Spooky Scary Stories: Why Does the Horror Genre Exist?

It’s that time of year again…the spooky time where all the spooky things come out and spook people.  THE SPOOKS!  They’re too spooky for me…

But in all seriousness, Halloween is a holiday associated with all the things that like to go bump in the night.  And sometimes squeak.  And sometimes “rawr”.  And sometimes they don’t go anything at all.  They just creep up behind you, sending a chill pulsing up your spine.  You know something’s there, but you can’t see it until the faint, smoke-like tendrils of its hands seize your throat and-

Oh right, I was supposed to have a point to all this.  Whoops.  Got a little carried away there.

Last year around this time I did a post entitled “The Allure of the Scare”, where I talked about why people like me enjoy the horror genre.  This year I want to take things a step further and ask the question “why”.  Why does the horror genre exist at all?  What purpose does it serve?

Horror can trace its roots all the way back to ancient legends and folktales, but it wasn’t really until the 18th and 19th century that horror really became a genre of literature.  It was thanks to the efforts of writers like Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe that horror came to the forefront of people’s minds.  Poe had his famous works like “The Raven” and “The Cask of Amontillado”, but Mary Shelley created one of the most iconic horror stories ever: Frankenstein.  I’ve always seen horror as an exploration of our fears, of the things that we cannot see or understand.  And sometimes, it is an exploration of our faults.  Frankenstein is a good example of this.  It is one of the original “science gone mad” stories, where the brilliant yet unhinged Frankenstein creates a monster that he cannot control.

Interestingly enough, in Shelley’s version the monster actually speaks and is quite eloquent.  He torments Victor Frankenstein after Victor refuses to acknowledge him and even tries to destroy what he created.  It’s a different tale than the film version, where the monster just groans and walks around causing havoc and mayhem.  In this sense, Shelley’s Frankenstein exposes the darker side of ambition, of the human need to push boundaries.  It’s not the most well written book (it suffers from what I like to call “ye olde prose” syndrome), but it is a classic in every sense of the word.  The style of writing may not stand up to today’s standards, but the story still has power.

But horror isn’t just a way to explore individual fears.  It’s a way to explore cultural fears as well.  Take the sci-fi/horror movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  In the movie, the inhabitants of a small town are slowly being replaced by emotionless, alien duplicates of themselves that look the same and know everything the original knows.  They’re pretty much identical, except they’re evil and stuff.  Basically this movie is often seen as a metaphor for the spread of Communism, or rather our fears of it at the time.  The original version came out in the 1950s, during the Cold War, an era that wouldn’t end until the early 1990s.  And it makes sense.  Replace the aliens with the Red Menace, and you’d have a pretty chilling propaganda movie.

And that trend continues even today.  One theory as to why demons are such a prevalent trope in movies today is because of our fear of terrorism.  Demons are a representation of that fear, the fear that nice, ordinary people could suddenly turn into violent weapons of destruction.

Of course it could also just be that one movie had demons in it, did super well at the box office, and now everyone is trying to capitalize on it.  But that’s a boring theory.  I prefer the interesting one.

But in any case, horror does well as a genre because, like I said earlier, it taps into things that other genres either can’t or won’t touch.  It reminds us of what it is like to be human, to be afraid.  In a strange way, horror feels more grounded than some other genres out there (despite a prevalence of paranormal phenomena in it).  It shows us characters that aren’t invincible or impossibly heroic in their actions.  Often, humans make stupid decisions, and characters in horror movies do the same (hey we should split up and search for that spooky noise).  Horror touches on those things that we often don’t like to talk about or acknowledge.

And sometimes, it’s just fun to be scared.  Because I’m a masochist like that.

 

Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Have a spooky, wonderful Halloween and tune in next Wednesday for another post!

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Fiscally Trapped: The Sad Truth About Student Loan Debt

So I ran across this little comic that I feel is worth sharing:

 

Student Loan Debt Comic

 

The implications of the comic are fairly obvious: college graduates these days are buried under a mountain of student loan debt, forcing some of them to move back home in an effort to save money.  The older generations of course scoff at the younger, calling them “lazy” and “irresponsible”.  And of course, there’s the oft-repeated “back in my day” type phrase, where they claim they started with nothing but the clothes on their back or had to walk uphill both ways to go to school.

Uphill both ways?  Hey guess what old man?  That’s not PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE!  STOP TELLING LIES!

Okay calm down…I’m getting ahead of myself here.  So perhaps here is the best place to start.

