It’s funny to think that it’s been a full decade since I published my book Knowing Fear, my study of the development of the horror genre. (The book was released a few months ahead of its official 2008 publication date.) Time goes by fast, but it’s more amazing to think that I used to be so deeply enmeshed in the horror genre that I once wrote a whole book about it. Maybe it was the weight of the explosion of media over the past decade, or my waning enthusiasm about devoting my decreasing free time to intentionally seeking out horror, but I’ve found it harder and harder to keep up, or to care.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t tried, but I haven’t really enjoyed it like I used to. This season of American Horror Story confounds me. Most critics are practically orgasmic over the show’s choice to frame its story explicitly as a Tale of the Trump Era, in which characters openly reenact the most tedious arguments of the days after November 8, 2016. Billed as both horror and satire, Ryan Murphy’s brainchild is closer to the third season of Scream Queens in my view, a misbegotten mishmash of tones that fails on an even more basic level: Horror works when its relevance to our lives exists as subtext beneath the level of the story. Murphy took the subtext to the level of text, and by making it not just a story that speaks to the Trump Era but which is explicitly about the Trump Era, it paradoxically takes me out of the story by calling attention to the fact that it is a fictional narrative. It violates the suspension of disbelief because its broad performances and cartoonish story are so clearly not part of the real Trump’s America, where violence against minorities and angry white mobs aren’t a secret, or a cult, but an everyday part of the banality of evil.
I was similarly unimpressed by Syfy’s second season of Channel Zero: No-End House, based on a short online story from which it borrows only the vaguest of plot points. In expanding the short story to miniseries length, Syfy diluted whatever power the story had (and, in my view, its predictable “shock” ending wasn’t all that powerful) and turned it into a strange meditation on architecture. The design of the No-End House itself—an evil McMansion set up as a Halloween haunted house attraction—was clearly assembled from off the rack spare parts, and the Canadian street where it squats is made up of late twentieth century single family homes of style-free blandness. Taken together, the uninspiring visual design and too-sharp digital video, almost certainly dictated by the show’s small budget, combine to turn the show’s production design against the story, making all of the houses equally ugly and scary and suggesting, against the story’s apparent wishes, that the bland, soulless conformity of suburbia is the true evil. Every house is a No-End House, but I’m not sure that show creator Nick Antonsca recognizes this. We can hope; but the lack of subtext in the first season suggests otherwise, as do interviews when Antonsca speaks of the show in terms of marketing schemes, fan engagement, and other metrics. Naturally, online critics love this series irrationally, and I can’t quite figure out why.
Another widely beloved horror show, MTV’s Teen Wolf, came to an end on Sunday, and it gives me a rare opportunity to evaluate whether my critical opinion turned out to be correct. Many horror series began before I started writing this blog, and many have not yet ended—or both (cough, ahem, Supernatural)—and I so rarely get to see whether a multi-season show lives up, or down, to my initial evaluation of it. Teen Wolf is one of the few to have lasted a number of years and to have started and ended within the years I’ve written this blog.
The show debuted in 2011, and at the time I reviewed the program after its first three episodes. I was rather harsh about what I saw as a stylish but vapid hybrid of Twilight and Buffy. It was one of many TV supernatural adventure / romance stories in the Twilight mold, including The Vampire Diaries, True Blood, etc. Over the course of six seasons, the show grew into something that occasionally approached greatness (in teen TV horror terms) but never reached it. The loss of series regular Dylan O’Brien to the movies halfway through the show’s run, and the subsequent removal of his Stiles character, dealt it a death blow that no number of overly complex and nonsensical plotlines could overcome, especially since series star Tyler Posey is, to be kind, an inert presence whose lack of range and even a suggestion of internal life for his character, titular teen wolf Scott McCall, left the show unmoored and decentered as its final seasons spun out of control. I initially praised his early performance as authentically awkward and boyish, but he was the rare actor who grew smaller and stiffer over the course of a series. With no strong center to draw the story together, what remained was a series of spare parts that were individually interesting, beautifully shot, and often compelling, but never coherent.
