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Why I Cannot Like Horror Media

No matter where you look, especially in the independent art subculture, horror is currently en vogue. If not outright horror-centered media itself, then it's "horror elements". I personally have never been a big fan of horror, and since the psychological issues that set in last year in earnest, I had to actively avoid such media for the sake of my own mental health.

Oftentimes, I feel isolated from my friends for this preference. For example, I cannot watch Tokyo Ghoul or Attack on Titan with my roommate, I cannot join all my friends for a fun match of Dead By Daylight, and I certainly cannot participate in any of the discourse around their favorite media. If you don't mind horror that much, you probably don't even notice how much of it there is in media all around you; something that I had to learn for myself the hard way. Dark Souls is a no-go. Most indie visual novels, anything with a cozy Victorian England inspired setting, and Baldur's Gate 3 also all go out the window. Anything with a slightly disturbing or creepy vibe, I cannot play, watch or look at.

I don't want to ruminate as to why that is the case, but I can define pretty well as to what the reasoning is behind those feelings within me.

Perhaps it is just my general pessimism, but such horror elements just simply remind me graphically that the terrible, gruesome, horrific, heart-wrenching things depicted, they also happen in real life to some degree. I tend to get attached to characters in media, and seeing my 'darlings' be put through absolutely gruesome situations triggers the same kind of response in me as my real life queer friends telling me about the horrific abuse they survived in real life.

I always ask myself: why would I willingly want to watch a character I get attached to be tortured, and see them break mentally and physically? Why would I want to listen to blood-curdling screams of agony for enjoyment? Why do I want to play a cooperative video game such as Dead By Daylight with my friends, before the backdrop of our queer-coded, cool avatars involuntarily twitching and struggling in near-death numbing pain and letting out the most horrific screams? Why do I want to start off Baldur's Gate 3 with a tentacle graphically invading someone's eyeballs as they, defenselessly restrained, scream in horror at the unbearable pain and discomfort? Where is this any different from a graphic rape scene? Why is this considered entertainment? How can a person with empathy enjoy this?

Some might call me immature for supposedly lacking the ability to emotionally detach myself from the fiction I consume. But the thing is, I can tell fact from fiction. Some fiction simply makes me uncomfortable because it makes me empathize with the characters - which I am supposed to in fiction. I don't think empathy is a weakness.

It might be a rare take, but I increasingly feel like the prevalence of horror media is a result of the real life political circumstances we have been living in since the collapse of Stalinism in the 90s. By robbing us of the one big, albeit flawed and corrupted alternative to the capitalist status quo, they also robbed us of the hope that things can improve. Instead of attempting to improve the world or believing that we as humanity can be better, an incredible cynical kind of ideology has taken hold among the masses, where humanity is irredeemably selfish, greedy and cruel, and our current society is the best we can possibly do. The myth of the status quo, the system we suffer under today, being the end of all history, the end-all-be-all of human development. And now, instead of striving towards a world free of despair, we decry such attempts as childish naivety, and we try to indulge, delight in it. We no longer decry suffering, we attempt to see the absurdity in it.

Is it not serving the needs of the ruling class to raise an entire generation to sadistically or masochistically enjoy suffering? To normalize agony and unfathomable horrors in entertainment? Is that not the first step for young people to be so desensitized to violence and torture that they can sufficiently dissociate from their own empathy to commit such atrocities in real life without feeling anything about it?

Through and through, horror media might be one of the most absurd results of reactionary ideology. It has always been related to it; from the Lovecraftian mythos being born out of one racist's pathological xenophobia, to the Cold War era "us versus them" horror flicks where hive-mind insects or robots were stand-ins for the Soviet citizenry, to the implicit pro-eugenics position of a zombie apocalypse's survival of the fittest.

Of course none of this means that people who currently enjoy horror media are bad people, or are even agreeing with the presupposition that horror can only be enjoyed from a sadistic or masochistic standpoint. A close friend for example described their infatuation with horror as a genre as such as that seeing such horrors reminds them that things could be way worse, and that it calms their real life suffering to have that perspective. I just wonder whether it would not be more effective, healthy and radical to, instead of reassuring oneself with "it could be worse", to reassure oneself with "let us fight to improve things". The need for edginess, violence and negativity, and the eye-rolling reactions that people tend to give when confronted with the idea of more positive media, are just proving the amount of corruption that our current social order has wrought upon us.

And honestly, I wish I could simply read an indie zine or play a new blockbuster AAA game at some point without first researching whether I will nonconsensually be confronted with body horror, torture, psychosis, fear and gore in it. Why is this so normalized?

Here is genuine hoping that eventually, a positive, humanity-affirming, solidarity-praising genre full of positive empathy can take horror's place as the tides of the world shift. There are already such attempts, such as Solarpunk, but they have yet to develop beyond a mere aesthetic.

If there can be a takeaway to this, it would be that I sincerely hope that eventually, the tired tropes of body horror and torture depictions can be replaced by depictions of solidarity, cooperation, understanding, liberation and hope.