I entered college pretty much immediately out of high school.  Five years later, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Journalism.  And what happened almost immediately after I graduated?  I started applying for jobs.  And where was I applying for jobs?  Places like Kohl’s, Target, and Best Buy…places I could have been working at during high school.  Here I am with a four-year college degree and over twenty thousand dollars of student loan debt and I can’t help but feel like I got gypped.  Granted, I’m living in Duluth where the job market isn’t the greatest and my major isn’t the most widely applicable one, but it’s still a common theme I’ve seen among people in my generation.

We’re told at the start of our school careers that  college is a necessary path to success, that you need to go to college if you want to go anywhere in life.  And this mantra is repeated endlessly throughout our grade school years.  College this, college that…employers are always looking for people with a four-year college degree.  They want people with college experience.  This was repeated to me during my graduation ceremony even.

And yet, most of the time when someone gets a nice, full-time job somewhere?  I learn it’s because they knew someone within the company.  So where does the college degree come in?  Why in the hell did I bother going five figures into debt?  That’s a question I honestly still can’t answer.

I won’t lie…I enjoyed the college experience.  It helped inform who I am today in a lot of ways.  But I can’t really use that to justify the amount of debt that I piled up.  And I’m one of the lucky ones.  There are people in my area who are over sixty thousand in debt…SIXTY THOUSAND!  If they paid their debt back at the same rate I am, it would take them around thirty years just to get out of debt.  That’s insane.

Maybe things would be better if I just broke the laws of physics and WALKED UPHILL BOTH WAYS TO SCHOOL!

..Sorry…getting off track again…

So older people often complain that the younger generations lack the sense of responsibility that the older generations had, and are generally just lazy.  But there’s a problem with that logic.  It oversimplifies the issue.  Sure there are some people in our generation who are just lazy and have little drive to make something of themselves.  But then, where did this sense of apathy truly come from?

I remember when I was younger, gas prices used to be below a dollar a gallon.  I remember everyone crowing about how great the economy was doing.  I remember that President Clinton promised to erase our national debt and set us on a path that would do so.

And now?

Thanks to the economy tumbling and the housing crisis, the cost of living has gone up but the minimum wage has until recently remained stagnant.  Federal funds for education are constantly being cut.  Gas prices under three dollars a gallon is now an amazing occurrence.  And finding a good full-time job is almost as difficult as a needle in a haystack.  Politicians will often tout how they helped “create jobs”, but what they won’t tell you is that those jobs are part-time, and are inadequate replacements for the full-time jobs that were lost.

And then, despite that things have gotten so far ahead of us, if anyone suggests a raise in wages for part-time workers everyone scoffs at them.  McDonald’s workers who protested for an increase in their pay were chided by a great many people.  They threw words like “lazy” and “stupid” at them, suggesting that they’re just leeches on society.  And yet, I know a lot of people who were forced to work at fast food places to try to earn money to pay for school and rent.  And you know what?  At the previous minimum wage of $7.25 or so, it simply wasn’t possible.  The cost of living and the cost of school were simply too high to be supported by a single part-time job.  I’ve known some people who worked two part-time jobs and went to school full-time.  That’s absolutely crazy.

Still, people constantly suggest that if these lazy kids just “work hard enough”, they’ll succeed in life.  Yeah I’m willing to bet most of the people who say that have barely had to work in their lives and were supported by their parents through a lot of it.  I know my parents supported me, and I’m incredibly thankful for it.

And that’s where I start to get really angry.  College is necessary?  Are you kidding me?  Then why is it that every time I hear about someone who went from being somewhere in the middle-class range to being incredibly wealthy I also hear that they dropped out of high school or college to pursue something else?  And then, every time a suggestion is made to help reduce the financial stress of college students people scoff and call them “entitled” or “lazy, spoiled kids”.  “They don’t know the value of hard work,” they’ll say.

And if someone suggests putting eighty billion dollars toward making college education free for students, everyone freaks out like it’s the end of the world.  Never mind the fact that if you actually take the time to do the math, all it adds up to is maybe an extra thirty-three dollars or so per taxpayer per year.  Apparently eighty billion is fine when it goes to funding some inane, stupid war halfway across the world, but when it goes toward actually giving young people a chance, screw that.  Why would we give people the tools to succeed in their lives?  That’s just stupid.

I honestly cannot fathom why people refuse to face the reality of the situation we’re in these days.  The economy has hit a recession, as it often does, and is still struggling to recover.  And yet, we all too often refuse to take steps to make things better, to get things back on track.  Before I end this post today, I want to ask a simple question.  Those who clamored for the minimum wage increases are often called “lazy” by their opponents, as I’ve already pointed out.  But are the ones who want the wage increases the lazy ones?  Or are the lazy ones really the people who refuse to acknowledge the problem and prefer to let things sort themselves out?

