I have two completely unrelated thoughts for today.
Racism and America Unearthed
It’s frankly bizarre that nearly a year after the first America Unearthed broadcasts debuted on the H2 channel, it is still the case that whenever episodes of the show are rerun anywhere on the face of the earth, my reviews of those episodes light up with new comments from new viewers searching for information on the show. It happened again last night, and if I may offer some unsolicited advice to H2: You are missing a tremendous opportunity to sell merchandise to the credulous by having such a piss-poor web presence that searches for America Unearthed lead people directly to me rather than you.
The comments and emails I receive after a broadcast of America Unearthed maintain a dull sameness: roughly half thank me for validating their suspicions that the show is bunk, and the other half make wrathful proclamations from various perspectives about the many and varied reasons that someone or something, including me, is suppressing the truth.
Last night, however, I received an interesting comment that speaks to one of the underlying themes of America Unearthed rather than to its factual claims, and I think it’s worth discussion. The writer complained that my coverage of the program focused unnecessarily on the racial implications of advocating the superiority of pre-Columbian white visitors to America and their legal right to own the continent by carving a rock in the middle of territory already occupied by Native Americans:
The fact of the matter is that people like to hear about their own culture, even if it's made up. That doesn't make someone racist. Coming up with the stories against all evidence might, but tuning in and zonking out are another matter. People get tired of the same old stories about the amazing minorities. I guess some people consider that incipient racism, but that's pretty much par for the course as far as humanity is concerned, and is completely natural, and doesn't have to be dangerous or evil. A narrative that reinforces the idea that White people are oh-so-racist can, on the other hand, get to be dangerous. (This particular guy has so many problems that I wouldn't put much past him.)
The “guy” in the last sentence would be me, whom the writer apparently views as advocating dangerous levels of reverse racism. I’m also not quite sure I understand how one can claim racism is “par for the course” and then be upset because revealing this fact is “dangerous.” Are we to pretend that the long shadow of racism somehow will vanish if we just turn off the lights?
I find it interesting that the writer seems to be identifying ethnocentrism as superior to racism in that it celebrates one’s own identity and culture, while racism focuses instead on dislike of the Other. This is, I suppose, true from the position of the motivations and moral development of the individual, but in a practical sense the applications are identical.
We also get the repeated claim—and I’ve received this one hundreds of times now—that these narratives are simply entertainment, and here the writer specifically implies that “white” viewers want to relax with tales of heroic white people in an environment free from “amazing minorities.” (And, really, given the dearth of programming featuring nonwhite people, where exactly are these “same old stories” of minorities?) If that doesn’t cut right to my frequent point that the underlying motif of the pre-Columbian white visitor trope is a sense of discomfort with the changing demographics of American society.
Buzzfeed has an interesting article on why gay people are drawn to horror movies, and as a horror critic I found its perspective interesting but ultimately flawed. The writer, Louis Peitzman, who is himself gay, declared that gay people love horror movies, though I am unaware of any studies that show a greater percentage of gay horror fans than straight or bisexual horror fans. He further argues that gay people are drawn to horror because they identify with the monster and read murders as a metaphor for anal sex. (Apparently lesbians don’t count in this analysis.) Also, Freddy Kruger is a drag queen, he says.
After confessing that as a child he associated same-sex sex with horror and death because he grew up during the AIDS crisis, he quotes Jawbreaker director Darren Stein: “Anal sex ultimately can be construed by a child as a very grotesque act. It’s invasive, much like a knife in the flesh.” As opposed to vaginal sex?
There is a lot to say about the way outsiders of all stripes—not just sexual minorities—are drawn to horror because horror uses metaphors and monsters to give shape to anxieties and fears about being on the outside of society, being oppressed, and being fearful. Petizman’s article, though, can’t get past the idea that knife = penis, a reductive Freudian reading that dates back even before Carol Clover’s explications of the slasher movie genre, Men, Women and Chainsaws (1993), in which she developed an elaborate theory that intimately tied horror to the concept and performance of gender.
Here’s where Peitzman fails: He limits “horror” to serial killer slasher movies: Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the Thirteenth, Halloween, Scream, etc. This is a minority of films even within horror (especially since they bleed so easily into mainstream thrillers), and traditionally, gay audiences have been drawn much more to the Gothic mode of horror, if anecdotal evidence can be believed. James Whale, the director of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, was gay and specifically coded the movies with gay subtext. (Just look at Dr. Pretorius in Bride, who was explicitly designed to be read as an arch gay male.) In 1997, Harry M. Benshoff published a book called Monsters in the Closet in which he argued that the Gothic mode of horror monster could be specifically related to changing social attitudes toward male homosexuality, which he followed up on in an article in Speaking of Monsters (where he reads the monster in the Jeepers Creepers films as a predatory homosexual); even the Victorians recognized that J. Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla was a lesbian vampire. Today, TV programs like True Blood and American Horror Story are created by gay men and explicitly play toward gay audiences alongside straight (largely female) audiences.
