Episode 9: Transcript

Our Opinions Are Correct, Episode 9: Horror of the One Percent

Transcription by Keffy Kehrli

 Annalee:                      [00:00:00] Welcome to Our Opinions Are Correct, a podcast about science fiction. I’m Annalee Newitz. I’m a science journalist who writes science fiction.

Charlie Jane:               [00:00:09] I’m Charlie Jane Anders, I’m a science fiction writer who obsesses constantly about science, and today we’re going to talk about the horror of the 1%. With the latest Purge movie just out in theaters, we thought it was a good time to talk about how horror movies portray rich people as scary monsters.

[00:00:28] Intro music plays.

Charlie Jane:               [00:00:36] I’m obsessed with the Purge movies. Especially the second one, which I just thought was amazing. And I kind of liked some of the stuff about the first one, but the Purge movies are all about rich people basically having an excuse from the government to hunt the poor for sport.

Purge clip:                   [00:00:51] Our neighborhood is under siege from a government who doesn’t give a shit about any of us.

                                    At the siren all crime, including murder will be legal for 12 hours.

Charlie Jane:               [00:01:01] The fact that it’s become this huge run-away hit series really seems to indicate that it’s hit a nerve in terms of its depiction of class warfare and the rich as predators.

Annalee:                      [00:01:11] And this is something that actually goes back decades in horror. I remember when the movie Hostel came out, and that was kind of the first, I think of what later got called torture porn, or torture horror movies. Which is a very simple premise, which is simply that rich people in some kind of central European country are able to sign up for this elite club where they are given some kind of tourist to torture to death. And so, they’re brought into this nice facility, and they’re just given someone to torture to death. And, spoilers, if you haven’t seen it. Come on, go see it. But, we find out at the end that American tourists are the most expensive.

Charlie Jane:               [00:01:53] Mm-hmm.

Annalee:                      [00:01:53] Because, we are kind of the most awful, but also just, it’s fun to torture Americans and then it’s kind of a descending ranked order of like, basically countries in terms of GDP, you know. More—bigger GDP, the more expensive it is.

Charlie Jane:               [00:02:07] So the G7 is just like—

Annalee:                      [00:02:09] Yeah, the G7, like, you definitely want to torture one of them, so basically, it’s that same idea. That we’re basically the play things of rich people and that they can either hunt us because the government gives us a day every year to do that or just because they have so much money that they’re able to be part of this exclusive, elite, secret club.

Charlie Jane:               [00:02:30] Yeah, and you might feel secure in your middle class, or even upper-middle class status. You might feel like, well, I’m not part of the class of people who are hunted for sport. Like, it used to be that people who are hunted for sport were like, homeless people exclusively.

Annalee:                      [00:02:43] Such as the fine film, Hard Target.

Charlie Jane:               [00:02:46] The amazingly terrific film, Hard Target.

Annalee:                      [00:02:48] It’s John Woo’s first American film.

Charlie Jane:               [00:02:50] It is. I actually love that film.

Annalee:                      [00:02:51] I love that film, too. And Jean-Claude Van Damme is the homeless Vietnam vet who’s being hunted for sport by rich people.

Charlie Jane:               [00:02:56] Yeah. But it used to be just homeless people who we would see being hunted for sport, but now it’s everybody. Everybody who’s not super rich. And, it’s sort of the fear that if you’re not in the 1% of the 1%, you will find yourself on the receiving end of that, and that whatever status you gain won’t matter. And of course, the most important horror movie, I would argue, for the past couple years is Get Out, in which the monsters are basically rich, almost entirely white people who are buying people at auction and using their—specifically black people—and using their bodies.

Annalee:                      [00:03:30] Yeah, and it’s kind of a twist on Being John Malkovich. Spoiler alert. We find out that they have some kind of device that allows them to port their brains into the bodies of Black people.

Get Out Clip:               [00:03:41] You have been chosen because of the physical advantages you’ve enjoyed your entire lifetime. With your natural gifts and our determination, we could both be part of something greater. Something perfect.

Annalee:                      [00:03:56] And they specifically fetishize Black people. Partly because of all the racial stereotypes about them being faster or sexier or something like that. We get a lot of hints about that, but also the idea that they have more artistic talent, and that’s really what the film is about, is that the main character is an incredibly talented photographer, and the white people want to bid on him to kind of get his talent as well.