 

Well that’s all I got for this week.  I realize I  got a little passionate on this one, but it’s a topic that directly affects me as well in a lot of ways, so I thank you for your patience in reading this one.  As always, tune in next Wednesday for another post, and have a wonderful week everyone!

Dangerous Literature: In Celebration of Banned Books Week

Okay I know I’m a couple of weeks late to this.  I honestly didn’t know banned books week was coming up until it was already gone.  With that being said, let’s dive right in.

Banned books week is a celebration of the freedom to read.  It’s a time that encourages people to engage with all sorts of books that espouse all different kinds of ideas, even ones that are considered unpopular, unorthodox, and even dangerous.  Banned Books week began in 1982 as a response to a sudden surge in challenged books, and has continued ever since.  You can take a look here to see the top ten challenged books from last year.

You might think that you’ve never even touched a banned book in your life, but you’d most likely be wrong.  For example, if you go back to the early 2000s, you’ll find a cultural phenomenon that was once challenged under the guise of it being anti-family and having occult or satanic themes.  And what was that phenomenon?

Harry Potter.

That’s right, Harry freaking Potter was once accused of being satanic and anti-family.  I’m not even joking.  I remember that time vaguely too.  I was only around seven or so when the first book was published, but I recall hearing about people refusing to let their kids read it.

Harry Potter might be one of the stranger books to be challenged, but many books face that issue even today.  Which raises the question: should books be banned based on their content?  Should we withhold them from people because they might spread potentially dangerous ideas?

Now I’m one of those people who believes in that pesky “freedom” idea, so I say no.  Yes, words have power.  We’ve known for a long time that words have power.  But if we refuse to take the time to understand that power, we risk falling victim to it.

Take Hitler’s Mein Kampf for example.  Sure, it’s a volatile and disgusting piece of literature whose content inevitably led to one of the most violent genocides in human history.  Sure, it was written by one of the most vile human beings that ever lived.  But to deny its existence or ban it in a way acknowledges the power that it once had.  Mein Kampf laid out Hilter’s argument that there was a global Jewish conspiracy.  I mean, the man was clearly insane.  But to pretend that it was just another time and nothing like that could ever happen again is the deny the often contradictory nature of the human spirit.  We love each other, but also fear each other.

Now I’m not recommending handing something like Mein Kampf to a six-year old or anything.  But if we acknowledge and confront the darker sides of human nature that Mein Kampf and other books reveal, we can adequately prepare our children for when they encounter true hatred in the world.  If we deny it and try to hide it from our kids, we’d be lying to ourselves.  Then, if and when they encounter such monstrous hatred, they’d be unprepared to deal with it.  In the worst scenario they might even get sucked in and become a part of it.

We extol the virtue of our capacity to love, but we often refuse to face the danger of our capacity to hate.

If we as a species want to progress, we need to understand our capabilities and our flaws.  Our weakness and our strengths.  Our goods and our evils.  Which is why banning these books just because they present a viewpoint we don’t agree with is a troublesome proposition.  It restricts access to information that can enlighten our lives and give us a perspective that we might never have had without it.  Some of these books are dangerous for sure.  Some of them present disturbing viewpoints that advocate racial or sexual hatred.  But by facing these ideas and acknowledging how wrong they are, we take away their power.  To ban them and push them out of sight is to only increase their strength, increase their allure for the misguided and foolish.  By holding up a book like Mein Kampf and saying “this is what hate looks like…this is what evil looks like,” we rob the words of their pull.  We show the people the book is just that, a book.  A stack of papers bound into a spine.

Through education and understanding, we can gleam a context for these words that robs them of their power.  Words can say anything, but it’s the actions they drive that can be dangerous.  After all, words are powerful, but only if we allow them to be.

 

Thanks for reading.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post and as always, have a wonderful week!

Into the Fire: The Debate over Gun Control

Oh boy…what am I thinking with this one?  Debating gun control is like debating abortion.  No matter how you phrase your viewpoint, someone will rake you over the coals for it.  It’s one of the touchiest subjects out there, especially now in the wake of the school shooting in Oregon.

Before I delve into my personal views on gun control, I feel I have to get something off my chest.  It bugs me to no end that the gun control debate immediately took center stage when it came to the Oregon shooting.  And I mean immediately.  It wasn’t even a day after the shooting occurred that statements were made pertaining to the value of guns or the value of gun control.  I’ve seen so many different posts on my Facebook feed about the subject, each espousing one of two basic viewpoints (namely “guns good” or “guns bad”).  Why is it that we immediately have to use this tragedy to put forth our personal agendas?  Can’t we wait one damn week before we run roughshod over the memories of the victims, using their horrific final moments as a sort of soapbox?  Does this not seem disgusting?  I mean we’re taking advantage of grieving families by using their trauma for our own ends.  Let them grieve a little while for crying out loud.

