Let Villains be Villains

Last November, Charles Manson finally passed away. Right around the time he died, the internet was flooded with people saying “R.I.P. Manson” and “so sad to see him pass” and other completely tasteless, idiotic things.

As you can probably tell, I have no sympathy for this man. He was a monster who literally brainwashed children to kill for him.

Now, I have read Helter Skelter and watched as many documentaries as I could find on the Manson Family, their crimes, and the following legal battles. I do find the story of Charles Manson fascinating and I’m probably safe in saying that I know more about him than the average citizen.So, in retrospect I guess it wasn’t a huge surprise when an acquaintance asked me if I was sad to see Manson die.

Of course not I wasn’t sad to see him die, I told them.  

Well, I know you like serial killers, they responded.

Which was fair, so I couldn’t really be offended. However, that conversation got me thinking about a recurring problem I’ve seen amongst true crime and even some horror movie fans: the inability to separate fantasy and reality.

Now, before I start talking about my theories behind this behavior and whatnot, I would like to acknowledge that some of these assholes are just that, assholes. I’m pretty sure most of us went through that “I’m so complex and no one understands me” phase when we were determined to shock our parents into thinking we were edgy. Thankfully, most of us grew out of that, but just based on the number of tweets I saw mourning Manson or the many Tumblr accounts I’ve seen that post artsy photos of the Columbine killers, I know some of us didn’t. These people are just looking to cause drama and, instead of dying their hair blue and piercing their face, decided to spit on the memories of these criminals’ victims.

I have thankfully matured enough to realize how tasteless that is and opted to pierce my lip and buzz my head instead. This way I’m only hurting myself while I show the world how edgy and cool I am. I might crochet throw blankets and sing show tunes to my ferrets, but I’m a bad bitch and my hair proves that.

Anyway, I should also admit that the people out there mourning Manson and fawning over the Columbine shoots are extreme cases. I don’t really need to prove that these people are being assholes. However, this trend of blurring the line between fantasy and reality also shows up in more subtle ways and it’s having a weird effect on the horror and true crime genres.

You ready for me to dive into some pseudo-psychological bullshit, Daniel? Brace yourself.

I think we as a culture have a difficult time understanding how to handle the concept of evil. We see things as black or white, good or evil, and therefore when we come across something that’s “evil” that we enjoy it’s hard for us to handle. We can’t be a good person and enjoy “evil” things, and so that evil thing must not be that evil.

A good, recent example of this was the reboot of Stephen King’s “It” in which the very attractive Bill Skaarsgard played the killer clown, Pennywise. I know you’re not on Tumblr, Daniel, so you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say Tumblr was ridiculous in the weeks following that movie’s release. The amount of extremely sexual Pennywise fanart and fanfiction that appeared on my Tumblr dash was unreal.

I won’t deny the fact I played into the mania a bit myself and made my fair share of “Float me, daddy” jokes. But that’s exactly what my comments were, jokes. I know that Pennywise is evil and that, given the chance, I would also shove a metal fence post through his face before I would ever hop into bed with him. Some Tumblr users on the other hand seemed to be crossing that line from harmless joking into actually wanting to sleep with this murderous, Lovecraftian monstrosity. A tad concerning in my opinion.

What I think happened is that, after seeing the movie, these people decided they liked Pennywise. Well, Pennywise is evil, which means they must be evil, but they’re not evil so instead Pennywise must not be that evil. So, in order to justify their love for this killer clown, these people just opted to pretend he wasn’t that bad. I’d bet that the same kind of logic is used to justify loving serial killers and criminals.

However, the world isn’t black and white. Liking a character/person/thing that is evil does not make you evil. It makes you human. It only becomes evil when you decide ignore the despicable things that character/person/thing did in order to justify your fascination with them. I can enjoy the story of the Manson Family, read Stephen King novels, and watch gorey horror movies and enjoy them while still understanding that these people are evil, that what they’re doing would never, ever be acceptable.

Basically, this entire argument boils down to the idea that you can like a villain and not necessarily be a villain. Let your bad guys be bad guys.

I feel like this is getting a bit rambly. I think I’ll cut it here and maybe pick this up in my next SDoS post. I have lots of thoughts about scary stories I want to share. Might just be time to bite the bullet and go back for my master’s in scary stories.