Charlie Jane:               [00:04:21] His eye.

Annalee:                      [00:04:22] His eye, as well as just to have a young body. It’s not just about wanting to be young again, it’s about wanting to be a particular kind of person, and in the United States, race is often the system in which we experience class. We don’t have a lot of open talk about class in the United States, maybe a little bit recently with the mortgage crisis, we suddenly realized that there’s this huge class division. But, generally when we think about racial identity in the United States, that is our way of kind of talking about who’s rich and who’s poor. And so, I think that’s why Get Out really fits into both the genre of Black horror, but also the genre of economic horror or class horror, because it’s really kind of all bound up together.

Charlie Jane:               [00:05:11] Yeah, and I think part of what’s fascinating about Get Out is that it’s not just about them stealing your body, or about them trying to kill you. It’s about taking your identity, taking your personhood, kind of appropriating your culture in a very literal way, and trying to turn you into something that they can own and kind of exploit on multiple different levels. And it is sort of a complicated, and a fascinating metaphor for the ways in which wealth attempts to turn everything into an extension of itself.

Annalee:                      [00:05:41] Yeah, it’s about appropriation. The reason why minority groups whose work is appropriated get so pissed off about it is because it’s not just like, oh, you stole my idea. It’s like, and you made a shit-ton of money off of it. It’s an economic form of oppression. And that’s the whole history of appropriation. If you look at the really simple history of how white people have appropriated Black music in the 20th century. It’s always for profit. It’s just—no, it’s just an homage to you. And then we’ll pay you back. No, we are explicitly stealing your culture to make money and then [inaudible] not for you.

Charlie Jane:               [00:06:20] It’s… that’s you tell the difference between appropriation and homage or appreciation, is where does the money go? Who gets the money?

Annalee:                      [00:06:29] And who’s acknowledged as the originator of that culture.

Charlie Jane:               [00:06:30] Exactly. The thing that unites Get Out and the Purge movies and a bunch of other films that we’ve seen recently is this thing of the rich being able to do whatever they want, and everybody else basically being somewhat—their humanity is in question whenever the rich want to use them for something.

Annalee:                      [00:06:48] I wanted to mention just a couple of other titles that kind of fit into that. One of them is a little-seen film called Gamer, which I really wish more people would watch because it’s a delightful sort of body horror sci-fi film where the rich are able to appropriate the bodies of poor people in—it’s kind of VR, but there’s—you’re actually taking over the body of a real person, so that person becomes your avatar. And so, it’s about this rich kid who is constantly using the body of this really burly prisoner and sending him into war games and things like that. And the guy can be killed, and so, the rich kid, back home in his room won’t be killed, but his human avatar will be. And of course, people are using this technology for violence and sex, and it’s just this raw representation of what does it mean to be rich and how appropriation works, but also how rich people use and abuse the bodies of poor people. The other one I was gonna mention as a classic from the 1980s, called Society.

Charlie Jane:               [00:07:56] My favorite.

Annalee:                      [00:07:57] Directed by Brian Yuzna, who is really a mastermind of body horror and sort of B movies that are way, way better than you would ever expect. And it’s just, you know, it’s your usual story about how aliens are running the world. People in Beverly Hills where the film is set are all basically aliens, but they like to eat people. And the best way to eat people is to adopt humans and make them think that they’re your kid and then at a certain point when they reach a certain age, you get together with all your alien friends, you merge into a giant sexualized blob of throbbing flesh.

Charlie Jane:               [00:08:33] The shunt.

Annalee:                      [00:08:34] The shunt is the name of the person that they’re gonna eat.

Charlie Jane:               [00:08:36] Oh, okay.

Annalee:                      [00:08:37] So, um, yeah. Not that I’ve watched this film like 90 thousand times. They go on this hunt for the shunt and it involves, just sucking all the meat off your bones. It’s quite disgusting. But, it’s also, again, it’s this very literal representation of the rich eating the poor.

