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There seems to be a big elephant in the room when it comes to genre journalism and I think it revolves on the question that all of media is asking: “Should we hold ourselves to the same standards as TV and print journalism?” Should genre and entertainment writing just be an escape from the stresses of the world or should there be a greater sense of purpose, promoting writing that feels less more at home in The New Yorker than any number of the Horror Freak News sites out there? As tough questions are being asked of major news outlets on the content and quality of reporting, should genre journalists also hold themselves to the same standards? Conversely, should these journalists continue to push the ethos of “any news is good news”, or could creating debates where there were no do more harm than good?
Ethics in Horror Journalism
Dear Ethics In Horror Journalism,
When I’m not analyzing and theorizing about horror, I work professionally for my city’s alt-weekly as a print journalist. Having this work experience in addition to years working for online publications have allowed me to see both perspectives when it comes to reporting. The New Yorker exists, yes, but so does The Weekly World News. Writing for print does not equate to legitimacy just as writing online does not immediately mean what is said is invalid. The reality is that for online publications to survive, they desperately need clicks, hits, and ad revenue generated by getting eyeballs to their site. Unfortunately, this frequently means that click-bait is needed and quantity tends to be valued over quality. Personally, I’ve chosen to just forego reading any of the horror publications that don’t value their work or hold their writers to a professional standard. If we all stopped reading them, they’d not receive any of the clicks needed to generate ad revenue and then the sites would cease to exist. It’s impossible to police the abundance of horror news sites, but if we stop reading and supporting the ones that aren’t worth it, we can shut them down.
William Friedkin in a recent interview with HuffPo said “Yeah, I don’t go to see a work of entertainment to be politicized.” which is a sentiment I have heard countless times in the horror community when discussing films, past and present. But typically when people comment on “politics” in these films they are typically meaning issues of gender and race which, to me, aren’t political issues but rather topics of humanity. And after centuries of not having these big uncomfortable conversations involving disparity, shouldn’t we be analyzing that in everything we watch? How do you approach this sentiment around horror, a genre at which feels both like pure entertainment and socially aware commentary?
Dear Poli-Horror Major,
I wholeheartedly disagree with Friedkin, because all acts of art are inherently political, even if not intending to be. There’s a famous story about The Beatles writing “I Am The Walrus,” and it not meaning anything at all because a teacher told a class to analyze Beatles lyrics. Even by writing a song that doesn’t have any meaning, they’re displaying an act of political defiance. Horror is the same way. The things that scare us are inherently tied to our own experiences, and our experiences are going to influence how we act politically. Sure, films like Dawn of the Dead put their political agenda right on front street, but even films like The Babadook are displaying an act of political defiance by drawing parallels to the trails of motherhood and how we inherently judge women for their parenting choices. The experiences that vary between different races and gender identities is going to be different, and until we are a truly blended world of humans, those differences are going to highlight the political differences between these experience. While it may not be our intention to LOOK for the political message, it’s always going to be there. I don’t think we should constantly be analyzing the things that we watch because it can become exhausting, but being conscious of the deeper meaning is important. When I watch The Thing, I’m watching it to be entertained, scared, and grossed out by the incredible effects. But that doesn’t mean I’m not also aware of the parallels that can be drawn between how the titular “thing” that “bleeds differently,” shakes up the status quo of an all-male cast and how female intrusion interrupts the hierarchy of masculinity. The trick is to do both. You can be entertained by a film while also realizing that it may be saying something more than just “have fun and enjoy.”
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