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Reload the Canons!

This series of articles is an attempt to play through The Canon of videogames: your Metroids, your Marios, your Zeldas, your Pokemons, that kind of thing.

Except I'm not playing the original games. Instead, I'm playing only remakes, remixes, and weird fan projects. This is the canon of games as seen through the eyes of fans, and I'm going to treat fan games as what they are: legitimate works of art in their own right that deserve our analysis and respect.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Lure of the Night Part II: Being the Monster

Perhaps transgression alone explains our fascination with monsters. What more do we need to make them compelling but to see our id reflected in their nature? This second part seems almost unnecessary! Surely one can understand what makes horror compelling for those who wish to taste the freedom of being outside society.

Oh, but wait, wait a minute there. I can see what you're thinking.

Well, alright, fair enough, you're actually thinking, "Don't pull this Socratic Method bullshit with me, man, I have no idea where you're going with this!"

But what I'm going to claim that you're thinking is:

What about people who aren't really a part of society to begin with?

Since we've been looking into Gothic Horror lately, let's delve a little bit into what makes Goth tick as a counterculture, and why those black bedecked and chain-draped romantics have such a strong association with horror. I'm talking here about the old goths, the ones who sprung up out of 80s counterculture. A lot of the new generation associates with horror largely because their corporate sponsors have told them they should. There's not much to say about the Hot Topic crowd that can't simply be reduced to a despairing Peter Murphy wail1.

The key to this comes from the growth of early Goth out of early Punk. Last time I talked about people who butt against the laws of this world, but Punk often seems to position itself as already in a state of natural transgression against the world. So, it's only reasonable that some of the more romantic number among the punks should latch onto gothic horror, dark clothing, and a strange obsession with death and undeath. Hell, The Smiths spell it out quite explicitly in their song "Panic":

     Burn down the disco
     Hang the blessed DJ
     Because the music that they constantly play
     Says nothing to me about my life2

These people aren't talking about transgressing beyond their normal experience. They are already outsiders, isolated from the normal realm of comfortable 1980s pop consumer culture. This is what I mean by Monstrosity, and the key to seeing the link between the trappings of horror--the black clothes, the obsession with the undead, the mad science and perverse lusts--and counterculture. When the message you receive from society is that you are some sort of monster, it makes a lot of sense to look at other monsters and find a kind of kinship. Frankenstein's Monster is, after all, a rather sympathetic creature--ostracized for his nature by his master, by other humans that he sought to befriend, and, finally, by his many victims.

This is where our discussion takes a turn both into the theoretical and into the personal. You see, one of the concepts that has emerged from Feminist and Queer Theory in criticism is that certain people in society have been given the status of Normal, and others are reduced to a state of being an abnormal variation on this standard. (And what is an abnormal variation if not a kind of mutant, a kind of monster?) This is why there is such hullabaloo from feminist quarters about degendering our language so that "Male" is no longer the default with "Female" being a variation. Similarly, it is why queer scholars criticize "heteronormativity"--the assumption that everyone is straight until proven otherwise (at least, this is one of the most important aspects of the term and concept).

These concepts, though, go a long way towards explaining something like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which blends together alternative sexualities--transexuality, polyamory, bi- or pan- or, well, if we're talking about Frank omnisexuality (that man will shag anything!), the awakening of female sexual desire, BSDM--with traditional horror tropes taken straight out of countless black and white B movies of the 40s and 50s. The two things are mixed because for many of us (and yes, I'm speaking personally here), society has always viewed us as something slightly monsterous, something Other. Personally, I find myself drawn to the aesthetics of halloween because I see my own outsider experience reflected there.

And, of course, this is all leaving aside the other things that can leave one isolated from society--nerdy bookishness, odd recreational activities, lack of cable television, shyness 3 --the list goes on.

As one final anecdote, think back to our friend Lady Gaga. What name has she given to her fans?

Yes, that's right.

Her little monsters.

So, with Gaga bringing us full circle with her aliens and mermaids and murderous cyborgs, we arrive here at the dark side of yesterday's article. Some people are drawn to the aesthetics and characters of horror because they represents a break from their daily life, a transgression into unknown and exciting territory. But for some of us, monstrosity has always been at least a small part of our life. Whether because of our personalities, our fascinations, some sort of minority or atypical nature, or simply our declared secession from the normal, sane, everyday world, we have always felt the call of the night in the depths of our souls.

You may be just a Halloween weekend visitor to our realm, but some of us, well, we've just been waiting out here in the shadows, ready to greet you with a wide, white, glistening grin.

As always, feel free to leave comments, complaints, or, best of all, your own interpretations, or e-mail me at . And, if you like what you've read here, share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Xanga, Netscape, or whatever else you crazy kids are using to surf the blogoblag these days. Oh, and I'm looking for guest entries this month, so if you have something interesting to say about things that generally fit the theme, send them my way.

2 It is fitting that this song eventually made its way into Shaun of the Dead, a movie that also borrows its vocabulary from horror, if not its actual tone.

3 Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you'd like to.

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