But the bigger problem is that Teen Wolf’s plot confusion reflects the fact that the series was trapped into telling a story that series creator Jeff Davis didn’t really want to tell. The pilot of Teen Wolf set up a very conventional Twilight-style story with a bunch of straight boys in love with cardboard cutouts resembling women. I complained in 2011 that the show had trouble writing female characters, and as I commented in 2013 and I will do again today, the women on the show were almost entirely irrelevant and could easily be cut out without impact, and down to the last they existed entirely as fig leaves disguising the real story Teen Wolf wanted to tell. In the first episodes, probably due to network demands, lycanthropy was made into a symbol for steroid abuse, but that fell by the wayside as Davis made plain that his real goal was to make werewolves into symbols of gayness—both superpower and source of ostracism. Gradually, the show got really gay. By the end, about two-thirds of the show’s characters were gay, and the final storyline was literally about whether society would accept the werewolf lifestyle once they were involuntarily forced out of the closet by angry conservatives who feared they would corrupt the youth and convert people to wolfish perversion.
The trouble is that this story would have been transgressive, or at least relevant, in 2011, before gay marriage was legal and in a time when half of all Americans still thought of gay people as an evil species. (The likely next senator from Alabama, Roy Moore, still holds such views, and the Trump Justice Department has filed briefs opposing gay rights, so it is not a closed issue by any means.) In 2017, the more noticeable problem is that Davis, who is gay himself, lacked the courage of his convictions and made compromises to get the show made in the first place. There was a great show buried underneath the sops to convention. Had Davis made the main characters gay, this might have been a great and important horror series rather than merely an entertainingly decent show that flirted with relevance. I mentioned that the women on the show were largely afterthoughts, and that is almost certainly because the subtext, if promoted to text, would have dropped those stand-in characters altogether, and been a better show for it. In the final episode, when Scott is reunited with his best friend Stiles but is somehow saved from death by a kiss from his underdeveloped very brief late-series love interest, with whom, despite great effort to force the matter, Tyler Posey had no chemistry, the whole drama of the moment collapsed because it failed to hit an emotional note. Compared to the series’ best episode, season 3’s “Motel California,” when Stiles saves Scott from a magically induced suicide attempt by calling him his brother, this scene, set up to be mirror of it, fell flat.
And no, I did not recall all those details off the top of my head. I did have to look it up. This isn’t Buffy after all.
Four years ago, I said that Teen Wolf was really about masculinity, and I amend that here. In the end, it became a show about the many different ways to live as a gay man, and the emotional residue created by having to operate in a world not meant for you. The monsters the characters fought were consistently trying to enact punishments deeply affecting to gay men—physically assaulting them, trying to “fix” them, making them disappear, or eliminating them from the gene pool altogether. (There was also a weird, misbegotten Japanese season, but whatever.) I could go on, but I think I’ve probably put more thought into this than Davis did, seeing as he claims to see the show as basically Buffy and Twilight with a more artistic production design. He also created Criminal Minds, so subtlety isn’t his strong suit.
In the end, it turned out that my first impression was correct: “The bigger problem, however, is that the Twilight-inspired atmospherics—all shadows and clouds of dry ice fog and muted color palettes—fail to match the content of the show. Teen Wolf is simply too earnest and too gentle for that. Despite the occasional flashes of (I presume network-mandated) gore and one crude reference to oral sex, Teen Wolf is a program that is warm and fuzzy instead of sharp with teeth and claws—more puppy-dog than wolf.” In the end, everyone got a happy ending, and I suppose that is good enough for a show that was always more style than substance.
9/27/2017 11:28:25 am
I stopped watching American Horror Story after its second season. It just wasn't gay enough...
Bored of Decency
9/27/2017 01:43:45 pm
I stopped watching it after 9/11.
9/27/2017 04:08:07 pm
Touché. Now try to be a good sport too pops.
9/27/2017 02:12:04 pm
A Trump era horror show would be incredibly dated and not sell well in some years from now. They shouldn't do that on TV, but they do stuff like that. Not only that, the horror show is evident everyday. It would be ironically unrealistic in the end.