Charlie Jane:               [00:08:54] Yeah, and it’s interesting because part of what makes horror movies so effective at depicting the awfulness, or the scariness of extreme wealth, especially existing alongside poverty or people who are struggling, is that it is kind of obscene. Like, we use the phrase obscene wealth a lot, and there’s something kind of horrifying about the idea of just—having so much money and having so much mat—

Annalee:                      [00:09:20] It’s like physically revolting in some way.

Charlie Jane:               [00:09:22] So much capital when other people are struggling and starving. Horror is really good at getting to the visceral part of that, literally, through like, body horror, through depictions of extreme mutilation or destruction.

Annalee:                      [00:09:35] Torture.

Charlie Jane:               [00:09:35] Yeah, and just by depicting how kind of disgusting it is when there are people who are like the 0.1% and then everybody else is in some form of either severe need or at least extreme insecurity economically.

Annalee:                      [00:09:51] Yeah, and I think that the other thing about horror is that because so many of these movies are dealing with bodily violation and pain. Like, people being in pain and having their bodies ripped apart, it’s a reminder that economics aren’t just this abstract thing out there. You know, it’s not just like, oh there’s people in a corporate chamber making decisions that are kind of mildly annoying. This is a matter of life and death. If you don’t have enough money, it will cause you psychological harm. It will cause you physical harm. You may die because you don’t have access to health care, or because you’re living on the street. Having adverse experience at work may mean that you lose an arm. You might die if you’re doing dangerous labor. The most dangerous kinds of labor are often the most poorly paid. Not always, but pretty much.

Charlie Jane:               [00:10:47] Yeah, and medical horror often kind of reflects a fear of not having access to health care or getting shitty health care because you don’t have good insurance or because the medical establishment just doesn’t give a shit about you.

Annalee:                      [00:10:58] Or because the medical establishment would rather experiment on you than cure you.

Charlie Jane:               [00:11:02] Yeah. Yeah, yeah yeah.

Annalee:                      [00:11:05] We may have a bit of history of that in the United States with the Tuskegee experiments.

Charlie Jane:               [00:11:07] Among others.

Annalee:                      [00:11:08] Among others. So, the other thing about horror is that it’s a great way of having a fun allegory for how class warfare works and Cory Doctorow is fond of saying that the rich are speciating, meaning that they have so much—access to so much tech and health care that they really are becoming a different species. And in horror movies, that becomes literal.

Charlie Jane:               [00:11:31] Yeah, one of the great metaphors for rich people in horror and in society generally is vampires. Vampires are frequently depicted as the wealthy and powerful, because they often have mind control powers. They often live for hundreds and hundreds of years and can accumulate wealth and can get access to stuff that nobody else can get access to. Everything from the classic Dracula stories up to Underworld and The Vampire Diaries, and pretty much you name it, vampires are often depicted as extremely wealthy and connected and powerful, and they kind of treat everybody who’s not a vampire as their playthings in a way that is definitely a metaphor for the rich.

Annalee:                      [00:12:10] And they eat the poor.

Charlie Jane:               [00:12:11] And they eat the poor.

Annalee:                      [00:12:12] So, just like the rich people in Society and also Karl Marx in Capital uses vampires as a metaphor for the rich. So, even Karl Marx was indulging in a little bit of horror movie writing or horror story writing.

Charlie Jane:               [00:12:27] I did not know that. So, Marx was a horror fan.

Annalee:                      [00:12:29] He was a horror fan. He does bring in a lot of weird kind of imagery of the undead and he feels like the rich are like vampires because they actually are sort of feeding on the death of other people because the way that they extract capital from works in his view, in Marx’s view, is by paying them less than they are worth. So, you pay workers to build something that then you sell for a profit. Which means that those workers don’t get that profit that they created for you. So, it’s kind of like stealing their blood. It’s kind of like taking away the one thing that they have that’s valuable, which is their labor. And you get the surplus, and they get garbage. The other great vampire movie in this vein is Blade II, directed by Guillermo del Toro in one of his earlier American films. I mean, Blade I is also great, but Blade II just gets so frickin’ weird because these—the vampires are super wealthy but they’re running a secret biotech company that’s developing like, super vampires, and I just love that it kind of blends the trope from cyberpunk of like, the super elite corporate overlords with fancy technology that’s kind of like life-extension technology or whatever, and then it blends that with the classic vampire story, so I love that.

