• Ian Kirkpatrick

A Response to Paul Tremblay’s “The H Word” & How Progressives Ruin the Arts

Updated: Dec 14, 2019

Earlier this week I released a review on Paul Tremblay’s book, “A House Full of Ghosts: A Novel.” In the back of the book was one of his personal essays on craft entitled, “The H Word: The Politics in Horror,” which I read after getting about ¼ of the way into his novel and now I’d like to respond to that essay and why I think progressives are ruining the arts. His essay is a perfect example of the infection, biased ideas, and hostile personality which is not only limiting the arts from reaching new places but is actually dumbing them down. To read the essay, uninterrupted and in its entirety, click here.

Tremblay starts off:

I couldn’t even get past the first paragraph without stopping to comment… First, let’s make note of favorite word problematic appearing in the first three sentences, but getting to the actual content, please, Tremblay, explain to me how horror is a ‘conservative’ genre and why you’re grouping conservative and reactionary together as if they are the same thing? What he does in this starting paragraph is state what he thinks about conservative/his intellectual adversary. He discards everything conservatives say or think and any value they might have by simply marking all conservative ideas as ‘reactionary.’

Webster’s dictionary defines reactionary as, “relating to, marked by, or favoring reaction; especially:  ultraconservative in politics.” What Trembley does in this sentence is flatten all conservative ideas into what he considers as ‘ultraconservative’ or extreme-right. This allows him to discard any response or objection, rather than responding to it, because all of it’s just extremism. He also fills the rest of this paragraph with unsubstantiated buzzwords: misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, ruling class. He gives no examples but just says he, conservative are the other guys, therefore we don’t need an argument. Just throw insults in there. Surprised he didn’t say racist, nazis, antisemites. He missed a couple buzzwords.

His claim here is that the horror genre is one of the most political genres. I would disagree with that statement and claim science fiction is one of the most political dramas as it allows authors and television programming to dress up well-known social and political issues in the costumes of robots, aliens, and the like. When I was in graduate school, I didn’t see authors writing monsters for different ‘ruling classes’ or race issues. I saw people writing about aliens. If you get out of bizarre and/or basic horror models with monsters (I say basic, but some of it can get really bizarre) where it’s not just about making people entertained and uncomfortable, there are three underlying causes for the horror story setups: environment (The Happening), Government (Cabin in the Woods), and Corporations (Resident Evil). These are the major causes for a majority of horror stories that aren’t just about monsters, and many monsters even go back to one of these things.

The argument of the environment is often “Humans are ruining everything. Punish the humans.” That’s a progressive ideology. I like to think most liberty-minded people agree that big government and big corporations are bad, but most progressives are pushing for bigger government. If I make this argument, how is the horror genre mostly conservative? Individual story-wise, I think horror is one of the least partisan genres because it’s all about the scare and entertainment. I’m an avid reader of all kinds of horror and the guy unbuttoning and putting on someone else’s skin has no agenda. He’s just trying to freak you out.

I’d also like to point to the final sentence of Tremblay’s paragraph. He’s offended that people say, “Oh, that’s nice” when he says he’s a horror writer. How self-important do you have to be to think most people will care, especially if they don’t work in your industry? You think someone who says, “I work in IT” gets more than an ‘oh, that’s nice’ from someone who doesn’t work in IT? Someone in IT might ask, “What do you do in IT?” but most people outside of the industry or subject won’t care. “I’m an engineer.” “Cool.” is a pretty typical exchange, but Tremblay takes the lack of praise for his work as an insult because gosh darn it, I’m so politically savvy and progressive in this conservative-dominated genre!

Tremblay, try being a conservative or libertarian in a highly liberal/progressive industry. The arts are literally a circle-jerk for progressives. See my response to #AWP17 for a couple examples.

These footnotes specifically included because Tremblay’s saying, “I’m proud of being insane!”

Can we talk about virtue signaling for a second? The game of progressives piling on the mental illnesses like they’re badges of honor while refusing to go and see therapists legitimately because they’re afraid of having actual mental disorders, or worse, they’re completely fine!

Think Tremblay is seeking help for his ‘mental disorders’? Probably not.

Anyway, now he’s gonna tell us how a progressive horror story is better than a conservative horror story… and he hasn’t detailed what either of those are yet. Let’s hope he gives definitions/perimeters before he starts his argument, right?

So no clear definition of what makes ‘progressive horror’ and what makes ‘conservative horror?’ Alrighty then.

