Thursday, October 4, 2012

Soapbox Topic #1: That Idiotic Phrase I Can't Bear to Put in the Title

There are some topics having to do with the glorious genre of horror that I've wanted to talk about for a while. So I've picked a few Soapbox Topics that have been on my mind that I'd like to discuss with myself and with you. I already kinda touched on this topic with a post I did a way long time ago, but I think this one might be a bit more coherent.

This is Topic #1, obviously, and it's something that never fails to get my goat every time I see it mentioned. What is that idiotic phrase I can't bear to put in the title?

Torture porn.

I loathe this phrase with every fiber of my horror-loving being and I'd like to take the time to articulate why. Who knows, maybe I'll find out that I'm just overreacting. Probably not, though. I'm sorry if I piss anybody off right now, but I really don't have much respect for anybody who even uses this term when talking about a specific horror movie. Even if you say something like, "I guess this would be considered a part of the 'torture porn' category...", you're still making me angry. 

Let me be clear: "torture porn" does not exist. It just doesn't. To drive this home, let's look at where the term originated. As best I can tell from some quick internet research, the idiotic phrase was coined by New York Magazine writer David Edelstein, who wrote an article called "Now Playing at Your Local Multiplex: Torture Porn" in January 2006. It seems like he wrote it in response to seeing Eli Roth's movie Hostel and he went all boo-hoo over the recent trend in horror movies that made them much more graphic and bloody than they had been in recent years. 

And since this d-bag took it upon himself to misjudge not only an entire genre of movies, but also an entire group of moviegoers with this whiny article, 'torture porn' has been haphazardly assigned to many movies seemingly without thought as to what the phrase really means or at least implies. 

To me, what it implies mostly is an insult to those who consider themselves horror fans. What is torture? It is deliberately inflicting pain or injury on a person. What is pornography? It is images or words used to elicit sexual arousal or excitement. Put those two together and what you're saying about us (the "people who like to watch that sort of thing") is that we get some sort of sexual pleasure out of seeing people seriously hurt or killed onscreen - that the sight of blood and guts is akin to the sight of a naked breast or an erect penis.

Okay, I'm calm. Maybe implying that wasn't Edelstein's exact intention when he came up with the idiotic phrase, but he obviously doesn't understand horror fans in the least. I know that I do not have the right to defend all fans out there, so I'm just speaking for myself here. I think Edelstein is completely missing the point of what horror movies do for the viewer's psyche and emotions. Sure, some of them are about just doing the grossest, most disgusting things to the human body and don't have too much more depth than that, but there are plenty of movies out there that do it the right way. 

Here's a quote from Edelstein's article: "In the same way that some women cut themselves (they say) to feel something, maybe some moviegoers need to identify with people being cut to feel something, too. Maybe." I don't think Edelstein realizes that he almost answers his own questions with that statement right there. For me at least, the torture and violence in horror movies is not about getting off on the sight of gore, but rather about the emotions brought forth from going through these situations with the characters in the movie. A romance movie or a comedy or a drama brings about emotions that are often too close what I feel everyday and are therefore not as effective for me as what a horror movie can do. True fear and pain as depicted in such movies that Edelstein identifies as "torture porn" like Hostel and Wolf Creek actually give me more comfort in my life, as weird as that sounds.

I've never had to deal with real violence in my life. I've never had a serious injury or had my life threatened in any way. Those are emotions and experiences that I deal with by watching horror movies. They take these situations to the extreme - to such an extreme that you're pretty much stupid if you don't realize that a good deal of this stuff will never actually happen to you or anybody that you know. I'm never going to be tied to a chair and tortured and eventually horribly murdered by a person who paid a secret company for the opportunity. I'm never going to be captured by an elusive killer and forced to mutilate my own body in order to escape. Again, I can emotionally explore the possibility of these things happening to me through watching horror movies. And when I come back from these inward experiences, I'm relieved and grateful for my boring life. And I'm definitely not in my room jerking off to the depiction of a man cutting his own foot off or a woman getting a blowtorch to the eye.

Edelstein also talks about the movie Irreversible and specifically the "torture" he felt during the nine-minute rape scene: "I didn't understand why I had to be tortured, too. I didn't want to identify with the victim or the victimizer." Well, first of all, if anybody identified with the victimizer in that scene, then I don't want to know you. Like I said before, horror movies have always had the luxury of being able to take things to the extreme, beyond what most moviegoers can handle. They don't have to go that far to get the message across, but I've always felt that they are most effective when they do take it to a place that is outside my comfort zone. Sure, there's that old adage of "what is not seen is scarier than what is seen." But many times for me, I want to see everything. I want to feel like I am being tortured, too, because I want to completely give myself over to whatever emotion something makes me feel, whether it be outright horror, outrage, or even disgust. Those are all intense emotions that I don't deal with in real life, and are sometimes a necessary outlet for me that helps me deal with other emotions I might be feeling.

To sum up, "torture porn" is bullshit. Identifying a movie as such immediately takes away from anything the film might do right and tells the world that anybody who likes to watch it is basically a sick fuck. But we're not. We're alright. In fact, I think we're a bit healthier than people who don't like to watch these movies because we have that outlet. Maybe watching horror movies has saved a bunch of us from actually becoming serial killers, I don't know. I think if you can handle a "torture porn" movie and properly deal with what it has to offer you, you'll actually be a more positive and healthy person. And that is something that the detractors sadly have not and probably will not ever understand.


  1. What a great post! That term never bothered me, but I realized while reading that I never use it to describe anything either, so maybe it bugs a bit.
    Just wanted to leave a quick note since I only found your blog a few months ago and have been checking it regularly since. Good work!

  2. See I'm not as offended by the statement...since I think that there is some merit. I can already see you getting mad, but hear me out.

    Ever since 'TCM,' movies of a certain type have tried to emulate it to some degree. For proof, see just about every 'Don't...' movie from the '80s.

    With the modern era, we have all of the films that followed 'Hostel,' 'Cabin Fever' and the like. Say what you will, but people have tried to emulate for the last decade or so.

    That's not to say that torture didn't exist in films before that. That's not to say that it didn't exist in media/literature before that.

    Torture has been used as a crutch for a lot of movies. I consider those to be Torture Porn...but even I don't throw that word around loosely.

    Is the expression over-used? Hell yes. Are their times where it applies? Yes.

  3. 100% spot on. I've been saying this for a couple of years now.