Horror and political correctness

I don’t consider myself a horror writer–I write whatever I feel like writing, and thus far most of it has been labeled horror by people other than me. I love horror as a genre, and am proud to count myself among those who write horror, but I don’t believe in the supernatural, take a pragmatic view of the darker side of human nature, and have never read anything that has horrified or even scared me. So I’m never quite sure if the label is appropriate.

Either way, the thing I appreciate most about the genre, from Jonathan Maberry to Jack Ketchum, is the unapologetic look at life, both real and fictional, without worrying about who might or might not be offended by it. Writing “horror” is the freedom of not shying away, not turning my head, not succumbing to what may or may not be appropriate in favor of examining that which is meaningful. Even if, in the case of some of my favorite authors like John R. Little and Thomas Ligotti and Christopher Golden and Peter Straub, what is and isn’t meaningful is muddled by the vagueries of human existence.

I don’t set out to horrify, but I don’t set out not to, either. From divine meddling to the stark callousness of a clockwork universe, there’s a lot to explore that might unnerve or disturb, and in this age where offensiveness is a cause for censorship, labeling myself a horror writer gives me the freedom to explore meaningful plotlines without a concern for political correctness. I’ve written things that cause umbrage, offense, even outrage, and I’m pleased to have done so if for no other reason than having done so.

There’s a pernicious idea in modern society that offense itself is somehow meaningful, that taking umbrage at a statement or idea lends some sort of moral authority beyond vulgar opinion. It doesn’t. To quote the great Stephen Fry, offense is “no more than a whine. It has no purpose. It has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ So fucking what?”.

And it’s that triumph of reason over knee-jerk feeling that makes me proud to call myself a horror writer. Thinking “outside the box” is all well and good when “outside the box” is well-defined, boxlike, even, so as not to upset anyone overmuch.

Horror burns that box, and doesn’t even apologize to the inhabitants. Which is as it should be.