                                    [00:13:52] The other thing, so when we were talking about speciating, is Human Centipede.

Charlie Jane:               [00:13:55] The Human Centipede. The Human Centipede is sort of fascinating because it is both about a rich guy who is experimenting on people that he—

Annalee:                      [00:14:03] Who has like, a fancy estate. We know he’s wealthy.

Charlie Jane:               [00:14:05] Yeah, he’s like a super-rich doctor who is, much like the people in Hostel and in the Purge, he’s kind of taking people and just doing whatever he wants to them. But he’s also kind of trying to create a new species. He’s trying to change the human race in this way that doesn’t really make any sense but he wants to like—if you haven’t seen The Human Centipede, it’s about three people being surgically connected so that their mouths and their butts are connected together.

Annalee:                      [00:14:34] In a giant digestive track.

HC Clip:                       [00:14:36] The lips from B and C and the anus of A and B are cut circular along the border between skin and mucosa.

Charlie Jane:               [00:14:51] Right, a super long digestive tract that I don’t even know why you would do that. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense.

Annalee:                      [00:14:55] He kind of says—so the mad doctor in the film.

Charlie Jane:               [00:14:57] Dieter Laser.

Annalee:                      [00:14:58] Dieter Laser—says at one point that basically that the two people whose mouths are just going to be eating poop he says that it’s partly because these are just garbage people, and they should just be eating shit. Which is often the attitude of rich people towards the poor. That somehow, it’s the poor’s fault for being poor, and so they’re poor, they just deserve to eat shit because they’ve done something bad or wrong

Charlie Jane:               [00:15:24] Right.

Annalee:                      [00:15:24] Instead of simply being born into an economic system which actually thrives on keeping people poor so that you make even the most terrible jobs look appealing because there’s the threat of having no job. If you make the threat of having no job bad enough, then you can tempt people into doing, you know, task work online, or—

Charlie Jane:               [00:15:43] Yeah, and I think in the case of Human Centipede, they’re not actually poor. I think that they’re middle class, but it’s that thing where you can have class privilege up to a certain point, but that can be taken away from you in a second. But yeah, I mean, I felt there’s a lot of signifiers attached to extreme wealth that are a little bit creepy, that often crop up in horror movies. Like, having a giant freakin’ house. Giant houses tend to have like secret passageways, they seem to have ghosts. They tend to have, like, scary stuff in them. There’s something a little bit alarming about a house that you go in but you can’t necessarily get out again.

Annalee:                      [00:15:43] Yeah, and haunted houses are all over the place in horror, and haunted houses do kind of form the centerpiece of a lot of this kind of horror that we’re talking about here, fear of the wealthy. But, also just fear of economic change in general. I mean, Crimson Peak is a really interesting example—a recent example of a haunted house film. It’s not a traditional horror film in that the ghosts wind up kind of being the good guys. Sorry, spoiler. But it has many of the same characteristics of a typical haunted house story. First of all, the house is haunted. But, also, it’s a house that represents wealth that is draining away. And so, it’s both the fear of the wealthy but also the fear that wealth is just this temporary thing. That one generation can be wealthy and the next generation isn’t.

 Charlie Jane:              [00:17:09] And the rich people in that movie are freakin’ terrifying, as well.

Annalee:                      [00:17:13] They’re terrifying and terrified. They’re terrified that they’re losing their power.

Charlie Jane:               [00:17:18] Right.

Annalee:                      [00:17:18] Again, it goes back to the Purge movies which, one of the things I love in the first Purge film, although I agree with you the second one is more interesting, is that there’s so much fetishization of surveillance equipment and home protection equipment. It’s all about how do you protect your house and the main character is the dude who sells all these home security systems even though the wealthy can kind of treat the poor like playthings, they also are just terrified that one day they will become one of these poor people.

Charlie Jane:               [00:17:55] Yeah, and of course we have had this huge wave of found footage movies, many of which, like Paranormal Activity, include security footage and include, kind of, the spooky empty house where something is happening. Paranormal Activity 2 literally has about 20 minutes of a pool camera just showing a piece of plastic moving across an empty swimming pool in a suburban house.

