Crossing the Line: Boundaries and Limitations
© S.B. “LullaDIEs”
“Why should not a writer be permitted to make use of the levers of fear, terror and horror because some feeble soul here and there finds it more than it can bear? Shall there be no strong meat at table because there happen to be some guests there whose stomachs are weak, or who have spoiled their own digestions?”
– E.T.A. Hoffmann an author of the “Serapion Brothers“
I agree whole heartedly with this statement. If the goal of horror is to push the level of fear in the audience that much further, then aren’t unspoken boundaries limiting the potential of horror? This has been debated among the horror community before, but has been brought to my attention again in the form of baby killing.
It is true that some things are too emotionally intense for the general public to digest, murdering infants and extreme rape sequences being among them. For this reason, many horror authors and directors avoid doing such ghastly things. No one wants to loose a larger audience because of one scene that went “too far” and so they play it safe. My question is, should we?
Should horror have boundaries and limitations put in place? To do so almost seems like a crime to me.
In order to address this topic on a mature and professional level without becoming biased, I turned to my fellow Wattpaders for their opinions by asking everyone this question:
“Should horror have boundaries and limitations? I’m referring to those unspoken rules about killing off infants, or extremely gruesome rape/torture scenes. Is there a line to be crossed, or is the purpose of horror to cross lines?”
I received sixteen responses, and only two said that horror should have boundaries. The other fourteen were different versions of the same agreement; that horror has no bounds.
“Horror is supposed to scare and frighten and disturb. The whole point of horror IS taking it to far. When you bring up horror you have already crossed the line. Kill the infant, torture the deformed, poison the children with cyanide in the grape juice (Law and Order: SVU episode). There is no line.”
– Spencer author of stories such as “The Asylum” and “Wrath“
Spencer’s response to my question reflects the general agreement my followers had. It refers to the purpose of horror, which we covered earlier in the article “Defining Horror“. We expose ourselves to this genra to experience dread, to be terrified, and to feel disturbed. If these emotions are not stirred within the audience, then it simply isn’t horror, but something else entirely.
But can we induce such feelings without pushing the envelope so far?
I had a rather lengthy conversation with @gmartincook (author of the Stedphast and Dru series on Wattpad) on this topic and he had this to say:
“Horror evolves. It has to. We simply aren’t scared by the same things our parents were, or our grandparents. That’s why horror cant have limits. If you limit it, it ceases to be horror and rapidly devolves into comedy…because it was once scary and now is not. Horror is fluid, as you pointed out, what scares one person will not scare another.”
It is true that newer generations are more desensitized than others, as well as individual people. The black and white film, “King of the Zombies” (personal favorite) was considered terrifying to it’s generation. However today it’s simply hilarious because we’re exposed to more intense terror as time passes. Therefore horror must continue pushing the envelope in order to continue being received as horrifying.
“The purpose of ‘Horror Fiction’ is to instill: horror/ fear/ terror/discomfort/unease -et al. To successfully achieve these feelings in the reader/viewer, the writer has to walk right up to the edge, then use their talent/skill to ensure crossing it enhances the horror/narrative and isn’t gratuitous or titillating to the ‘wrong’ audience.
Interestingly, you mention the ‘killing of infants’ as a potential boundary. I’ve always found the most horrific of literary monsters to be Susan Hill’s ‘Woman in Black’, a female protagonist who is a most prolific child killer (sorry for the spoiler.) Yet, this book is on our (UK) high school educational curriculum.
So, in answer to your question: I think Horror’s purpose is to ‘cross lines’ but it’s the responsibility of the writer to jump over them with good narrative reason.”
– @francisxyzk (Wattpad) author of titles such as “The Surgeon” and “I Am Kirk“
This response I found particularly interesting because, while Francis agrees horror shouldn’t be limited by unspoken boundaries, he mentions the responsibility of the author to “cross the line” with a good reason. I find myself agreeing with him.