-EMS

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Five Nights at Freddy’s Kept Me from Writing

So Daniel, do you want to know what I did instead of writing last night? What I did instead of writing over lunch today at work? What I’ve been doing this evening? Well, I won’t say I completely wasted my time, I did get a lot of work done today in the office and I cleaned the ferret cage, but a majority of my time was watching Five Nights at Freddy’s theory videos on Youtube.

You heard me right. Instead of working on a blog we’ve literally been running for more than two years, I obsessed over a fucking video game franchise that probably should have died four years ago after the second game came out. I literally watched all of Markiplier’s playthroughs of the games, including all of his “hard mode” playthroughs and the extra videos which just replayed his best jump scare reactions. Then I watched every single video on Game Theory about the game, fascinated by how the six games and two books came together into one cohesive and horrific timeline.

I’m almost ashamed to admit I’ve also been watching Markiplier play through all of the FNAF knock offs, including Five Nights at the Chum Bucket, a fucking Spongebob reboot of this god forsaken game. I went from zero to fully addicted in the span of like three days and I haven’t even played the games. But don’t worry, I’ve got the books on hold at the library because I cannot help myself.

Is this a symptom of my obsessive compulsive order? Now that I actually recognize what OCD is, having meticulously destroyed my skin while coping with anxiety, I rarely use the term OCD in a joking way, like using it to justify my need to have the TV volume on a multiple of five. But this habit of mine, this burning hot and heavy on an obsession for a few weeks and then dropping it quickly, feels like a compulsion. Maybe it is?

Anyway, this is not meant to be a sad post about mental illness. Let’s get back on track.

In retrospect, I should have known this would happen. If I had read the synopsis of FNAF before I just happened to click on Markiplier’s video, I would have pegged it as my future obsession.

Initially I had ignored it, writing the game off as a Hot Topic-esque trend for preteen edgelords, but now that I’ve experienced it, it is so up my alley.

Cute, seemingly harmless things that are actually very dangerous and deadly? A mysterious serial killer luring kids to their deaths using party costumes? Horrible deaths involving machines accidentally crushing their victims and mangling their corpses? Lots of hidden details and Easter eggs that add up to a more complex, horrific story? It’s like it was written for me! I am a self described pastel edgelord. I love skulls and shit, but I can rock the fuck out of a pastel skirt.

Also, it’s basically a B-flick horror movie come to life, filled with cheesy jump scares and purposefully over-the-top effects. If I could go back to 2014 Emily and tell her about this game, I’m sure she would jump on the bandwagon immediately, fuck how popular the game is.

Now, who wants to put bets on how long this obsession lasts? Definitely going to play the games and read the books, how long do you think that will take?

-EMS

P.S. Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of poetry. I’ve always been something of an amateur poet myself and I’ve decided I want to put together a poetry collection of my own. Over the next few months, I might use my SDoS posts to test run some of my poetry. Hope that’s okay! 

I’m also telling you about this now because I need someone to hold me accountable. I can’t spend my time watching FNAF videos all the time. Sometimes I need to write.

All I Read is Stephen King

There’s something magical about reading a horror story. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching horror films. Some of my favorite movies are horror films. I am always down to watch Descent and House of 1000 Corpses, but given the option I would rather read a scary book than watch a scary.  

There’s just something wonderful about experiencing horror through the written word. I absolutely love Stephen King and have actually been on a binge this past month. I’ve read It, Christine, The Dead Zone, Dolores Clairborne, Desperation, and The Regulators to name a few. And let me tell you, it’s been great! I’ve literally been knocking out a book a week because I can’t put them down.

You asked me what my passion was and honestly, horror novels are it right now. When I think about what I’m looking forward to the most it’s hanging out with my baby ferret and reading. I can write about Fijit the ferret in my next post if you really want to know more about her.

Anyway, I think it’s because in my opinion horror novels are scarier to me. Now that I’m older, horror films don’t give me nightmares like they used to. My nightmares are usually about realistic fears, like finances and my career and crap like that.

