• Kino McFarland

From Real Life Nightmares to Entertainment

Where do we draw the line between what is appropriate and what is off-limits?

Horror, as a genre, takes instances of reality that are terrifying and puts them into unrealistic situations that we can distance ourselves from in order to entertain ourselves. A search through Facebook posts led me to find an article from Teen Vogue that states many people who like horror enjoy the genre because it helps them cope with their anxiety. In the comments, however, there were those who argued that they have enough anxieties and do not need horror movies to amplify them. Yet, there were many people who also agreed with the article.

Recently, a friend of mine shared an article from The Philadelphia Inquirer about the notoriously controversial Pennhurst Asylum. The state school and hospital was closed down in 1987, but in later years, parts of it were turned into a yearly Halloween haunted attraction. The main argument within the linked piece is that the haunted attraction is in poor taste and mocks the lives of many people with disabilities, several of whom are still living within the Pennsylvania community.

Having not been to the attraction myself, I don't know the characters portrayed at the haunt. However, seeing the history of the location and its deplorable conditions that led to its closing in the 1980s, it is my belief that is where the horror truly lies and the attraction stands as a cautionary tale for a history we should not repeat. One person in the comments of my friend's post had said that it is inappropriate for Pennhurst Asylum to be either exploitation or entertainment as if the entire attraction should not exist.

If we were to acknowledge that all horror and scary things come from some real-life traumas (whether real or perceived) and then decided that any work of art, performance or otherwise, were no longer allowed to exist as they were in poor taste, what would be left?

This is very similar to another post I had seen recently through a few other mutual friends. This person wrote a lengthy post explaining that performers should not be allowed to use a straitjacket in their acts as being bound in a mental institution is not their story to tell. As a straitjacket escape artist, this bothers me. My escape act is one of my favorite acts to perform. Not only does it symbolize power, freedom, and individuality to me, but it is also my story. Who is anyone to tell anyone what stories are theirs to tell? Artists tell stories for all walks of life. Storytellers passed down other people's stories through generations and they will continue to do so. That is how stories live on.

Even if the straitjacket escape act had nothing to do with my own mental wellbeing or personal history, the act itself would have died with Houdini or another performer. Maybe straitjackets should have gone completely out of fashion when the mental health system stopped using them, but their history doesn't just disappear because someone is offended that someone was put in one once. Stories, fairy tales, horror stories, haunted houses, they all say something for someone.

Even our friends and family have their own versions of the stories that we tell about our own lives. For example, my sister and I ran in the woods away from a bear once. My sister was terrified. She went back to our family and talked about how scared she was. I went back to our family and said how stupid it was to run. The bear probably went back to his family and said, "I was just taking a nap and then these two girls ran away screaming. How weird, am I right?"

Perspective is everything and at the same time, it is nothing at all. We are all just stories.


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