Sometimes horror can leave a bad taste in your mouth. Not the usual kind, not the kind you pay to experience. I’m not talking about the disgust of a horrific murder scene, or bearing witness to the main character finding his girlfriend’s head in a box, or even the more literal bad taste of a character being force fed his own left arm. I mean the kind of bad taste that makes you ashamed to be part of the horror community. It’s not necessarily a matter of taking things “too far”…I mean how far is too far in a world of rape, murder, and hellish experiences? But more the blatant shock tactics used to cash in on the controversy of a taboo subject.
Like the makers of this film did.
Or this film.
Or maybe worst of all…this poorly made monstrosity.
When this type of tripe starts to turn up in mainstream media, you start to wonder if some of the stuff you’ve written is just as bad. Someone out there is bound to have lived through an experience that you’ve used in a novel (the exception being the supernatural…maybe) and some of them may think you ‘cashing in’ on the premise is too much.
So why do we accept stories of death, decay, and debauchery but frown upon movies about the twin towers, or hijacked planes? Hell, nobody complained about Passenger 57 or Die Hard II when they came out. OK, I’m sure someone did but not as many as the amount of people that will complain about the above examples. So is it just a case of ‘too soon’?
If it were that simple then people wouldn’t complain about books and films about Jesus…and we know they do.
So when is bad taste really considered bad taste and not fair game? And are some subjects better left alone? At the moment Nazis seem quite a popular horror trope. Nobody seems to mind that. With films like Dead Snow and Iron Sky it almost seems like they’ve become a new comedy team, slotting in somewhere between Abbot and Costello and Adam Sandler. Oh look a Nazi! And he’s a zombie…ha ha, he wants brains…blonde, blue eyed ones. Silly Nazi.
But when its zombie Osama we shudder and mock disgust is replaced with genuine disdain.
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it is just a matter of time. Maybe in fifty years audiences will be munching popcorn and laughing at hordes of zombies with bombs strapped to their chests. They want to eat your brains…then blow you away!
The difference with books is it seems harder to find the “offensive” material. I know for a fact that two of the above films are widely available in most DVD stores. And I’m sure the third will be, when it’s released (I’m praying they don’t try for a 9/11 release date to drum up publicity). But finding books written in the same vein is a lot harder. Yes, they exist. Hell, there’s even a children’s picture book that depicts 9/11 in a humorous light, but they seem to be well hidden. You have to search them out rather than stumble across them on a weekend shopping trip.
Does this make them any more acceptable? Maybe. At least this way you only find them if you want to. People who are likely to be offended may never hear of their existence and they can go on pretending they don’t exist. But it also means they go uncontested, released into the wild without complaint or protest.
It’s a tough subject to argue, on one hand it seems disrespectful that media cashing in on these tragedy can exist, but on the other hand if you censor one subject you have to start censoring them all. Well made films such as A Siberian Film and books like The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks prove that disturbing subjects can be made into satisfying “entertainment”.
So maybe it’s just the way these films are made? Or the hurried and money focused methods in which the books are rushed to the publishing house? A horror story with the backdrop of the twin towers attack doesn’t necessarily have to be instantly dismissed. With a decent, believable storyline (less of the LOLZ OMG ZOMBEEEESS) it could be an extremely dark and disturbing tale.
I suppose it all boils down to respect.
Respect your subject matter and your audience will respect you.