Today’s plan is to try to understand how fear is entertaining as well as motivating. We’ve discussed fear as a political strategy, an (obvious) emotional appeal, and a personal motivator. Although we’ll touch on psychoanalysis and personal tastes, we should be looking at broader cultural anxieties that make suspense and horror films so popular…or are they popular.
- Robinson, Tom, Clark Callahan, and Keith Evans. “Why Do We Keep Going Back? A Q Method Analysis of our Attraction to Horror Movies.”
- Nietzsche, Freud, and Modernity
- Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963)
- Siegel’s The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
- Rhetoric of Fear Analysis Essays (Draft: 4/14–new date; FINAL DUE: 5/02–no change)
Don’t forget to do the Weekly Discussion Post #10: Jump Start on your Rhetoric of Fear Analysis by 11:07 on Friday, 4/07.
The Appeal of Horror Films
I’m going to gloss over the differences among horror, suspense, and thriller films (and other media). In this were a film class concerned with genre integrity or pet peeves (obviously not this course), we might be more true to the definitions. There is “suspense” in horror and thriller films, so our look into “the appeal of fear”–notice the slight change there–is relevant. However, let’s consider what attributes we expect in horror films, specifically. What are the common tropes?
Robinson, Callahan, and Evans. “Why Do We Keep Going Back?”
I’m not a psychologist, but this article is useful for both information about the appeal of horror films and for an interesting critique on violent media research (more on that below). Q methodology (William Stephenson developed this long before the contemporary Q stuff) seeks to capture the subjective responses and assumptions people have. Of course, as you noticed in the article, patterns form among people, making us able to identify intersubjective beliefs–even if just for discussion’s sake. This is hardly the level of empiricism that most social scientists would require for more generalizable attributes, but it’s a way into a discussion of general appeal and types of appeal.
- p. 41: “The purpose of this research is to identify what types of people are attracted to horror movies.”
- p. 42: Quoting Dani Cavallaro’s The Gothic Vision (2002, rev. 2005):
“…attraction to the unknown by presenting us with characters and situations that point to something beyond the human, and hence beyond interpretation – a nexus of primeval feeling and apprehension which rationality can never conclusively eradicate. (p. 6)”
- p. 42: “Viewers experience arousal while watching horror films, which continues after the film is over. The sense of relief or even of satisfaction that can come from the resolution at the film’s end is intensified, and viewers often mistakenly associate this intense relief with the film itself.”
- p. 43: “…males enjoyed a horror movie more when their female partner was scared; in concert with this finding, the opposite was discovered for women, who preferred their male partners to show strength and courage.”
- What can we say about this heteronormative observation?
- p. 44: “They can even feel as if what is happening to the characters in the movie is actually happening to them.”
- p. 45: Let’s just remember the authors took 75 statements, got them to 48 statements, and asked 38 participants to rate their responses on an 11 point scale.
- p. 46: “Horror movies for adrenaline junkies are similar to an extreme sport that is played for excitement and to increase the heart rate.”
- pp. 46-47: “Adrenaline junkies do not internalize the horror movies. For them, this type of media is psychologically transitory, meaning the effects of horror movies are very short lived…”
- Full disclosure: Bushman & Anderson actually have very good evidence that consumers of violent media have temporary increases in aggression.
- p. 48: “For [white knucklers], the higher levels of perceived reality cause higher levels of genuine fear. Because white knucklers perceive the movies as being real, in their minds they know that the killer from the movie could actually be hiding in their houses, waiting under their beds, or watching them from inside their closets.
- Sounds like a film we watched…
- p. 49: “For detectives, viewing a horror movie is as much an intellectual experience as it is entertainment, and their enjoyment comes from figuring out who the bad guy is and which character will be the last one alive to beat the monster.”
- Appendix A: I have a thought or two about the following statements that weren’t “highly correlated” enough to make it into any of the three groups of viewers “Significant Positive and Negative Statements” tables.
