Recent antagonism running rampant in the online Horror Community has led some of us to wonder why this group of like-minded individuals has taken to eating itself. Is the only peaceful solution to rid ourselves of the entire thing altogether? Nathan Smith offers an editorial.
As it is, there is no “Horror Community.” If we want to get technical, a community is defined as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” Okay, this makes it easy enough: like-minded folks online who love horror movies and share that similarity with others enough to say, “I’m part of the Horror Community.” That’s fair; it’s pretty much the gateway into the world of horror, like a ticket you buy to get on the Horror Express. “One horror movie, please,” and you’re in. But what else does the definition of community offer us? “A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” Perhaps then, it’s quite funny to note that what one sees turning to social media (looking at “Horror Twitter,” especially) is a constant deluge of backstabbing, narcissism, selfishness, hypocrisy, and gatekeeping. It’s to the point that people have to practically beg for positivity in order to keep their heads above the deep, dark waters of the Horrorsphere, lest they get sucked into the undertow. Every waking day seems to bring some new fresh hell by way of the drama that someone always wants to start. And worse yet, the people who often channel positive energy into the Horror Community are not immune to the poisons that the writers, fans, and filmmakers exude when they get together in this batch of bad, creating a cycle of unreasonable negativity even for those who are trying their hardest to conquer it. To really understand the extent of the damage done, let’s look into some key controversies that have occurred in the last few months.
There is no inciting incident to really hone in on when highlighting the toxicity that breeds in this “community.” But if there was a place recently where the cracks begin to show, it’s the debacle involving long-beloved television horror host Joe Bob Briggs which seems to be one of the deaths of discourse in the Horror Community. Briggs became the target of horror folks publicly bashing him for his thoughts on some highly controversial subjects including what ultimately came to be a disappointingly out-of-touch dad joke about the LGBTQIA acronym, a reference to the Charlottesville riots and those dunderheads in the polo-khaki Gestapo getups used to champion the First Amendment, and a horribly un-PC article on “We Are the World” from 1985, aptly titled “We Are the Weird.” While some of the content of those past articles is certainly unforgivable, much of what was written in them was taken out of context by many, starting a roaring, blazing fire on Twitter. Users began quoting from the articles (again, completely out of context) as a means to finally denounce Briggs once and for all, despite some of his words being misinterpreted greatly. A separation ensued: one group finding his words offensive, the other…not. Either way, we have to remember our words don’t exist in a vacuum, and no matter if we agree or disagree with an article written by “horror leadership” (or whomever), listening to each other’s perspectives without flying off the handle is necessary. Of course a person who has been the target of racial, homophobic, or transphobic slurs may feel differently about such content than anyone who hasn’t. And that’s fair. If anyone chooses not to watch Briggs or The Last Drive-In again, that’s their choice. It would perhaps be all the more damning if this was the first time these writings came to light, or if they were some scribbled, psychotic manifesto hidden in the metaphorical mental basement Briggs would store his writing in. But this wasn’t the first time this cycle of issues about his writing in Taki’s Magazine or the Dallas Times Herald came to light, although it’s certainly the most vocal time, and the in-fighting that befell us afterward led to many of us pulling our hair out and throwing our phones across the room.
This backstory has been elaborated here because, when the accusations of racism and homophobia went flying, the conversation was not meant to help Briggs, it was meant to start a fight. The defense of Briggs, personally speaking, came not from a place of nostalgia as many detractors used as a dismissal, but from feeling that the one-sided conversation some of the Horror Community had on the matter wasn’t even-handed. Throwing out accusations of homophobia and racism, especially at such a volatile time in America, is not meant to be taken lightly. If anyone is wanting to start with an honest conversation about the words that one person has used to denigrate them, the conversation must start on even ground. Turning the issue into a sideshow by throwing a grenade into the middle of the talking table isn’t that, but it’s the type of tactic that garners the most attention. Even after the fact, when Briggs did speak out, he indicated he had been listening to the concerns of the voices who felt he had maligned them. Later, when he tweeted about donating to important causes such as Black Lives Matter with consideration that he’s an older gentleman and can’t really get to marching, those who had previously fanned their faces and yanked out their fainting couches said nothing. Clearly it wasn’t that they needed him to grow from his mistakes or make amends, they wanted to him to know they had a problem without really posing a solution, or perhaps were willing to settle for the artifice of a solution.
This is where discourse in the Horror Community becomes an issue. This is where the “Very Important Tweets” come out and basically tell you “this is how you should feel and, if you don’t, you’re the problem.” Articles get written, threads get launched, videos get made, lines get drawn – it becomes a “you vs. us” war. In a community, that’s not how it should be. If everyone in the Horrorsphere could be on the same wavelength, it’d be a happier, more positive place. That “wavelength” needs to be an understanding that there are going to be argumentative thunderstorms amidst the “everyone gets along” sunny days, and how we weather those storms shows our character. Just imagine if everyone were to collectively come together to understand and implement a concept so simple as sometimes we agree on whether or not a horror movie is “good” or “bad,” and sometimes we don’t. Disagreeing on those takes doesn’t mean we have to get defensive or combative. If we could learn not to take another person’s opinion personally, then perhaps there would be a Horror Community, and this wouldn’t be an issue. But unfortunately people cannot stop themselves and must subtweet, or take screenshots, or snitch-tag that their favorite writer/filmmaker is being talked about. It’s undeniably about chasing clout. A well-nuanced take on something doesn’t garner nearly enough attention, but calling out someone certainly does.