However, where I feel that the “queer theory” reading of horror fails is that it presumes that sexuality is a function of the genre; to my mind, sexuality, being an essential trait of human nature, is not a unique aspect of horror. Troublesome sexuality can be found in any genre, not least science fiction and comedy, where similar preoccupations with gender identity can be identified. I’ve read many papers on the way some 1930s female stars were “coded” as homosexual men.
In the “queer theory” reading, when a monster attacks a man, it’s gay panic. When a monster attacks a woman, it’s also (coded) gay panic. When the monster doesn’t attack, it’s still gay panic. Sometimes, as in the case of the Jeepers Creepers films, this is almost undoubtedly true; in other cases it applies much less. I would have a hard time reading The Horror of Party Beach as gay panic, and most modern zombie movies (excluding, of course, the White Zombie school) are far removed from sexuality, as is much in the survival-horror sub-genre. Ghost stories also tend to have a variety of themes and ideas that extend beyond mere horniness.
Is there some hypocrisy in claiming that we should read alternative history as a genre concerned with race but absolve horror of being the cinema of homosexuality? I don’t think so because I am not denying that the queer readings of horror exist, only that they are neither unique to horror, universal, or the defining element of horror as a genre. By contrast, alternative history exists almost entirely to provide semi-mythic narratives designed to justify or (in the case of Afrocentrism) challenge current social structures, which in the Western world continue to operate in the shadow of imagined racial and ethnic hierarchies. Alternative history—in both practitioners and subjects—is overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male, and overwhelmingly concerned with providing divine, supernatural, or legal justification for the continued dominance and control of the same.
11/3/2013 06:20:03 am
11/3/2013 06:40:54 am
I only saw the first Jeepers Creepers, but I'm assuming that the homosexual reading is stemming from the monster spending the entire movie ignoring the female protagonist and specifically chasing down her brother because he has something "special" inside of him that the monster wants. There comes a point in the film where the female lead even stands up to the creature and demands that since they're twins whatever is in her brother is in her too but she's rebuked.
11/3/2013 06:50:31 am
Yes, exactly. In the second film it is more blatant. The Creeper spends the movie make lewd tongue and hand gestures at a school bus full of half-naked teenage boys, who in turn spend the film talking about which one of them might be gay.
11/3/2013 08:26:19 am
What is most disturbing about the Jeepers Creepers films (I have not seen them mind you) is that the director is a convicted child molester. Who on his first film Clownhouse repeatedly raped the 12 year old star. After he was released from prison he returned to directing with Jeeper Creepers a film he wrote the script for while in prison. I refused to see these film or any of his other movies (Powder and Peaceful Warrior) simple because I refuse to support a pedophile, much less one who directs movies that address his dark desires.
11/3/2013 08:35:29 am
When I saw the Jeepers Creepers movies, I had no idea who the director was. It quite clearly can be read as an allegory for, if not pedophilia, at least ephebophilia, which is something that Benschoff notes in his discussion, making the point that the Creeper can be seen as a stand-in for the director in a type of wish-fulfillment fantasy, evading the police while essentially raping teen boys at will.
11/3/2013 06:51:25 am
Don't worry, Benshoff reads the Creature from the Black Lagoon as a gay allegory, too.
11/3/2013 07:03:08 am
Ha! And here I thought the obvious allegory would have been the "tension" between the leading man and his rival/friend. Definitely a dominant-submissive paradigm going on there (with the only lady present providing a necessary cover story).
11/3/2013 08:37:48 am
Thanks, Irna! I read the author's "Jenseits des Sachbuchs: Erich von Dänikens Astronautengötter in Romanen, Kurzgeschichten und Multimedia" last year, but I didn't know about this one.
11/3/2013 08:37:35 am
I recently watched Bride of Frankenstein after many years and had forgotten how campy it was. My gay friends like camp but I always figured it was a matter of personal preference and the fact that people like to hang out with other people who enjoy the same types of entertainment and topics. I have straight friends that like horror and camp as well.