9/28/2017 03:12:51 am
I am a card carrying fascist islamist. Just saying that I hate America and I want isreal destroyed.
9/28/2017 05:35:00 pm
Not me. Someone is a copycat.
9/28/2017 03:14:47 am
Jason I am going to sue you for bringing my family into your sick world. We all know Jason that you are a registered sex offender (those poor little boys)
9/28/2017 03:44:40 am
If you're referring to statements Jason has made on his blog/website or on Twitter, that would be libel rather than slander. Your (or David's if you're not the real David) multiple publications and media appearances put you into the "public figure" category, so you'll need to meet the "actual malice" test.
9/28/2017 06:31:44 am
This does not appear to be the real David Wilcock, and it wouldn't make sense anyway, since I've never mentioned his family, except in summarizing Wilcock's own words from his book, a year ago. I think the faker confused my references to Corey Goode's recent allegations with Wilcock.
9/28/2017 03:12:38 pm
Angry white mobs? Where do you get this stuff?
10/1/2017 12:46:18 pm
Just might be from what's been happening lately. Pay attention:
10/1/2017 06:17:56 pm
This being rather a touchy subject, let me boil it down to a quick choice for you Jamie. Would you have rather found yourself at that Houston book fair or perhaps in Baltimore the night the fires raged? Or defending your hair salon in Ferguson during that ruckus?
10/1/2017 06:46:06 pm
The question asked was "where do you get this stuff" as if it doesn't happen. I'd prefer we address the causes of the events you mentioned than try to dismiss them are non-issues as "Army vet" inferred.
10/2/2017 10:06:57 am
We are painting people with broad brushes Jamie, and all for political posturing. Fanning flames, setting us against each other and those manipulated believing the righteousness of their cause outweighs the reality of the unfortunate consequences that necessarily follow. Deep down, we love to hate. There's nothing more to figure out here. It's endemic to all.
10/2/2017 10:18:15 am
The only thing I really hate is intollerance. We ignore the surge of white nationalism that is recently growing at our peril.
10/2/2017 01:44:41 pm
Intolerance is a two way street. Now I'm not gonna defend the ideals for white nationalists, but our Constitution gives them the right to free speech. If they are exercising that right lawfully and are physically confronted, who is being intolerant? And I don't mean intolerant of their views, but rather intolerant of their rights. So that leaves you with banning what they are trying to express and to do so, you'd have to amend our Constitution. I see folks heading down this road, and what they fail to realize is that by banning "hate speech", they leave themselves open to such future curtailment by the whims of the political powers that be.
10/2/2017 10:20:40 pm
I'm unable to find anything in the 1st Amendment that gives them the right to be violent or run down people in their car. I wrote nothing about curtailing their speech, only that they are a clear and present danger to this nation. If we don't keep an eye on them more people will end up dead. Which would you rather deal with, a mob of angry white guys full of racist hate, or a group of Black Lives Matter protesters begging for lives to be saved? Let them rant and rave, but keep an eye on the hate groups. The US was doing that until Trump shut that down.
10/3/2017 10:12:26 am
"I wrote nothing about curtailing their speech, only that they are a clear and present danger to this nation."
10/3/2017 12:43:06 pm
Because I chose to use those terms. I didn't get them from somewhere else as you appear to insinuate. Anyone who doesn't understand how much of a problem right wing extremists (usually white) are and will continue to be needs to have their head examined. I've been around these sorts of people here in the South and they are not something we should simply ignore. I don't get why you don't see them as a threat. They've attacked more people this year in the US than Islamic extremists have.
10/3/2017 12:50:44 pm
As I recalled it was Oliver Wendell Holmes who first used the phrase in regard to the 1st Amendment. His words still ring true today.
10/3/2017 12:53:23 pm
As for antifa (anti-FACISTS) I do not support them when they turn violent, but I know of no one who has been killed by them, unlike what the extreme right does. I know a few people who have participated with them, but not conducted black bloc activities.