But, I have had nightmares from a few scary novels. Salem’s Lot, Dolores Clairborne, and The Regulators are the ones that immediately come to mind. Now, none of these are about extremely scary things. Salem’s Lot is about vampires, which if you were a teenager in the early 2000s you know all about. Dolores Clairborne is about a woman who murders her husband, not incredibly groundbreaking. The Regulators is about an ancient god that takes control of a suburban neighborhood, which although it’s unique isn’t exactly realistic. Why did they give me nightmares? How could they give me nightmares?

Because, by reading these stories, I had the chance to create my own worst nightmare. In horror films, the monster is there. Someone else created it. It’s their worst nightmare, not mine. I talked a little bit about this in my last horror post. Horror really works when you give the viewer the chance to add their own spin on things.

stephen_king_salems_lot_01In Salem’s Lot, a tiny New England town is overrun by vampires. The people of the town keep disappearing and then mysteriously reappearing at night. I specifically dreamed about the little boy who was taken in the night. He reappeared in his friend’s window late one night, pale as a ghost with dead eyes, and asked to be let in. He didn’t demand anything, he asked if he could come hang out with his best friend.

When I read that scene, I could picture my old childhood room and I could see my elementary school friends, pale white and monstrous, hanging on my window. I couldn’t tell them no, they couldn’t come in. I loved them and I wanted to be with them. That’s what scare me.

alb-008In Dolores Clairborne, the main character murders her husband by getting him drunk and leading him to an old well. He fell down, but didn’t die instantly. When Dolores looked down, he was looking up at her and his eyes looked black. He was calling her name and, at one point, climbed up the side of the well, covered in blood and grinning.

I read that scene in bed and I got goosebumps. I could see his bloody, dirty face. I could see his creepy smile, a dead man’s smile, as he climbed up. I could feel Dolores’ panic as she thought about what to do next. What could she do? This wasn’t part of her plan. That feeling. That’s what I dreamt about that night.

theregulatorsLastly, in The Regulators, a little boy wanders down an abandoned mine shaft and stumbles upon the sleeping place of an ancient evil. A miner follows him in with a flashlight and when he finally catches up, his light falls on the boy’s face. The boy is grinning a freakishly big grin. His eyes are bugging out and the corners of his mouth are pulled all the way up to his ears.

When I read that, I could see his smile. I could picture a normal little boy’s face becoming freakish and deformed. I could see the way the whole space was in darkness and the way the flashlight bounced off the walls before landing on his face. Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying.

If I had experienced these stories are movies, I doubt they would have had the same effect. I would’ve been able to brush off the child vampire in the window as an actor in make up. I would’ve known that Dolores’ husband was just a guy covered in mud. I would have seen through the fake smile on the kid.

That’s what I like about reading horror. It gets under my skin, which is exactly what it should do.

-EMS

Horror Makes Me Happy

Okay, so first of all, you’re lucky there’s even a post up. Michael and I just downloaded Pokemon Go and just spent the last three hours driving around Pullman trying to find a Meowth and Dugtrio. The only reason we’re back is because our phones were about to die. The couple that nerds together stays together, I guess.

Anyway, I really liked your last post. You touched on something that a lot of storytellers just don’t understand. You have to respect your viewer/player/reader and treat them like an adult, but you still need to give them enough to stand on when it comes to exposition. Never hold your audience’s hand, but at least light the path for them.

Finding the right balance in my writing has been one of my biggest challenges as an author. Sometimes I fall in love with my story and want to give my reader every single detail, which would just overwhelm them. As the author, it’s my job to immerse myself in the story, but only bring back enough so the reader can get their feet wet.

This concept is especially relevant in horror. I’ve always loved horror. I love horror novels, horror films, horror video games. I have since I was little and to create a scary story, you really need to find that sweet spot between giving enough exposition so the audience understands why they should be scared, but not so much that they can’t project their own fears onto the monster. That’s what makes good horror good, it gives you the room to add your personal fears to the story.

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It (1990)

I’m not sure why I’ve always liked horror. When I was little I used to read a ton of Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark. My favorite movies, outside of the Little Mermaid, were the made-for-television Goosebump shorts and Beetlejuice.

The only thing I can really pinpoint that may have started my love of horror is my birthday. As you know my birthday is right before Halloween so more often than not my birthday had a Halloween theme. I remember having a cake with a little graveyard on it. I remember going trick-or-treating with my friends and then having a birthday sleepover. I’ve always associated my birthday with skeletons, ghosts, monsters, and just creepy stuff. Therefore, Halloween has always been my favorite holiday just because it meant I would get presents.

Not sure if that’s the only reason I love horror, but it makes sense, I guess.

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House of 1000 Corpses (2003…wait, this movie is 13 years old?! Fuck.)

Nowadays, I’ve graduated from Goosebumps to Stephen King and Jack Ketchum novels. I still like Beetlejuice, but I also enjoy gorey films like House of 1000 Corpses, Aliens, and Hellraiser.

Why? Why do I like these things? These books and movies are just full of horrible imagery and people dying. Why in the world do I crave them?

Adrenaline, pure and simple. There is something so energizing about reading a good scary story. It makes me feel alive and in the present. It’s a feeling you can’t really get in day-to-day life without doing something expensive or stupid, or both.

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Heathers (1988)

I think this adrenaline addiction is the same reason I like getting tattoos and going on rollercoasters. During the event, it’s painful and terrifying, but when it’s all over your body feels electric. Horror movies and books do the same thing for me. I just get excited.

I also think I love horror because, in a weird way, it’s a way to cope with all the real horrors of the world. I can watch a movie with computer generated monsters and for a little while I can escape from the mass shootings, racism, and homophobia in our world. I can handle a fake monster because I know it’s fake. The real world isn’t so easy.

I’ll probably be a horror queen for the rest of my life, and I’m okay with that.

Now, I’m going back out. I need to catch me a Gastly.

-EMS

Don’t Feel Guilty for your Hobbies

Work trips might be fun, but they completely throw you off your game when you get back. The one and only time I’ve missed a blog post was because of my work trip to Seattle. I almost did the same thing today after getting back from Virginia. Work trips, man.

Thankfully, I basically wrote my post on the flight between Seattle and Pullman. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the term guilty pleasure and why it bothers me so much. For those of you who don’t know, according to Wikipedia a guilty pleasure is “something, such as a movie, television program, or piece of music, that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard.”

Can you see why this phrase bothers me? No? Okay, let me explain. 

Generally, we use the phrase guilty pleasure in situations where we’re talking about our hobbies, but don’t want to be judged for them. An example of one of my many guilty pleasures would be Taylor Swift’s album 1989. Those songs are just too darn catchy.

But, wait. Daniel, you’re probably thinking “Emily, that’s not a guilty pleasure! I like her songs, too! I would never judge you for that!” However, there are a lot of people who would judge me for it. She’s too girly, too mainstream, too poppy.

And that is exactly why I hate the term guilty pleasure. Basically, it’s a label we use to police ourselves based on what other people think. When we use the term guilty pleasure, we’re saying “I know you’ll judge me for this, so I’m going to invalidate my own likes and dislikes so I can stay your friend because you’re a judgmental jerk.”

I have been trying to remove the term guilty pleasure from my vocabulary. At the risk of sounding dramatic, as I find my way in this world I’ve realized I need to start being honest with myself and be more comfortable with who I am. Yes, my friend might judge me for listening to Ke$ha while I run, but that doesn’t mean I should make myself feel bad for it. As long as I’m not hurting anyone or doing something out right illegal, no one should care what I listen to when I’m exercising or watching while laying in bed on a Friday night. I’m still a cool person and my pleasures are a part of that. I need to stop being a judgmental jerk to myself.

I’ve also been trying to be less of a judgmental jerk to other people. My biggest sin in that regard is beer. I am so bad about judging people I see in the beer cooler, buying Bud Light or Coors. Does it affect me? Nope. Should I care? Absolutely not. They obviously like Bud Light and their taste in beer doesn’t dictate their entire personality. This person could be very awesome and I’m automatically throwing up a wall by being so judgmental.

You do you, stranger in the beer cooler. I’ll do me and try to ignore the people who are judging me for my choice of beer. My beer can be way too expensive, way too strong, and way too hipster, but it’s what I like. I’m not going to preface my love of fancy beer with, “Well, this stout is my guilty pleasure…” so I’m not going to make anyone else do that either.

Well, there’s my rant. I love painting my nails, trying new lipsticks, watching Roseanne reruns, watching B-flick horror films, and listening to auto-tuned pop songs, and I don’t feel at all guilty.

Sorry for my late post. At least this time I avoided a punishment.

-EMS