Shock Fiction: What Popularity of Horror and Erotica Genres Say About Our Culture

Next up is my look at why sex and violence seem to outsell more conservative fare.

 

cover art to Fifty Shades of Grey -- one of the worst written and most poorly edited bestsellers of all time

cover art to Fifty Shades of Grey — one of the worst written and most poorly edited bestsellers of all time

Shock Fiction: What Popularity of Horror and Erotica Genres Say About Our Culture

A Look at the Popularity of Sex and Violence in the Media

 February 8th, 2014

Sex and violence sell. For decades we’ve seen the connection between book/movie/music popularity and graphic violence/graphic sex. Can it be any wonder why Miley Cyrus bares all or why a song implying that women don’t mean “no” to sex when they say it topped the charts in 2013? We relish in treating women as bodies for male gratification; it’s shocking and therefore appealing to us, like some sort of dark sexual fantasy.

Except the fantasy does not match with our experiences. Rape is not fun. It’s not sexy. It’s an act of brutal violence that stays with us, often for the rest of our lives. Rape is about power, control and domination over another living being. In the real world, there is nothing fun about being on the receiving end of it.

Violence too is also not the fantasy the media we consume tells us it is. Speak to any woman or child in a battered woman’s shelter and ask her how “fun” it was to be beaten, raped, intimidated, controlled, or worse. Violence may be entertaining to hear about, read about, or watch on the big screen, but the actual experience is far from something you want for yourself. If it were, post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) would be as rare to psychotherapists as smallpox to American hospitals.

Given this disconnect, why do we need to consume these fantasy experiences that, ultimately, further callous us against the suffering of others? Why do we buy the sexually violent and poorly written “Fifty Shades of Grey” over better written books modeling healthy relationships between women and men?

Perhaps we have closed ourselves off to our emotions, to our ability to feel in our own lives, let alone sympathize and empathize with others. Rather than face the challenges in our own lives, we find it easier to wall our emotions away – much as the fictional Vulcans repress their emotions. Once repressed, our own emotions become difficult to access. We lose touch with those things that bring meaning to our lives and no longer remember how to relate the experiences of others to our own lives – a critical form of learning that other primates find exceedingly difficult if not impossible to attain.

If we cannot see ourselves reflected in other living beings, it becomes easy to ignore experiences we would never wish for ourselves. In essence, we de-humanize everyone else. Others have no real value. It is profoundly selfish of us.

We become completely emotionally disconnected. Can it be any wonder we seek to fill this void with whatever excitement we can find – sexual or violent?

But we can do better than this. We can embrace our feelings better and learn how to deal with life’s challenges in ways that keep us connected and related to other people. One simple way to do that is to turn off our electronics and return our focus to attentive in-person and voice-telephone contact. Yes, this means we need to learn to listen again instead of constantly broadcasting everything in our heads. Yes, this involves more self-control. Rather than bullying from afar, we have to re-learn the humanity of others by keeping our remarks civil if not kind and spoken from much closer physical distances.

Once we achieve this we will find ourselves able to respond not only to the breadth that literature has to offer us, but the breadth and depth of the human experience. We will not need cheap and shallow thrills or instant fame anymore. We will grow to appreciate the subtleties in humor and plot. We will come alive once more.

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One thought on “Shock Fiction: What Popularity of Horror and Erotica Genres Say About Our Culture

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