10/3/2017 04:14:20 pm
The rules of the Internet dictate that three unanswered posts in a row = batshit crazy. But not meaning to end on an ad hominem, I would only inform you that when you throw around "clear and present danger", they are legal terms of art for conditions necessitating the suspension of Constitutional rights. Despite partisans throwing the term recklessly about in order to smear political opponents by association fallacies, I truly don't believe you've met your burden of proof to justify it within your arguments. Think hard about that Jamie, as I mean this in earnest; and you have been a good sport about this. The laws are already in the books to prosecute violent acts. We don't need to sensationalize recent political events in order to dismantle the First Amendment. And yes, that is where you are heading with this talk whether you realize it or not.
10/3/2017 10:40:28 pm
So you thought you'd lead with an ad hom instead of end with one - how sweet of you. I've been online since 1995 and cut my teeth on the usenet newsgroups, but have yet to run across your 'rules of the internet'. Had Weebly allowed edits of posts it might have been just two, but I noticed I hadn't addressed your antifa question. Quit yer bitching, you got three. BFD. I suspect you'll live.
10/4/2017 10:43:50 am
" I've been online since 1995..."
10/4/2017 11:44:23 am
And you are being deliberately obtuse. At no point did I champion altering or restricting 1st Amendment rights, and this all started with someone who was apparently incredulous over the phrase "angry white mobs" as if they don't exist.
10/4/2017 02:15:17 pm
Jesus Christ... Calling someone's actions a "clear and present danger" is a foundation for denying them First Amendment rights. That you can't comprehend this is your deficiency, not mine. Damn, know what you're talking about before you enter the fray, rather than parroting political rhetoric of which you have no true understanding.
10/5/2017 03:23:27 am
I understand well enough. It is YOU who keep trying to read into it something that isn't there. Neither one of us are legal entities or government office holders.
10/5/2017 10:47:17 am
Yes, I know. Above you claimed "clear and present danger" was your own choice in words. You invented it, right? Came up with it all on your own, right?
10/5/2017 02:16:09 pm
Who am I parroting? You do understand that we aren't discussing government restrictions, right? I see no attempt by the government to restrict the speech of these angry white mobs. Quite the opposite. But apparently you see absolutely no danger in them, if you even acknowledge they exist. Can you admit that there really are mobs of angry white men in the US, or will you continue to harp on the use of legal language by unofficial forum posters? That's how this sub thread started off, after all.
10/5/2017 03:27:49 pm
Choice A it is then. Fine Jamie, I'll walk you through it.
10/5/2017 04:34:47 pm
My concerns over white supremacists is a "political smear"? You latched onto a phrase I used as if it's the main focus of my point. It was not. My point, which went right over your head, was that there really are angry white mobs out there. And yes, Trump has pulled funding for 12 grant recipients who were studying violent extremism.
10/5/2017 09:56:37 pm
Okay Jamie. As Constitutional law isn't your bag... as well as rational discourse and reading comprehension... let's try comedy. Here's how you should have responded to Army Vet:
10/6/2017 09:27:15 am
How little did I know that my use of that phrase would trigger you so badly. I can't imagine how you must have felt when the movie came out, let alone the Clancy novel (which is probably where I remembered it from). If I could edit I'd go back and change it to "a real and obvious danger". Bygones.
10/6/2017 10:10:52 am
"How little did I know that my use of that phrase would trigger you so badly."
10/6/2017 02:01:32 pm
You answered the 3rd. Besides, that's just me being an internet rule breaker.
9/28/2017 05:32:04 pm
9/29/2017 05:19:52 am
"it’s more amazing to think that I used to be so deeply enmeshed in the horror genre that I once wrote a whole book about it...That doesn’t mean I haven’t tried, but I haven’t really enjoyed it like I used to."
Seed of Bismuth
10/2/2017 10:15:41 am
The only way Trump era could work for me in horror is if it's a comedy sting. where like the Serial Killer is ritually murdering people then near the end of the film they see the election night victory and go "guess I can retire, killing people just doesn't make sense anymore" [cut to credits]
10/2/2017 07:11:33 pm
I liked Scream Queens because i actually like when shows drastically change Tone, that's why I like Anime. Watch Digibro's youtube video on Anime Tone Shifts.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
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.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.