Like a Geek God #9 by Mark Pursell
Geeks, Ghouls, and Gore
Fear—being brought face to face with your own mortality and the possibility that you will be somehow damaged or erased in mind, spirit, and/or body—has always been replicated in our cultural objects, from scary stories told ‘round a bonfire in the prehistoric dark to the horror movies playing on TV screens and laptops across the world as Halloween approaches. We build society to eliminate, by ever more miniscule degrees, the possibility of personal peril and the situations that would cause us to feel true, deep fear. But approximated in the form of art, it becomes a cathartic drug, a vicarious high that shakes you up in the safety of a theater or your living room and sends you to bed recalibrated, and grateful for the peace of your relatively fearless real life. Horror as an entertainment media genre isn’t for everyone, but geek culture has always embraced it. There’s an entire “horror geek” sub-subculture, men and women who obsessively collect and categorize the endless movies and books and games and shows designed to keep you up long after bedtime, staring paranoid into a corner of your room where the shadows seem a little thicker than they should be. This is, perhaps, because geek culture thrives on the frontier. Whether penetrating the farthest reaches of outer space or pondering the insoluble mysteries of our own brains, geek culture properties tend to be powered by an exploratory spirit, a willingness to boldly go where no man, etc. And what greater frontier is there—what territory more treacherous and titillating—than fear?
Of course, I’m talking about pop culture objects that inspire true fear, which is not the predominant model being followed by many people in the business of crafting chilling stories. Cheap thrills—jump scares, blaring music, torture porn—are lucrative and easy to manufacture. Moviegoers line up for the next Saw or Paranormal Activity (a franchise with a genuinely terrifying first entry that quickly devolved into lackluster contrivance), and the money continues to flow. These movies aren’t really scary, though. They are shocking, but the shock is hollow. You are “scared” not because there is a true atmosphere of dread, but because a banging door or a manipulative quick cut makes you jump. And that’s fine for the milling masses who want merely to be startled, two nervous hours in the dark that they can brush off on the drive back home, hours which sink in and leave an impression as permanent as a bootprint in snow. But geek culture craves more than that. True dread is difficult to bring to life in a pop culture object, but not impossible. Our history as a creative race is littered with stories that electrify our nerve endings, tales humming with an unease that grows, slow but implacable as molasses, into dread. So this Halloween, celebrate like a geek. Pick up the novel Pet Sematary by Stephen King. Watch Rosemary’s Baby. Play the original Resident Evil video game. Spend some time vicariously besieged by the forces of darkness. Leave the jump scares to the plebeians.
Mark Pursell is a lifelong geek and lover of words. His publishing credits include Nimrod International Journal, The New Orleans Review, and The Florida Review, where he also served as poetry editor. His work can most recently be seen in the first volume of the 15 Views of Orlando anthology from Burrow Press. He currently teaches storytelling and narrative design for video games at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida.