Why do we enjoy having the most negative of negative emotions… fear?
Why do we seek out entertainment in fear, disgust, or anger?
Why is the mega-popular, blockbuster Get Out so mega-popular and a blockbuster, or my novel A Haunting in the SWATS: The Savannah Swan Files, seeing more initial success than any of my other works of fiction?
Does this Era of Trump – one of burgeoning fascism, genderism, sexism and racism – have something to do with it?
It seems to me the crucial thing is that we have no need to act in response to what we fearing in Get Out. Had we been peeping through a window at Chris being hypnotized by Missy, then having his consciousness sent to “the sunken place,” we would hardly have enjoyed the experience. We would have felt we should do something – beat on the window; call 911; whoop Missy’s ass.
In A Haunting in the SWATS, we do not have to save Savannah and her son when they are attacked by a horde of African mole rats, or help her daughter when she is infected with wicked spirits posing as her ancestors.
Not having to act in response to an emotional stimulus leads to pleasure. Having to decide whether to act in response to an emotional stimulus leads to planning, not pleasure.
With Get Out and A Haunting in the SWATS and other instances of negative emotions in literature, experiencing that relaxation, knowing that we won’t have to do anything about these frightening situations, is, in and of itself, pleasurable.
Because we turn to literature, stories, poems, plays, and movies to have our emotions stimulated, even in unpleasurable ways. We do so because we experience a continuing release of psychic energy from knowing, at a cognitive level, that we do not have to act in response to those emotional signals. We know before we enter the movie theater that we will feel unpleasurable fear during the movie or the story, but we also know that we will feel pleasure, even during that fear, because we know we won’t have to do anything about it.
In this Era of Trump, we are living a horror show and our gut tells us we will have to do something about it. We might, in just a few days, be forced to join others in resisting oppression, in freeing ourselves from beneath the boot-heel of a fascist state. This is truly frightening and very unpleasurable. So, little wonder that horror is hot again with people of African descent.
Horror stories – and the understanding of why stories that scare us are attractive to us – is nothing new.
For Black folks with close familial ties to Africa, the Caribbean, and/or the Dirty South – which is damn near ALL of us – stories, beliefs and lore about death, the afterlife, ancestors, ghosts, witches, haunted places and a host of other supernatural entities and events tend to become an everyday thing.
Growing up on the West Side of Chicago had a great impact on me as I witnessed, first-hand, the horrors of murder, drug addiction, gang violence and police brutality. It is something that continues to influence my writing till date, which is why you will find elements of horror in all of my works of fiction.
In the Era of Trump, Get Out and A Haunting in the SWATS, which both deal with possession of the mind, are fitting. To be enslaved, to be oppressed, to be displaced, is to be POSSESSED – to have another have power and control over your thoughts, words and deeds.
Now, more than ever, we authors of Black Speculative Fiction should write more great horror stories; should do our part to help others experience pleasure… before the unpleasurable work of freeing ourselves is at hand.