Annalee:                      [00:18:16] Yeah. The first Paranormal Activity, I think is actually one of the greatest horror movies ever. I find the tension in it to be great. I think it has great subtext, but it is also very much about the horror of just a house, and what’s in the house, and how you protect the house. Or how you can’t protect the house. Which reminds me of how the root of the modern haunted house movie is Poltergeist.

Poltergeist Clip:           [00:18:44] They’re here.

Annalee:                      [00:18:48] You know, because that’s in the ‘80s, and that’s kind of this new era in horror. That’s a great example of a movie that isn’t about fearing the rich, per se, but it is about fearing falling out of the middle class. This is—the house in Poltergeist is not a fancy mansion. It’s not a Crimson Peak. It’s just a nice suburban house in a nice freshly built suburb and the people who move in, the family just wants to have, you know, a middle-class life, and it’s of course threatened, in fact, by all of the props of middle class life. Like, having a really nice TV, which then eats their daughter. Having a really nice back yard, which the tree almost like, eats their son. And what we discover is that the house is haunted by the indigenous people who were there before. It’s the old Indian graveyard trick. But, that’s a very on the nose representation of how class works in the United States is that, you get this new European middle-class coming in, stealing all the land and all the houses from the people who lived here, the Native Americans, and then trying to have their happy story of wealth and it just doesn’t work because they’re caught in this supernatural system of exploitation and the supernatural world wants to balance things out. And, I think that’s one of the things that’s so appealing about these stories is that there’s this idea that in all of these stories, there’s injustice that’s taken place. It’s often an economic injustice, but through the supernatural, we somehow get justice.

Charlie Jane:               [00:20:23] Well, and I think a lot of these scary house stories. The people living in the house may not have done anything wrong. Like, if you think about The Conjuring, or some of those other movies where it’s like, you moved into a house and through no fault of your own, there’s something terrible occupying it. And it really is this ultimate metaphor for economic insecurity, because the house is probably your biggest investment, it represents the biggest concentration of what wealth you’ve been able to gather and then the walls start melting. Or, there’s like bugs everywhere, or the toilet is exploding, and sewage is flying out of the toilet. It’s like this huge metaphor for what if I lose everything. What if my scratching, clawing at the edges of middle-class status just falls apart. I think that that insecurity, that kind of fear of just—I’m going to lose all of my status and just be turned into nothing, or lose my house and be underwater economically is a byproduct of the concentration of wealth in the hands of relatively few people as an accelerating trend. So, even if you don’t have rich people as a scary force in a lot of these movies, the insecurity of not being able to catch up, or stay apace with everybody else in a world of increasingly concentrated wealth is kind of at the root of a lot of these movies about economic insecurity and houses. There’s been a lot of talk about how the home invasion movie, which there’s been a million of recently, is kind of partly about what if poverty starts coming into your safe house that’s supposed to be your guarantee of middle class status. And it is kind of this metaphor of just insecurity and feeling under threat.

Annalee:                      [00:22:17] Yeah, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a book back in the 1980s called Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class, and it’s basically just a book about middle-class psychology, which I think is still extremely relevant in how at the base of this psychology, it’s not about feeling like, ah, I’m great. I’ve got it all. It’s just utter terror. Constant terror that you’re gonna lose your class position, you’re gonna lose your property, you’re gonna lose your access to health care, and I think you’re absolutely right that lurking under that really is a fear of the wealthy again. Again, because the more wealth is concentrated, the more you get things like the mortgage crisis, which was basically vampires trying to suck away all of our frickin’ blood. And, I love the post-mortgage crisis movie, Drag Me To Hell, which was a movie that Sam Raimi did after the Spiderman movies basically drove him mad and he wanted to go back to doing stuff that was his early films like the Evil Dead. So, it’s a low-budget horror movie. It’s about a woman whose job is to decide who gets home loans. And she’s struggling because some dude who has less experience than her just got promoted over her, and she’s feeling really under siege, like her middle-class life is under threat, and her efforts to keep her house and things like that—and then this woman comes to her asking for a second mortgage. The woman is Roma and she’s kind of weird and old. And our main character decides—she doesn’t have to do this—she decides not to give her a loan, and that means this woman is gonna lose her house. So, she—instead of being sympathetic to someone else in her position, she’s actually now shitting on someone below her who has the exact same problem she does. And the Roma lady curses her.