Pedaling back to Briggs for a moment, when he offered up his review of a film that many in the horror industry had close associations with, a critic pointed out his article and the “community” leapt upon him for daring to make light of a “very important movie.” Same with Sophia Takal’s 2019 Black Christmas: what could’ve been perceived as a fun horror movie with a good solid feminist message built into its core suddenly became the movie to defend, the bold new way forward for women’s horror. That’s fair, but it’s more like those defenders focused on reacting to the more piggish side of the Horror Community (wish we could forget them, but can’t) who accidentally gave the film such monolithic status–which it may not have had if there hadn’t been such a rumble about it in the first place. The final point here is that whole angry interchange felt like it ended up boiling down to “if you don’t like this movie, maybe you’re a woman-hating jerk,” which did stem quite a bit from faceless message board-type CHUDs who wrongfully attacked the filmmakers and cast. Those “CHUDs” for sure didn’t help anything there, but to lump everyone who has a critical view of the film (or even if it just didn’t work for them for whatever reason) into that category is entirely unfair and even hurtful for everyone involved. Not only are the wrongfully attacked people hurting, but those doing the attacking get caught in a constant cycle of detrimental anxiety while finding the things to call out. It’s not good for anyone, but the ugly fact of the matter is, arguments like these find their geneses, their Patient Zeros, if you will, at the heart of the Horror Community.
And so, days, hours, weeks get spent scrolling through social media getting bent out of shape at stuff like a horror movie website unfortunately finding itself with the reliable Twitter bulls-eye on its back. The vitriol is only ever steered toward issues that really just matter to the Horror Community, but as such are akin to slaying one’s first born. Most recently, the Horror Community, offended about filmmaker Nia DaCosta not being named in a headline as the director of the upcoming new film version of the horror classic Candyman, one by one frothed at the mouth to set the record straight. In real life, there’s one person who should be offended about being misnamed as the director of Candyman: Nia DaCosta. It stinks not to be properly accredited for your work, but one would think by the outrage seen scrolling around Horror Twitter the audacity of this website to put the producer’s name in the headline was everyone else’s burden to carry, too. The deeply dramatic way tweets virtually swore at us that “Nia DaCosta is the director of Candyman” over and over, sometimes punctuated for emphasis as if trying to lend what is ultimately an SEO mistake (something the Horror Community should be all too familiar with), gave this comparative trifle of a situation the same gravity as something with real world importance like Black Lives Matter. See, what happens with such a big portion of the Horror Community is they get so wrapped up in correcting others for their mistakes, they forget that, to outsiders, none of this actually makes too much of a difference. Sure, it’s a mistake that sucks, but to some 12-year old kid in Chicago, he’s not going to care who really directed Candyman. He’s likely interested in the movie solely going on name recognition of either the currently more-established Jordan Peele, or, most likely, the titular Candyman himself. And honestly, that’s just marketing. What the Horror Community truly overlooks is that Nia DaCosta will get her time to shine when her major horror film is a hit. But this is about putting the cart before the horse, you know. Why gripe later when there is no outrage, when you can strike while the iron’s hot?
There’s also the festering stench of gatekeeping, particularly odorous in the horror writing industry, where, for example, when a popular magazine is resurrected after a lengthy absence, the majority of folks staffed on it have a personal connection with the Editor-in-Chief, or are name-recognizable filmmakers. So then, seemingly, a dream job for many suddenly becomes an unobtainable goal to most of us trying to get our feet in the door. Frankly, it’s heartbreaking, especially when we rampantly see lazy, strung-together writing receiving the steady gigs on the major websites. This is not entirely true of course, as there are plenty of talented men and women clacking away at the keys, but when a majority of horror writing that gets eyes on it constantly consists of copy/pasting press releases or obituaries for horror icons when they pass, one tends to feel a little disconcerted and think they shouldn’t even try. Because at the end of the day, what’s the hard work really for? It’s depressing to think about the level of reductive writing the major horror websites are willing to publish, wondering if one should change their voice or style of writing to “fit in.” Of course that should never be the case.
There’s also this idea of idolizing horror writers that the Horror Community needs to shake if it wants to save itself. Horror writers so often seem to fall into a public persona of being too cool for school, of wanting to be the star of their horror writing circles like Dirk Diggler with his name in neon lights. But putting themselves above others is where it becomes an issue. If we are a “community,” then no writer should be held higher than others, but so often the egoism of any particular writer comes out. Their voice, once used to be critical and surgical with a film’s misgivings, is now being used to stoke some feverish fandom not on the laurels of their writing, but their personality. Roger Ebert had a personality and he had the writing skills to back it up, but he also didn’t seem to have fan club letters brewing like so many current writers aim to have, or do. In short, a follower count should mean nothing.
Through all this, though, a problem shouldn’t be presented without a solution, especially if the biggest concern is a solution. So here is mine: abandon the concept of a horror community entirely. Abolish it. Calling back the meaning of “community,” do we really need to worry about labeling ourselves as such when it’s much more liberating to simply be “a like-minded individual, who happens to love horror movies”?
But of course there is more work to do than just stripping away the storefront of community: it’s about untangling the individuals who wield their power. It’s remembering to check in on people who are out there facing their trauma head on, but may be forgotten because they’re not personally involved with a particular horror industry individual. It’s about removing the perception of status from the individuals who turn up their noses when approached at a film festival because they write for a well-known, “cool” website. It’s about making it so that all individuals (especially those who feel marginalized in any way) get easier writing access to websites or magazines and not have to worry about their pitches being ignored because they got on the wrong side of a thin-skinned individual. It’s about being okay to express an opinion on a controversial topic like saying you like the Jeepers Creepers films but hate the monster who made them–and not be responded to as if you’re the one who committed the crime. There is no simple fix for the problems inherent in the Horror Community; it’s a house with black mold festering in its innards. A simple cosmetic fix would not suffice because all of this is so horribly, irreversibly entangled. The only sure way is to burn the thing down and let the ashes blow away in the wind. And then we build it back, and build it better–one bloody brick at a time.