Horror Is Not So Different From The Other Genres
This is by no means the only reason someone would like horror, but as Halloween fast approaches, it’s the perfect time to cover “The Escapism of Horror.”
And that might feel like an oxymoron, associating escapism with something that’s deliberately upsetting. Most of the time, we talk about escapism as a way to get away from the stressful. In traditional escapism, we see a hero slay a beast, not be slain by one.
But horror can be escapism in almost the same way. It’s more like a slightly different flavor than a new situation. And this manifests in myriad contexts. Some odder, some more obvious.
Escapism In Genre Fiction Is Very Nearly Universal
The first is the same way that all other genre fiction offers escapism—at least if the horror includes the supernatural. Just like fairies being hidden among us may appeal to the urban fantasy crowd, horror often implies a secret edge to human existence. Sure, the things obscured and special are dangerous, but they are still a break from the mundane. The magic mirror might show you how people will die a week before it happens—but there’s still a magic mirror.
Horror, when it’s fantastical, is a place of imagination, of being where you could never be. See and do things vicariously. And that idea brings us to our next point. In the same way that reading about someone overthrowing a tyrannical king might feel empowering, horror can make us feel strong.
There’s Something Calming After Being Frightened
This aspect of horror escapism doesn’t require the horror to be supernatural. It can work with slashers. It’s simply this: experiencing horror makes the real world less scary. It makes it easier to not worry as much.
The world outside can be an intense thing and horror can help temporarily reduce its impact. With a happy ending, where someone wins over the horror, you get the same overcoming of adversity that a lot of media evokes. But, even if no one survives the adventure, you, the viewer, did.
In Fear Street Part 1 – 1994 someone’s head is put through a bread slicer. Seeing that makes anything bad that might happen in real life a little less intense. Horror functions as an artificial, safe form of stress. For those that like rollercoasters, it’s the same itch being scratched. You’re safe, you’re fine. You get the thrill and not the danger. Your day is unlikely to be as bad as theirs.
Horror Becomes Escapism By Its Sharp Contrast
And, finally, and this one’s odd: horror can make us feel more powerful. In horror, few are likely to survive, and the times where they do are a feat. It’s a relief, a treat—and the idea that some can survive such bad things is a form of wish-fulfillment. A survivalism dream. In the same vein, sometimes even the characters making dumb decisions allow us to imagine ourselves navigating horror correctly and surviving. And that’s still escapism.
That’s horror escapism. To escape to somewhere worse, survive even if the characters don’t, and come back stronger. To prove to yourself that you can take it. A bravery test for those new to the genre, and a familiar jolt for those entrenched. This is not the only reason people like horror, but it’s a component, and it’s one that it’s the perfect time to experience.
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