DMTH Clip:                  [00:24:10] Soon it will be you who comes begging to me.

Annalee:                      [00:24:15] Yeah. She’s dragged to hell. And it’s like the whole movie is, like a little bit what I was talking about before, it’s supernatural justice for someone who is screwing a poor person over. And, it’s so awesome because the justice is delivered so cruelly and everything this woman does to get out of this curse just makes it worse. And, like she tries to sacrifice a kitten. Oh my God, scariest, most upsetting scene ever. She sacrifices her frickin’ kitten to get rid of this demon that’s driving her to hell, and then you know she deserves to go to hell. That bitch, she—not only did she not give a loan to the nice old lady, she also fucking killed a kitten. She’s driven to hell. Let that be a lesson to you, middle class. Don’t deprive people below you.

Charlie Jane:               [00:25:02] Don’t fuck with the poor.

Annalee:                      [00:25:03] Don’t fuck with the poor.

Charlie Jane:               [00:25:03] Just don’t fuck with the poor.

Annalee:                      [00:25:05] Because it is—that is the curse of capitalism is that the middle class, the people struggling to be middle class, instead of identifying with people who are more vulnerable than them, who are working class, and poor, and seeing that they have something in common, which is this 1% which is sucking all of our blood out. Instead, those middle-class people keep identifying with the vampires, and keep identifying with the people above them and not realizing, or not allowing themselves to understand that next time the Purge comes around, they’re gonna be the ones who are killed. Or they’re gonna be on the list of the tourists who get tortured in the hostel.

Charlie Jane:               [00:25:45] Yeah, and there really is no more apt metaphor for the fear of downward mobility, than literally being dragged to hell. Like literally not just losing your class status, but just being like, pulled into a—

Annalee:                      [00:25:56] An underworld.

Charlie Jane:               [00:25:56] An underworld. It’s almost on the nose, but it’s also great. I wanted to bring up American Horror story, which was a show that lasted seven seasons. It’s hard to believe. The first season is all about a scary house. It’s called Murder House, I think. And it’s about this house where somebody was murdered and there’s just—

Annalee:                      [00:26:15] Well, a bunch of murders.

Charlie Jane:               [00:26:16] There’s a bunch of scary ghosts in there. I don’t even know what the hell is going on. There’s a million scary ghosts.

Annalee:                      [00:26:19] There’s creepy abortion ghosts—

Charlie Jane:               [00:26:24] There’s like S&M fetishist ghosts—

Annalee:                      [00:26:25] –S&M fetishist ghosts. There’s like—

Charlie Jane:               [00:26:28] There’s everything. There’s like school shooting ghosts.

Annalee:                      [00:26:29] A hot dead boy ghost.

Charlie Jane:               [00:26:31] He’s like the school shooter, I think. It’s about this house, that this nice middle class—well, they’re really very nice—middle class family is occupying. And everything is terrible. And it just—everything falls apart and I think everybody ends up being horribly tortured and punished and it’s just basically like the ultimate middle-class horror. And then later they had Coven, which is kind of more explicitly about wealth and privilege. You have the Kathy Bates character who’s a former slave owner who’s come back to life and is now kind of grappling with the world of 2015 or whenever it came out. And it’s very much about the legacy of wealth and privilege and how, basically that’s the original sin. Not just slave owning, but also, just the legacy of wealth and abuse.

Annalee:                      [00:27:18] Yeah, because the house in Coven it is also centered on a house, and it’s the house where the witches are being trained by—the younger witches are being trained by the older witches and it turns out that the deep history of the house goes back to this woman who was doing—she was a slave owner, Kathy Bates, she was super cruel. She’s like the ultimate evil white feminist. Because she’s like getting power for the white ladies on the backs of all of these Black people who she’s literally murdering and experimenting on. That legacy of doing that is what’s haunting the modern witches in the house.

AHS Coven Clip:          [00:27:54] There are other souls trapped in here. Innocent, beautiful souls who never knew malice or anger. It’s not fair that they’re trapped in a place like this. It’s heartbreaking. Then there are others who are just in on the game. They’re bitches.