- 10. I believe that for some people, watching horror movies is kind of a release for cruel
or aggressive impulses they might have.
- 24. I can endure the horror because I know there will be a sense of relief at the end.
- 33. The best horror movies are the ones that have the characters in situations that resemble my own life.
- 37. Making it through a horror movie gives me a sense of accomplishment – I can conquer my fears.
- 46. Watching horror movies makes me realize that everything in my own life if OK.
- 48. By watching a horror movie I’m able to confront my fears in a safe environment.
- 10. I believe that for some people, watching horror movies is kind of a release for cruel
- Is catharsis “conscious”?
Anderson & Bushman and Bushman & Anderson
There’s a reference to Anderson & Bushman, 2002 that needs some attention. These two are anti-violent video game crusaders who, although never formally discredited, miss the mark on violent media. They have misleading studies that foist connections between consuming violent media and real world violence. The article Robinson, Callahan, and Evans cite is the 2002 Science article “The Effects of Media Violence on Society.” They fail to understand that violent media reflects the values of a violence-loving culture. That article is shorter than Bushman & Anderson’s 2001 “Media Violence and the American Public.” Video Games and American Culture has a critique of their findings:
Perhaps viewing violent media is cathartic. Bushman and Anderson disagree and dismiss two important figures while glossing over the idea that viewers get an emotional release from viewing violence and horror: those figures are Aristotle and Alfred Hitchcock. They quote Hitchcock who claimed “seeing a murder on television can be good therapy. It can help work off one’s antagonism”; then, they paraphrase Aristotle’s Poetics where he argues “by watching the characters in the play experience tragic events, the viewer’s own negative feelings were presumably purged and cleansed. The emotional cleansing was believed to benefit both the individual and society.” They end their three-paragraph aside by linking catharsis to Sigmund Freud’s theories, subtly implying that the idea has no merit because Freud’s psychoanalytic ideas have fallen out of favor with contemporary psychology.
Instead, they go right into a section titled “The Scientific Evidence” and argue for quantitative study to get to the truth. Essentially, juxtaposing these two topics, without any more discussion marginalizes the value of both Aristotle, a pillar of Western civilization, and Hitchcock, a brilliant director able to convey layered, complex psychological thrillers that explore the darker, violent side of humanity. Dismissing approaches from other fields reveals bias and limits what questions can be answered. Additionally, using a humanities approach can help answer questions when data evade researchers. Bushman and Anderson cannot make their findings and the crime statistics and video game sales correlate. Outside of the laboratory—or just clinical setting—there is no proof media violence directly causes a person to commit violent acts.Toscano, Aaron A. Video Games and American Culture: How Ideology Influences Virtual Worlds. Lexington Books, 2020.
Nietzsche, Freud, Modernity: How to Deal with the Abyss
This is probably a bit too ambitious, but, as research in media res (so to speak), a lot of stuff I’m doing in this class is trying out some ideas that I’m working through. My nihilism studies, not surprisingly, keeps brining me back to Friedrich Nietzsche. The totality of Nietzsche is beyond the scope of an entire Philosophy class, so it’s well beyond the scope of our stuff, but I have some thoughts on Nietzsche’s thoughts on the abyss…
146: He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil, p. 87.
Sigmund Freud The Interpretation of Dreams
Classic rationalization from Freud…
Accompanied by an enormous crowd, he was led to the place of execution. He mounted the scaffold; the executioner tied him to the plank, it tipped over, and the knife of the guillotine fell. He felt his headOnline version
severed from his trunk, and awakened in terrible anxiety, only to find that the head-board of the bed had fallen, and had actually struck the cervical vertebrae just where the knife of the guillotine would have fallen.
