Double U

Contributing writer for The Artifice.

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    The Genre Blending of Benson and Moorhead

    Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have been making horror films for almost a decade. At least, that’s how their films are classified. Upon watching them, there aren’t any jump scares, no masked killers, no creepy asylums, nothing like that. Instead, in their films Resolution, Spring, and The Endless, a large part of the running time consists of characters discussing their complicated feelings towards their situation, while the horror quietly unfolds in the background, leading to works that feel like they’re about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. With thick atmosphere and deep writing, the filmmakers instead seem to make other genre films with horror elements. Resolution is a character drama, Spring is a romance, and The Endless is science fiction, but all three have horror undoubtedly featured. Try to explore why each film might be called horror, and also why they might avoid the label. Also some points to keep in mind are how the character arcs are informed by the horror parts of the narrative, how the directors are able to maintain a grip on atmosphere, and why the scarier elements are essential to the development of the plot.

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      It’s interesting that the anxieties that Gothic writers explored are so wildly in contrast to what we find scary today. It seems that the basis of Gothic horror is how special humanity is, and how threatening it is when something tries to take that specialness away. Where today we find horror in the idea that humanity isn’t special at all, and is easily commodified and deserves to be wiped out. Worlds like 1984 and The Hunger Games have reduced humanity’s role so deeply that humans are nothing but things to be controlled by the people in power, and the triumph comes from trying to reassert individuality in the face of that uncaring world. It’s finding specialness rather than trying to defend it.

      Modern horror plays with this theme a lot, no matter the medium from books like The Girl With All the Gifts and The Stand to movies like Resolution and She Dies Tomorrow to video games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne (Gothic inspired!) This idea that trying to be special in a big uncaring world is inherently terrifying, because we live in a world where humans are commodified and mistreated in big horrible ways every single day. So the shift in what humans are anxious about between Gothic fiction and now is quite startling.

      It’s also interesting how a human’s reaction to horror stays consistent through the years. We still seek out scary stories to feel that rush, that sublime as you called it. That feeling of being scared, but then reminded that we are safe and alive. The best horror works aren’t that ones that go for mindless gore, but rather the ones that go under the skin, the ones that prey on those deeply held anxieties, and exploit them to earn that feeling of sublime. Humans will always feel anxious, but the satisfaction of getting to the end of a good story remains constant, and that’s kinda amazing.

      Thanks for the article!

      Gothic Fiction and the 'Regressive Evolution' Anxiety

      I can’t remember the exact phrasing but one of my favorite moments from Daria was from season 2 episode 6 “Monster” where Daria and Jane make a film about Quinn in order to make fun of her shallowness, then when this plan works too well, Quinn has this moment where she explains how the world needs shallow people like her so misfits like Daria and Jane can feel good about themselves. It showed a real sadness in Quinn, like she’s fully aware of how unfulfilling her relationships are but is too scared of being an outsider to do something about it.

      Raphael Bob-Waksberg (Bojack Horseman) said that Daria was an influence on Bojack because it taught him that “smart people aren’t always right, and stupid people aren’t always bad.” I think the examples you listed well illustrate this point that as much as we want to idolize Daria and put down Quinn and Brittany, they still feel like people so that becomes harder to do. As much as we appreciate Daria for her wit and attitude, she can still come off as petty and selfish (pretty much everything from the Tom storyline leaps to mind.)

      I think the real sadness of Daria is that even though she’s supposed to be the smartest person in every room, her struggles with her own pursuits (writing, college applications, scholarships, personal relationships,) show that despite this intelligence, she isn’t as special as she might think she is. And even though as an audience we want her to succeed and get everything she wants, the world is much bigger than her small town, and more likely than not, she’s not going to be very important. This subtle lesson of showing the teen demographic the show was made for to expect that life isn’t going to be as great as we’re told it’s going to be is essential. That’s a lesson a lot of teen centered media misses, and as sad as it is, it’s better to learn that as soon as possible. And that’s something that makes Daria special.

      Thanks for the article!

      Daria and the Clich├ęd Representation of Teenagers

      It’s important to maintain conversations about musical theater, especially nowadays because it’s the medium being most disrupted by the pandemic. A lot of conversation about musical theater gets drowned out by stereotypes and negative experiences associated with it. Most people associate MT with large scale, skin deep theming, and heavy handed motifs, but that’s an unfair generalization seeing that many impactful musicals are small in scale and complex in thematic weight (Preludes and Falsettos spring to mind.)

      With every other art form, musical theater has its own strengths, its own methods, its own points to make. The most effective musicals are the ones that understand this, and use music to tell their stories in unique ways. Hamilton is the obvious example, using contemporary musical stylings to tell an old story in a unique way. Another example is Preludes again, which uses Rachmaninoff’s music to tell a very modern feeling story about writer’s block and self doubt. It even goes a step further to have tunes inspired or suggested by Rachmaninoff’s music, with traditional songs, monologues set to music, and some more unconventional avant grade pieces.

      Most people have negative feelings about MT, probably due to bad high school experiences or the infernal group of annoying condescending theater kids. This too is unique to musical theater, for no other art form has such a “have and have nots” mentality on the ground social level. It’s important to remember that in search of identity while growing up, it’s easy to shun or disallow because it’s a simple way to feel special. Then when people feel unwelcome or forced out, it’s quicker to hate than to understand. The point being that musical theater is such an important and specific way of expressing ideas that a lot people forget the nuances and uniqueness that musical theater has. Nuances that can help any form of writing, or creativity. One can get inspiration from literally anywhere, and musical theater is no different.

      Using Musical Theater as a Literary Muse