Aside from ‘contrasting’ these films without ever having defined either of his political horror genres, Tremblay asserts his opinion as if it’s fact. “There’s no cheering in horror.” That’s so false. There can easily be cheering in horror and for a multitude of reasons. For my counter-argument, I point to Joss Whedon’s 2012 version of Cabin in the Woods. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone arguing Cabin in the Woods isn’t horror. I think you’d be just as hard-pressed to find someone who wasn’t cheering or laughing as the merman came into the office and murdered the government crony. I think a lot of people were cheering as the government cronies running the sacrificial game were being destroyed by the creatures they kept prisoner.

It’s important to note that some horror stories do have villains. The Walking Dead is considered a horror television show, but I bet you when something bad happens to characters people hate on that show, they cheer because people like seeing bad things happen to people they don’t like. Is The Walking Dead no longer a horror because people might have enjoyed seeing some of the bad guys suffer? This is a ludicrous assertion made by Tremblay which I can only assume is made since all of Tremblay’s characters seem to be unpalatable. There was no one likable in A Head Full of Ghosts and I doubt there are any likable characters in his other novels if they are made up of the same shallow cast.

He returns back to Alien and says it’s the superior (and only) horror flick of the two because in the end, Ripley ‘cosmically alone for infinity,’ and to him, that’s horror.

That’s subjective horror. Not everyone fears being lost, alone forever. He calls that horror because it’s something that he personally fears and would hate to be faced with, but just because he hates it doesn’t mean it’s the only way to have horror.

Oh, look, another ‘example’ without actually defining the terms of his argument. Except, wait a minute, he says ‘conservative story’ then throws some half-assed attempt at a definition which really just comes down to “those freaking racist, sexist, homophobic, middle-class xenophobic conservatives with family values!”

With that footnote, I don’t see why Tremblay isn’t arguing the true horror story of The Exorcist: the oppression of a poor demon by white, upper-middle-class sexist, racist crusaders obviously going out of their way to punish a demon who just wants to live among the humans. Why are you building a wall against a foreign boogeyman, white family? He just wants to live inside your daughter! He just wants a better life! Stop being hellophobic.

(What really should be examined here is the man who says family values are bad and are something that should be fought against. What is the end-goal he wants and why are family values bad? I’d like a list of what values he’d like instead of family values…)

The other basic problem with the above blurb is he’s asking, “So what’s next?” and is unsatisfied that the final frames of The Exorcist aren’t spent on Regan coming victim to some sort of substance abuse with a montage that leads to her eventual suicide at twenty-six because she just couldn’t get over what happened to her.  What he’s arguing for is not an ending to the movie, but a follow-up movie to the movie to explain/show the fallout in Regan’s life. Just because someone’s smiling at the end of a traumatic experience doesn’t mean they don’t suffer. Ask any victim of traumatic experiences. Most soldiers with PTSD or other afflictions don’t walk around the planet frowning, or outwardly wearing whatever problems they developed from their trauma. Abused children who turn into adults don’t show the anxiety, depression, fear, doubt, or other issues they developed from the abuse.

The movie ends with the final scene, but anyone with half a brain can assume the story can, and in real life, would continue after the camera shut off. You’d think this would be something Tremblay would think about considering A Head Full of Ghosts is set around a reality show. He set up his book specifically to end abruptly in the middle of filming and then the beginning and ending chapters all continue AFTER the camera has shut off. You’d think he wouldn’t make this argument of “Well how does someone live perfectly fine after a traumatic experience?”

No one said she’s living fine, but if we continued with ‘but then what’ situations for every movie that ever came out, they’d never end. Every story continues. Every person suffers differently, and to say a horror story isn’t a horror story because someone smiled at the end and you didn’t get to see the mental issues someone suffered through for the rest of her life is asinine.

We can assume the people who lived through the end of the 2008 movie, Mirrors didn’t like looking at mirrors for the rest of their lives. Mirrors probably caused them severe anxiety and I could easily see them destroying, covering, or removing any mirror in any future home while avoiding them in public. Do I need to see people live out the remainder of their lives in misery to determine a horror flick? No, and for Tremblay to make that his argument for ‘what makes a horror flick’ is weak and artistically close-minded. He’s proclaiming, “the genre is what I say it is!” and discarding anything that doesn’t fit his definition in order to make his own mediocre work feel more ‘special.’

In his closing paragraphs, Tremblay tries to argue that a progressive story is defined by characters changing throughout the story. I have some news for him: That’s not a progressive story. That’s a good story and often considered a literary story. It has nothing to do with conservative vs liberal vs progressive vs whatever. A good story will put characters through a trial and that trial will test their beliefs, morals, strengths, and weaknesses. Any characters that matter will go through a personal change when faced with a trial of any kind.

“Existence is by its very nature is progressive.”

Correct. Everything is constantly moving forward. However, what Tremblay is trying to do with this sentence is equate the verb ‘progress: to go forward or onward in space or time:” to the political ideology of ‘progressivism,’ and they are not the same things and he’s being intellectually dishonest by pretending that they are.

