in a previous blog post).  It breeds a kind of thinking that is inherently dangerous.  I understand that we can’t just stifle people’s thoughts on the basis that they might cause problems.  We can’t stop the bad ideas without stopping some of the good ones as well.  But keeping an open mind can go a long way.

Setting a Standard

The problem with encouraging this type of diatribe between fan bases is that it sets a certain kind of standard.  If left unchecked, it becomes the norm for behaving around each other.  Such a thing seems to have happened between bronies and non-bronies, where the relationship between them is so caustic now that people who didn’t even do anything are being drawn up into the crossfire.  It’s unfair on both sides.  The people who watch the show shouldn’t be judged for doing so, and neither should people who don’t watch the show.  Everyone has their own way of doing things.

It seems silly to focus so much attention on a problem that occurs with a small portion of the general population, but the fact is that it happens with so many other people out there in the world on a bigger scale.  The dislike and spreading of stereotypes is a process that occurs on a racial level and gender level in our society.  What happens with fan bases is essentially a miniature version of that.

What we have to do is set a standard that says it is not okay to simply judge others based on what they watch or don’t watch, play or don’t play, own or don’t own.  Just because one person has this electronic device, and the other has the competing device, doesn’t mean that they can’t get along.  I am completely confused as to why people get so worked up over things this small.  It’s really not that big of a deal.

So the next time you make an assumption about someone based on what they watch, play, or otherwise own, just remember that someone else you passed in the hallway at school or work or wherever could be doing the same thing to you.

And that’s all I got for this week, a shorter post than usual I know.  Next week’s post will be beyond your level of comprehension, and hidden within the fifth dimension.  Until then, have a great week everyone.