Charlie Jane:               [00:28:13] Part of it is this idea of as well as wealth in the present day being this kind of scary, somewhat monstrous force, it’s also that a lot of wealth is built on injustices in the past. Like, the indigenous people’s graveyard that we talked about in Poltergeist, but also this scary evil slaveowner, and just generally this legacy of horror that people just think, well it’s in the past, we don’t have to deal with it, but actually it really isn’t.

 Annalee:                     [00:28:41] That’s why I think so much of the haunted house story is about the past coming back. Ghosts and the undead are always, to me, about unfinished business from history. And I think that’s why there’s so much of Black horror is about ghosts and revenants. One of the very—in fact the first popular zombie movie in the United States was called I Walk with a Zombie. It’s set on the island of Saint Sebastian, which was colonized by Europeans and it’s explicitly about a family that was a plantation owning family that tormented its black workers and black slaves and are still tormenting them. They’re nominally free, but still working the plantation and the white woman who runs the plantation has appropriated the voodoo traditions from the locals. So, it’s appropriation and it’s just straight up colonial relationships, and it’s also, again, a very satisfying narrative of revenge. Where, the Black characters are able to get revenge on the white family by using voodoo and other various other means, more direct means. Direct action. Which is also helpful in a colonial situation.

                                    [00:28:41] And that kind of goes right up until the present where you’re seeing films like People Under the Stairs in the 1990s, which is also about white people in a Black neighborhood screwing over the locals and getting their comeuppance. Right up into Get Out where we’re seeing the same kind of narrative of white people stealing Black bodies, and appropriating them. SO, I think that history of colonialism which is often in the United States only talked about as a history of racism, is also a history of economic exploitation, and that’s what’s showing up. Those bodily injuries. That haunting that can’t be gotten rid of, no matter what you do. No matter how many times you scrub the house, or wipe your smudge stick, it’s still there. The blood stains are still there. So, Charlie do you think that these stories help us—these horror stories help us cope with that colonial legacy? And with these economic horrors in our everyday lives?

Charlie Jane:               [00:30:54] I think they kind of do. I think that part of what you were just talking about with the legacy of colonialism is interesting because as white middle-class people, we’re trained to think of ourselves as innocent. And completely—

Annalee:                      [00:31:07] Oh, that’s what other people did, yeah.

Charlie Jane:               [00:31:08] Exactly. Those other people that did it, and really, we’re just doing our best. And I think a lot of horror movies kind of satirize that or undermine that while also playing to our insecurities and kind of literalizing our fears in a way that also maybe hints at us, that maybe you’re not completely innocent. I also think it’s interesting, coming back to vampires, that vampires are these terrifying figures who want to eat us, but we also kind of fantasize about becoming vampires. Or wanting to join them, and it’s this great dichotomy of like, well, you know. If a vampire came after me that would be horrible, but if I could just become a vampire, that would be awesome. And then I would get to be one of the super-rich, and I think that’s kind of getting to the root of America’s kind of mixed feelings about extreme wealth, because people in America don’t like to tax the rich because everybody likes to believe that we will somehow become rich at some point, or that there’s some justice in the world and if we just keep working hard enough, we will become like the super-rich in like a day or two, maybe a few days. We’ll just—suddenly wealth will fall down upon us somehow.

Annalee:                      [00:32:17] Yeah, our greatness will be recognized. We will win the lottery.

Charlie Jane:               [00:32:20] Yeah, and even though the reality is increasingly one of downward mobility, we still have this huge American myth of upward mobility. And the Horatio Alger, like, pulling yourself up thing, so we just believe that if you really want to be rich, you just have to do it and get out there. So, the vampire just kind of perfectly encapsulates that because they’re seductive, they’re beautiful, they’re charming. They’re kind of awesome. They’re often kind of heroes or anti-heroes even though they’re often terrifying and predatory and things like True Blood, Vampire Diaries, a ton of other series, kind of play with that dichotomy. And even though you see the vampires committing awful crimes, you still kind of love them. You still are like, well, but they’re really loveable. And I think that that really gets at the root of America’s ambivalent relationship with extreme wealth, and our kind of fetishization and longing for extreme wealth even while we kind of understand that its’ also terrifying and kind of brutalizing.

Annalee:                      [00:33:17] Disgusting, and murderous.