An author should have some premise as to why they decided to kill off the infant, or have a woman brutally raped and beaten to death. The event should be significant to the story being told. You cannot simply jump into something as disturbing as molesting a child without a reason, because horror should have a purpose. I know I’ve said it a hundred times, but I’ll probably say it a hundred more because it’s the truth. Horror (especially of this caliber) should have a purpose.
To explain how an author can do such ghastly things while maintaining a purpose within the story, you need not look any further than the Wattpad poet, @DaggerDarkStarMaster. His writings are often accused of “crossing a line” with such topics as necrophilia, child abuse, molestation, and hate crimes against minorities. However, he describes such scenes to raise awareness and shed light on taboo topics many people would rather ignore, or worse yet, even deny the existence of.
Are the scenes terrifying and brutal? Yes.
Is there a reason for it? Yes.
Isn’t this the point of horror? YES.
Mr. Master also responded to my question, and he had this to say:
“In my opinion, there are no limitations to creativity. That includes writing of all forms. I always talk about pushing the bounderies of “social taboos” but in all actuality there are no bounderies. I play off freedom of speech. So to sum that up, there are no lines that can be crossed but instead everything is fair game, and remember to never allow anyone to tell you anything different.”
– @DaggerDarkStarMaster author of titles such as the “Dirty” series and the series “Cold Love“
Many of the individuals who responded to my inquiry also pointed out that these disturbing and taboo topics do indeed happen and are part of our reality. These horror fans feel that crossing the line is acceptable because people cross them all the time within the real world. The idea that a truly disturbing concept is actually happening to someone somewhere is part of the overall horror, adding to the feeling of terror. Because these topics are true, most feel that these concepts not only should be included, but that they must be in order to truly achieve the desired outcome.
These opinions also coincide with @francisxyzk’s earlier comment, as depicting these scenes and events brings awareness to the realities of evil intentions within our world and forces individuals to recognize them even if they’d rather not.
“My philosophy is that you can never go too far if it is fiction. There should be no limits and no boundaries, simply because it is not real (within the particular story). If you are going to write about something, then write about it. Don’t imply it or censor something; be detailed. And no one is forced to read it if they think it is too far.”
–Shane Chowdery author of titles such as “Schizophrenia” and “Guilty“
Shane’s comment points out that, even if a story is based off actual issues, it is only a story. If someone finds a tale of horror particularly disturbing their is nothing keeping them reading or watching. The audience, at any given point, can indeed walk away and never go back to it.
Which brings us to the other side of the debate; that horror can go too far. Unfortunately, I only heard from two individuals who shared this viewpoint and neither were able to provide a decent argument as to why they felt that way. For the sake of this article, I will try to express their feelings.
One of these people referenced the idea that forcing a person to experience their greatest fears, or a terror they aren’t psychologically equipped to deal with, could cause severe psychological damage. While this opinion is valid (all opinions are), I can’t help but feel mixed emotions towards it and here’s why:
1) The commenter referenced the phobia of clowns as a possible fear that could cause psychological damage if forced to experience it. However, if you truly have a phobia and aren’t just creeped out by the colorful beings, a clown in a horror story will be just as terrifying as a clown in a cutesy children’s cartoon.
2) Many people with phobias who seek out professional medical help to manage the extreme fears are told to face the phobia. The concept is that once the patient sees the fear is only in their mind they can begin the process of recovery. Individuals with phobias are also told to research the thing that brings them terror because understanding the topic is thought to help limit the level of scariness due to misconception.
In conclusion, it seems that most die hard horror fans are in agreement that the purpose, and even the responsibility of horror, is to go too far and that these unspoken boundaries are uncalled for. The horror genra shouldn’t be considered acceptable just as the mundane and accepted isn’t considered horrific.
I’m sorry this isn’t exactly complete but I’m hoping that, after reading this, some of you can bring new viewpoints to my attention so improvements can be made. This is, after all, a group project and your opinions matter.