I recently finished reading My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (full disclosure I have not read Lolita which was, per the author, a significant influence on this book) and, for lack of better words, was pretty unsettled by what I had just read. Needless to say, that was the point of the book. For anyone who hasn't read it, Vanessa follows the vastly inappropriate relationship between a fifteen year old boarding school student and her much older English teacher. The novel took place over two time periods, consecutively telling the story as it happened and through Vanessa's 'adult' eyes as the long term ramifications of what she went through continued to manifest in different ways.
About a week or so later, I threw on the horror movie The Hunt, which was a gory, satirical look at the left vs right, globalist vs nationalist rifts that we see permeating both social media and our society. Two things real quick: I thoroughly enjoyed The Hunt (recognizing it for the over-the-top satire that it was), and also that, while it might have been categorized as horror, it was more of a modern day splatterpunk dark comedy. That being said, the amplification of these cultural wars along with violence that is unfortunately not reserved to fiction and entertainment was also... a little unsettling.
So, because I had nothing better to do, I started thinking about the different genre-bending concepts we see across media. Is all horror unsettling? You could argue so: things that jump out at you unsettle your psyche and make you scream; slow burn dreadful there's someone behind you unsettle your nerves because you know, just know, something awful is going to happen; and the Halloween franchise is unsettling because, I mean if you're constantly running, and Michael Myers is only walking... how the hell does he catch up to you every. single. time?
I think, throughout all of media, we are seeing a further blurring of lines between different genres. Not saying this hasn't happened forever, but we're seeing more of a mainstream recognition of it. One of the biggest that comes to mind would be Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: a speculative, end-of-the-world literary work. And I hope we continue to see more of this kind of work. Work that approaches questions and situations through kaleidoscope eyes.
Bringing this rambling conversation back to the line between unsettling and horror, I think one might lead into the other. Horror, in and of itself, is unsettling in some way. But not all unsettling topics are truly horrifying (though it's safe to say that adult-child sexual relationships are not only unsettling and disgusting, but completely horrifying in their own right. And the amount of trauma that they put on victims is, again, horrifying). There are numerous organizations that work to assist victims of this kind of reprehensible behavior, and I urge you to support them in anyway you can.
So, at the end of the day, if you want to feel irked and uneasy, read some unsettling works. If you want to be horrified, read some unsettling works that push you into something truly scary. Or, if you wanna laugh, watch some dark comedy bloodbaths. It is October after all.
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