11/3/2013 08:39:53 am
>> H2: You are missing a tremendous opportunity to sell merchandise to the credulous by having such a piss-poor web presence that searches for America Unearthed lead people directly to me rather than you.<<
11/3/2013 09:25:43 am
Forget Frankenstien, what about Dracula and Renfield?
11/3/2013 12:28:57 pm
When I think of homoerotic undertones in horror films, the first thing that pops into my head is the concert scene from the Lost Boys. You know, the part where Jason Patric turns his head toward a young lady in audience, and Cory Haim turns Patric's head back toward the muscular, oily saxophonist gyrating on stage.
11/3/2013 02:14:17 pm
"The writer complained that my coverage of the program focused unnecessarily on the racial implications of advocating the superiority of pre-Columbian white visitors to America and their legal right to own the continent by carving a rock in the middle of territory already occupied by Native Americans:"
By the way, what I think I've discovered in the past few days is a medieval Scandinavian building site. After studying the photos today, it appears that many of the large stonehole rocks were serving as foundation footings. Maybe this is a medieval trading post, or where someone planned to live.
Here is a link to a Shutterfly book I created. This was a lot easier than reducing so many photos down to document size to upload on my website. The link is also on my website. I am getting nothing for doing this, except the joy of sharing this with my few imaginary friends here. Thanks for the opportunity, Jason. Thanks for opening the lid to Pandora's Box once in a while.
11/11/2013 08:03:51 pm
I took a look and that is very cool Gunn. Looks like western MN as at first I thought it was ND from the hills and the only trees looking like shelter belts. Thanks, reminds me of home
11/4/2013 04:03:36 pm
It seems like I only respond to Gunn's posts lately. But I have seen Gunn make a couple of comments about Jason's heritage when racial discussions come up. You continue to state that Jason's perspective has to do with him being half Italian. I am curious to how you view Italian heritage? Do you view them as non whites or do you that those of Italian heritage have animosity toward those with northern European descent?
Good, honest questions, Joe. No, of course I don't view Italians as non-whites. I was playing with Jason because he seems a bit sensitive about the issue. By extension, I was playing with him about Christopher Columbus, because he represents the dividing line between history in the books, and alternative history. Of course I'm a friend to both.
11/3/2013 10:23:38 pm
For some extra anecdotal evidence, as a gay man myself I can't stand slasher horror films. My oreferred horror is definitely gothic and psychological. My two favorite movies in the genre (which both got RAVE reviews) were Butterfly Effect and Thirteen Ghosts (2001). Don't know what that says about me.
11/4/2013 12:34:35 pm
I seem to recall way back when Gunn first appeared that he tired of arguing about whether or not the KRS was real he had a kind of fit where he declared that because he was a white Christian of northern European descent living in the Midwest he was entitled to think that Templar-Christian-Vikings had found and claimed Minnesota for something or other. Which strikes me as similar to what your writer is expressing- we want narratives about Masonic-Viking-Templar-White colonization of America and the conspiracy to hide the truth about it and stop telling us it's not real.
11/4/2013 01:52:36 pm
Yer nuts, tubby. I never thought Vikings had found and claimed Minnesota for something or other. Also, I don't care about Masonic narratives. You managed to miss one of two points I constantly harp on...that the Vikings had nothing to do with the KRS. Plus, I'm interested in the medieval period, not the colonial period. You missed another point I made recently: looking for history is not the same as looking for White.
11/4/2013 02:14:28 pm
I probably missed it because I kind of glaze over your favorite posts. And I'm talking about a post that's probably a year old. You weren't all over the Masonic thing (and I don't doubt that you aren't now), however you were quite frustrated that no one was agreeing with you about the origins of the KRS at that point. Maybe I'll go back later and browse a bit until I find the post.
11/4/2013 02:59:14 pm
It looks like I was misremembering quite a bit, or I just have not found that post. Either way, neighbors are fine, but I'll bring the pie. I hope you like pumpkin.
11/5/2013 04:07:20 am
Pumpkin is my favorite, and I have some in the fridge right now. Unfortunate, it's very fattening! If you lived in this area, I'd invite you to go hiking with me in search of some more you-know-what.
11/4/2013 04:11:29 pm
I know this is a little off topic but I thought that it was an interesting article overall since the discussion did cover an author of science fiction. I have never read “Ender's Game” but was surprised to see how homophobic the author was. As Jason has stated before there does seem to be a biased with alternative historians and conspiracy theorist in general. But many of the sci fi and horror books that I have read have used the medium to comment on social issues of their day. Anyway, I could be wrong and just my own observation. Below is the link I was talking about.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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