There’s a time for having the debate.  I just don’t feel like one day after a shooting is the correct time to do it.

But with all that being said, I’m throwing my hat in the ring.  Because screw it.  I’m going to have my say at the risk of angering some people.  And that’s just how it has to be I guess.

First off, I don’t like guns.  I find it weird that people even want to have guns.  Guns are tools of killing and nothing else.  Think about it.  A gun is a weapon.  A sword, a spear, and a gun are all the same.  They were meant for a destructive and violent purpose.

Now I know some people will probably point out that I play video games and there are plenty of guns in video games.  But there is a marked difference between shooting a digital representation of a gun at digital representations of living beings, no matter how many politicians or “crusaders” say otherwise.  Humans are capable of differentiating fantasy from reality.  They’re just entertainment, provided you use the appropriate discretion (and by that I mean don’t be giving a five year-old access to Grand Theft Auto).

Anyways, when it comes to guns, people are perfectly free to want them.  I just find it strange that when the government even hints at adding some more restrictions to obtaining larger guns like assault rifles, people immediately lose their minds.  Why do you need an assault rifle anyways?  Home defense?  A pistol would do just fine.  With an assault rifle, you’re more liable to damage your personal property than actually wound the person breaking into your house.  Besides, what kind of burglar is going to be breaking into your house wearing heavy body armor and carrying automatic weaponry?  Because that’s the only real justification I can see for needing an assault rifle when it comes to home defense.

Besides, any gun you bring into your house is statistically more likely to end up being used to accidentally harm another family member or the gun owner themselves.  Now I know that statistics are not the best method for determining things, because they don’t account for the uniqueness of individuals.  They’re a generalization at best.  Some people would say “oh that’ll never happen to me”.  But I must ask, how do you know?  You could just assume that person X who killed themselves or a loved one with their gun was just crazy.  But how do you know that you aren’t crazy?  The thing with crazy people is that they kinda don’t know that they’re crazy…

At this point I feel that I should refer you to this video of comedian Jim Jefferies talking about gun control (I will caution you, there is some strong language in the video so viewer beware).  I pretty much agree with everything he says in this video and I think that he makes some very powerful arguments.  Like him, I’m totally for people’s second amendment rights.  But also like him, I think we need to take the second amendment in the context of its time.  The second amendment was ratified to give the people the right to form an armed militia to fight against a tyrannical government.  Which is all well and good back when we had muskets, but things have changed a little bit.  Now we have assault rifles, automatic shotguns, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, backpack nukes, and so on.  The constitution has to be reinterpreted every now and then.  It’d be foolish give every citizen an assault rifle or a rocket launcher, mainly because not all of them are capable of using them properly.

I’m not saying “take all guns away”.  I’m saying we need to be cautious about who we give them to.

And as for the fighting against a tyrannical government idea, I think Jefferies puts it best when he says this:

“And that made a hell of a lot of sense when it was just muskets!  But you do know the government has drones right?  You get that?  You’re bringing guns to a drone fight!

So basically, if you want guns, fine.  That’s your right.  But when you argue that “this problem would be solved if there were more guns”, is that really the case?  Would putting more guns in schools actually make things better?  We’d be sending our kids into what amounts to a police state every single day.  Do you really think they’ll feel safer when the adults around them are all packing weapons that could end their lives in the blink of an eye?

Pro-gun people say that you can’t blame guns for what happened.  And they’re right, you can’t.  But it’s not the guns I’m worried about.  It’s the people.  Despite the best efforts of everyone involved, more guns would just lead to more danger.  You can’t always trust people to make the best decisions.  The rash of police shootings that the media has been reporting on over the past year are proof of this.  You can’t always assume that people will be rational and use the gun as a last resort.  If they’re afraid for their lives, even in an unjustified way, they will immediately grab for the most powerful thing they can get their hands on.

And when that thing is a gun?  Someone usually ends up dead.  Because guns are made to kill.  Simple as that.

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  Thanks for reading.  I know I probably got a little heated on this one, but it’s a topic that’s been bothering me for quite a while now, and the events in Oregon reopened the floodgates for it.  So thanks for allowing me to ramble for a little while at least.

Check back next Wednesday for another post.  Have a great week everybody!