Edward J. Ingebretsen’s At Stake: Monsters and the Rhetoric of Fear in Public Culture (2001)
Ingebretsen, a Catholic priest and literary scholar, published this book on the heels of the Bill Clinton Scandal. Reading the book, one gets the feeling that Ingebretsen believes in metaphysical angels and demons. He also has a consumerist-capitalist critique. He sets up his analysis in a rather catholic (pun intended) way and notes that “Fear and dread, of course, are traditional markers of divinity. In this monsters are more like angels, than not” (p. xiii). He appears to suggest that both come from the divine and both need to be appreciated.
- p. xiii: “Yet there is a messenger, instantly understood as otherworldly, whose divine credentials nonetheless seem suspect. That is, monsters, like angels are ubiquitous in markets and cultural byways.”
- “…a characteristic of all angelic visitations is that they are terrifying. Scripture tells us that the ritual salutation of the angel is ‘Be not afraid!”
- Beside “ritual” being an important component of Ingebretsen’s argument throughout the book, he references Titian’s (the Venetian) Annunciation, 1559–1564.
- He also buries reference Lorenzo Lotto’s Recanati Annunciation, c. 1534.
- Think back to our first class where we discussed Antonello da Messina. Vergine Annunciata, c. 1476.
- pp. xiii-xiv: “The angel only comes in at the last moment, apocalyptically, to announce the end of Eden.
- p. xiv: “…the monster’s divinity is marked on the sly–a shadow of the fear inspired by God in every text in which he ever appeared…”
- “…guardian angels….part of our narcissistic religious fantasy that they hover nearby at moments of peril–a bridge crossing troubled waters…”
- p. xv: “Anxiety about what it all means takes us shopping at Christmas, not to church.”
- p. xvi: “…whether guarding the bridge or standing at the gates of the normal, angels teach us what we must love; from the other side, monsters teach us who or what to fear.”
- p. 2: Merely identifying the monster as terrible, as awful and perverse, is only one of the fearful ceremonies designed around them.”
- Sexy monsters???
- p. 3: “For sex in public, it would seem, is still the banal though disguised point of many narratives from politics to shopping.”
- Consider the eroticized monsters in popular culture. We probably don’t have to go too far beyond True Blood.
- pp. 3-4: “The monster-face is a mask placed on someone whose offense is obliquely desirable to us, however much we disguise that knowing from ourselves or call it something else–for instance, news, or interest in the moral tone of the community, or whatever.”
- p. 4: “Monsters have, or seem to have, freedoms we lack….They get away with murder and that fascinates us.”
- p. 33: “Whether flickering on the screen or in the lurid prose of the fifties generated their opposite, sentimental fantasies of romance and domesticity.” [Via Janice Radway]
- p. 67: “Monsters by definition are to be seen, watched, made over. They are spectacles of reprisal; the sinuous, unacknowledged pleasure of administering pain, and watching it…”
Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, 1963
Famous director Alfred Hitchcock’s (in)famous film about flocks of birds terrorizing a seaside town. Everything’s fair game, but we ought to re-watch these scenes:
- The birds attacking Cathy’s birthday party attendees. (52:00)
- School “fire drill.” (1:13:00)
- Ornithologist’s Scientific Explanation (1:17:45)
- Explosion! (1:25:00)
- When you got here, this all started (1:28:45)
- Anticipation of the birds. (1:47:25)
Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956
Don Siegel, who directed Dirty Harry, turns a pseudo-B film into an A film.
Siegel’s film surfaces the fear of loss of identity and then locates the threat to that identity, not in some stock Martian menace, but in our own souls.Kevin Jack Hagopian
Keep up with the syllabus. Your is due 4/14 on Canvas. We’re getting into McCarthyism—Part 1, so read the Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” (on Canvas), and get on Alexander Street.
Bushman, Brad J. and Craig A. Anderson. “Media Violence and the American Public: Scientific Facts Versus Media Misinformation.” American Psychologist, vol. 56, no. 6/7, June/July 2001, pp. 477–489. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.56.6-7.477.
Ingebretsen, Edward J. At Stake: Monsters and the Rhetoric of Fear in Public Culture. U of Chicago P, 2001.