His argument here is that one-dimensional stories are conservative because people don’t change, meanwhile, characters that go through transformations when they go through a trial are progressive stories. No. One-dimensional characters are written by novice authors of any political background. Hopefully, if they want to be authors, they work on their ability to develop characters and show their change in response to situations and he makes this distinction that ‘going back to how things were is conservative storytelling.”

We discussed this very issue multiple times in my undergraduate theater studies. At the end of every play, after the climax, often during the denouement, the main characters who have faced the trial are given two options: change or return to what they were at the start of the story. People who have been through trials and trauma don’t have to change. Sometimes the story we’re told is a sad one because we see the destruction and nothing changes. Imagine an obese woman who has a heart attack, almost dies, and is told the risk of her illness and what could happen the next time she has a McDonald’s sandwich. She’s worried about her children, she wants to see grandchildren, she cries… then she goes home and lives like nothing happened. That was her choice, through her trauma, and we can find it tragic. Not everyone changes when they are given that option and sometimes not changing can show a completely different three-dimensional character.

With this idea that something always has to change to make it horror, Tremblay leaves out some truly nightmarish ideas: people witnessing or committing inhumane acts and returning to their lives as if nothing happened. Otis (2008) will always stick with me because of the way the family was ‘normal’ in it until their daughter went missing. They had no problem abducting and torturing a man to death. They felt no remorse or guilt when they found out he was not who they thought he was, and then they tricked the real man they were after into coming to their house so they could shoot him… and they continued on with life. The ability to do or witness horrendous acts and then justify or ignore it can be horrifying in and of itself… Depending on the story and the characters involved.

Based on this essay, it appears to me that Tremblay doesn’t respect the craft or storytelling. He doesn’t respect different ideas, approaches, or evaluations of human life. I believe behind every type of storytelling, regardless of genre, style, or political ideology of the writer is some attempt to examine or expose the world as the writer sees it. It is definitely about exposing the truth, but that truth is rarely objective. What Tremblay sees as evil is probably different from what I see as evil (considering how much he hates conservatives and religion).

This is how progressives are killing the arts in general. For decades, liberals and progressives have been the gatekeepers for the arts. Television, media, movies, books, music, and most recently I feel like they acquired ‘comedy.’ That’s not to say progressives are funny–Often they seem too afraid of offending anyone who isn’t a white, male, Christian to crack a joke. But they claim to be the gatekeepers with people like Amy Schumer, Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart, and many other big-name liberals who are pushed to the front of the stage, but I don’t think are as popular as they claim to be.

Progressives aren’t in the marketplace of ideas. They’re interested in dividing people up based on identity politics and creating subjective descriptions based on personal preferences. Tremblay did that here when he pretended to define ‘conservative storytelling’ in the single sentence:

“Existence is by its very nature is progressive.”

And the rest of the essay was supposedly about ‘progressive vs conservative horror.’

Progressives try to divide and conquer the literary community by deciding whose political ideologies should be allowed or praised. If the story doesn’t contain characters or ideas that are liberal or progressive enough, simply rewrite them–as Tremblay did with A Head Full of Ghosts, his progressive rewrite of The Exorcist.

Stories shouldn’t be split politically. The only two-party system that stories should be split into are “Good” and “Bad,” and to define a story as good or bad, you should be able to articulate what makes them good or bad outside of, “White people! Middle-class! Sexist! Xenophobe!” Dividing art into party lines is divisive, destructive, and unhelpful. It creates enemies where there shouldn’t be, limits constructive voices(on perspective and craft), and creates an echo-chamber, locking out people with different opinions. Censorship is real, and one of the ways it creeps in is from one political ideology thinking it holds a monopoly on individual industries and locks out anything with even a minor difference from opinion. This is something we don’t need. This is something that no one needs–and it’s not just happening in the literary world. Jon Jafari was recently dropped from appearing in video game Yooka-Laylee for having a wrong political opinion. For decades conservatives in Hollywood have feared losing their jobs if their opinions came out. They keep their opinions quiet and built an underground because of it. This type of thing is becoming more common across creative industries.

Opinions and political beliefs don’t need to be something that segregates an industry. We should be able to coexist, tolerating different viewpoints, without feeling like someone has to be fired or silenced. So why is there this fixation on removing voices of dissent? Why is there a fixation on demonizing ideas that are anything right of progressive? Why are political ideologies being used to describe plot devices and choices literally any author can make when it comes to their stories? This is what’s ruining the arts.

This constant blast of anger and condemnation in the arts, against other artists, for their POVs, is what will ultimately stunt curiosity, creativity, and expression in all art fields.

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© 2019 by Ian Kirkpatrick