Charlie Jane:               [00:33:20] It’s seductive and terrible.

Annalee:                      [00:33:25] It gets back to what I was saying about Drag me to Hell, where you know, it’s about a woman who makes that choice. She’s in the middle class, and she chooses to think of herself as a potential rich person instead of a potential poor person, and that’s why she’s going to hell. It’s funny when we’re at a time of economic fear, when things seem really unstable and the rift between wealthy people and not wealthy people is growing that we would be interested in watching stories that were horrifying and scary and dramatize that. Wouldn’t we want escapism. Wouldn’t we want happy musical where everybody’s rich, like in the 1930s, and I think that’s because these kinds of stories allow us to tell the truth about what the economy is doing to us in a way that you can’t really do in science fiction, where you’re kind of—you can kind of a cyberpunk noir realism where it’s like evil corporate people are chasing you around. But that doesn’t really get at the gut-churning horror of not having enough money to eat this month. Or the fear that your kid is going to die because you don’t have health insurance. I mean, as I said earlier, this is—we are living in a kind of horror movie when we confront what poverty really means. Especially now in this country where we’re taking more and more away from the poor when we don’t have social services to support them, when we don’t have health services to support them in a meaningful way, and it really becoming poor really is like going to hell. It’s like being tortured and then told you deserve it even though it’s just because you lost your job because the factory went away. Or because you just weren’t lucky. Luck plays a lot in this, and so—

Charlie Jane:               [00:35:11] It sure does.

Annalee:                      [00:35:13] In dark times, interestingly, horror movies provide kind of a weird source of hope because at least in these movies we can acknowledge what’s really happening and not pretend like one day I’m gonna be rich. Actually, no, one day somebody’s gonna suck all my blood and throw my body on the pile.

Charlie Jane:               [00:35:30] And part of why these movies provide hope is because they often have a surprisingly optimistic ending. I think the Purge movies often end with the people you really wish would survive surviving. Get Out, spoiler alert, has a surprisingly happy ending in which all of the evil white people are killed and the main character gets away. Originally, they tried having a different ending in which that doesn’t happen, and I think that part of the reason for that film’s success is because it does actually give you a hopeful ending in which evil is vanquished, at least in that one instance.

Annalee:                      [00:36:05] We just saw Tananarive Due, who is a great horror writer give a talk at Wiscon about how Get Out is a kind of perfect example of Black horror which is just a genre of films that are kind of about the horror of dealing with white supremacy and having to cope with the problems that Black people deal with that other groups don’t. And she was saying that part of what draws her to supernatural horror as opposed to, say, true crime, is that she’s already dealing with all that stuff in her life, like real crime. And like, real terrible things that are happening. Kids getting shot by cops every day. But, in a supernatural story, like, Get Out, or a kind of mad science story, whatever you want to classify Get Out as, there’s actually rules. And like you were saying, the good guy kind of gets away, and the bad guys get their comeuppance. The crappy money lending lady at the bank goes to hell. There’s that sense of through the supernatural we can reach toward a greater order in the universe. And it’s an order of justice, and I think that’s the kind of irony in these films is that even though it’s about mutilation and torture, it’s also about a kind of ultimate form of justice and having access to that justice, and having the ability to take control of it.

Charlie Jane:               [00:37:30] Yeah, and vampires and demons and monsters have rules of how they work. And if you do this, you’ll be safe, and if you don’t do this you’ll be safe, whereas in real life, the rules are risky just like cross your fingers and hope for the best a lot of time.

                                    [00:37:42] Thanks for listening. This has been Our Opinions Are Correct, and if you like our show, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, all the other places that you can subscribe to podcasts.

Annalee:                      [00:37:53] You can review us on Apple Podcasts, that’s always very exciting.

Charlie Jane:               [00:37:58] Thanks to Veronica Simonetti at Women’s Audio Mission for editing this episode.

Annalee:                      [00:38:02] Thanks to Chris Palmer for providing the music, and thanks to you for listening. And if you have questions or suggestions for episodes, you can suggest to us on Twitter. We’re @OOACPod on Twitter and we’d love to hear from you.

Charlie Jane:               [00:38:18] Don’t forget to purge!


[00:38:18] Outro music plays.

Annalee Newitz