Why Horror?

Hello Dazzle! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today, I’m glad that you are here. Today I wanted to talk about why I love the horror genre so much and why I think it matters to us as a society. In general, the horror genre is about engaging with our Shadow Work. For those that are not familiar with this idea, the Shadow is one of the four major archetypes identified by Jung. Within the Shadow is all of the things that are considered undesirable within our society. This is considered to be the darkness within each of us. [2]

When we engage in Shadow Work, we are taking on the things within our Shadow and attempting to understand them well enough to gain a mastery and balance with them. There is no way that a human can cut away or remove their darkness, but we can learn to contain and control that darkness. This kind of work means confronting our internal biases, mastering our emotions, containing our impulsivity and such.

When we approach the horror genre, it is engaging Shadow Work. Horror provides us a safe frame with in which to think about the darker aspects of ourselves and our culture. It allows us to explore what it means to be evil and why we should aim not to be. Within the world of horror there are the monsters which are the manifestations of our fears and our internal Shadows. These are the things that embody the human darkness.

I would argue that all horror presents us with a monster of some variety, regardless of the subgenre of horror. It is true that the monster subgenre embraces the monster and puts it at the center of the stage, but all horror is about the exploration of our monsters. Which leads to the question: What is a monster? “The etymology of monstrosity suggests the complex roles that monsters play within society. ‘Monster’ probably derives from the Latin, monstrare, meaning ‘to demonstrate’, and monere, ‘to warn’. Monsters, in essence, are demonstrative. They reveal, portend, show and make evident, often uncomfortably so.” [1] All monsters act as important social tools.

But this isn’t the manner in which people usually define or think about monsters. Most of the time, we think of them as being more as they are defined in the dictionary: “an animal of strange or terrifying shape, an animal or plant of abnormal form or structure, or a threatening force” [3] They are the grotesque, the different and the powerful. They are the forces in the world that are considered not to be human.

Monsters are the things that scare us because they are the things that are considered Other and outside of our allowed social boundaries. By defining what a monster is, we are defining what a human is not. In this way, monsters serve as a boundary to our humanity. They mark out the edges of where we are allowed to exist without becoming something other then a human.

How we define monsters matter. They define what it means to be evil. Generally speaking, being classified as a monster gives society permission to hunt, kill or otherwise destroy the thing that has been labeled as being a monster. This is why the murderers and rapists are generally labeled as being monsters. Society has deemed their behavior as being so undesirable as to warrant the eradication of the individuals that engage in said behavior.

When we tell horror stories, we are telling monster stories. Monsters are the most extreme examples of Othering. They are the Others that can no longer be accepted within the realm of how we define humanity. Thus, we are exploring the Other as well as our selves. When we consider the Other, we are also considering our self-image. Othering requires that we create a boundary between us and the Other. This validates the reality and existence of the self as a distinct entity. Othering is a way to affirm that we are in fact the person that we believe ourselves to be. Monsters represent the strangeness of Others and thus help to structure the self and the group the self belongs to. Accordingly, they are used to draw boundaries between the ‘I’ and the ‘not I’.

The greatest works within the horror genre challenge where we draw these lines. These works demand that we reconsider what it means to be human and where the lines of Otherness should be drawn. It is important that we constantly reconsider where we have drawn these boundaries. The lines of Otherness is what allows someone to become a monster. Thus, it is essential that we are careful about where we have marked out these boundaries.

The horror genre matters because it encourages us to do the essential Shadow Work that we often neglect. It also gives us a safer and easier way to engage in that process. Horror can be so subtle that it often gets people to engage in their Shadow Work without them ever realizing that is what they are doing. Anything that has the power to challenge our inner biases also has the power to create real change.

Well, that’s about it for my rambling today. Thanks for coming and spending some time with me. If you like what you read, click on that like button. It really does help! Until we talk again, you take care of yourselves!

References and Additional Reading

  1. What is a monster?
  2. What Are the Jungian Archetypes?
  3. Definition of Monster
  4. CO-VIDs: that one guillermo del toro movie
  5. Fearing the other–within and beyond

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