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Jack Graham

Jack Graham wrote about Doctor Who and Marxism, often at the same time. These days he co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper.Support Jack on Patreon.

14 Comments

  1. Anton B
    June 23, 2016 @ 10:34 am

    Great article Jack. Thank you. Lots to mull over. Is what you’re describing defined in some texts as Hauntology? I’m never quite sure what people mean by that term.
    Being of a slightly older generation than you, my own childhood sense of the uncanny is bound up more in the pop imagery and bright optimism of the sixties and early seventies. Before the rot set in if you will. Perhaps this is why I find the Horror genre quite resistable and have always been more taken with the imagery of SF and Fantasy – UFOs, aliens (wierd but nice ones not the abducting ones) other worlds etc. Luckily as an adolescent I had Punk to knock some sense into me and save me from all that fey Hippyness. It’s interesting to me that your observations of ‘The Seventies’ stye as a horror signifier spotlight the more mainstream, middle class cultural signifiers, wide lapels etc. The 1970s Punk style has always resisted assimilation as a horror trope despite itself co-opting some of the transgressive imagery of an earlier era – The Damned and the Banshees comic-book/silent movie gothic horror visuals, the dubious use of Nazi symbols in the nascent punk look. I can only think of Spike in Buffy as a reasonably successful monstered (to borrow a phrase from Jane) punk rocker.
    I wonder what imagery today’s millennial kids will dredge up from their turn of the century childhoods when they graduate from film school?

    Reply

    • John G. Wood
      June 23, 2016 @ 12:39 pm

      Hah, very interesting, Anton. I was noting as I read Jack’s post that I had had no interest in horror, and that my nostalgia was more towards the long 60s (being born in 1964), but hadn’t connected the two – until you brought up the same two points. Perhaps there is a link? Though how that would fit with Jack’s thesis, I’m not sure.

      (Incidentally, I’m guessing you are a little older than me, given your reaction to punk? It had a strong impact higher up my secondary school c.’76-’77 but left my own cohort virtually untouched.)

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      • Anton B
        June 23, 2016 @ 2:44 pm

        I was one of the originals, Bowie casualty, Kings Road poser, 100 club, the,Roxy, the lot. But that’s another horror story. I was going to try and fit Doctor Who in my thesis somewhere but felt I’d gone on too much already. Something about post war sixties optimism in the Hartnell and Troughton eras giving way to the kind of existential horror Jack describes with the Pertwee/Baker years. With UNIT and the Romanas, K9s, Tegans, Nyssas and Adrics standing in for the Seventies dysfunctional family.

        Reply

    • Anthony D Herrera
      June 24, 2016 @ 3:25 am

      It’s true horror movies never really monstered the punk rocker, though they were used to hilarious effect in Return of the Living Dead, but they were certainly monstered in American vigilante films of the early 80’s. In Death Wish 3 Charles Bronson guns down about 100 punks in the finale and in in Class Of 1984 some punks push a nice bearded liberal teacher so far that he has no choice but to massacre them during a school assembly.

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    • Cat Mara
      June 24, 2016 @ 7:58 am

      I believe that Hauntology has a proper literary-criticism definition but to me it has always meant something like you describe: that unsettling feeling one gets off a lot of old media, particularly that from the 1970s. And the 1970s were unsettling in retrospect: the fad for Brutalist architecture among state bodies; the “Population Bomb”; oil crises; stagflation; terrorism in Europe; the “Winter of Discontent”. I was born in 1973, though, so the era might have a particular resonance for me.

      There’s the Scarfolk Council blog (http://scarfolk.blogspot.com) who do marvelous riffs on the graphic design of those times. And bands on the Ghost Box records label like The Advisory Circle (http://ghostbox.co.uk/) capture the slightly sinister electronic tones of all those public service announcements warning us not to play on frozen ponds.

      I’d recommend Francis Wheen’s book, “Strange Days Indeed” as a factual account of just how screwed up the 1970s were. I mean, a lot of it went over my head, as I was so young but I remember stuff like the hunger strikers in Northern Ireland dying and people hanging black flags from their windows here in the Republic. Strange days indeed is right.

      Reply

  2. Daniel Harper
    June 23, 2016 @ 11:19 am

    The seventies must be on our minds. I’m working on a piece about Tarantino tomorrow. 🙂

    The idea about what we find horrifying being connected to the material circumstances of our childhoods is definitely an interesting one, and I agree with much of your analysis. I’d extend by suggesting that what we consider “normal” is also deeply intertwined with our childhood circumstances; that push and pull between the normal and the horrifying in an individual’s life may explain a great deal of political psychodrama.

    Just as a for instance, our parents (with the 40s and 50s as “recent past”) have spent their lives simultaneously seeking a return to the Good Old Days of picket fences/nuclear families while being outright terrified of Reds, noncomformists, and people of color being “uppity.” Likewise, I expect the millennial embrace of social democracy as a group has a lot to do with growing up under the destructive forces of neoliberalism. So it goes.

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  3. Lee Russell
    June 23, 2016 @ 1:07 pm

    Really well-thought out piece, Jack. I find myself in agreement with everything you’re touching on here, and the films you’ve mentioned are the sort of horror films I grew up being scared by and enthralled with ever since.

    “The Shining” is amazing. “Salems’ Lot” works despite being shackled by its TV mini-series pacing. It’s all in the little moments with that one. Other horror films from this general era that left the impressions on me you discuss here (outside of “Jaws” and some of the better slasher films) are the 1978 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”; “Don’t Look Now”; “The Sentinel”; “Phantasm”; “The Beyond”; “Dead & Buried”; “The Brood”; “The Fog” and “Alien”.

    As far as a modern horror film that reaches back for that late 1970s to early 1980s nostalgia, check out “We Are Still Here” (2015) if you have not yet done so. I enjoyed it better than “The Conjuring” (which I like).

    Reply

  4. Eve Schmitt
    June 23, 2016 @ 1:58 pm

    Ah, the 1970s. Barf-green wall-to-wall carpeting and photos of the kids sitting on the lap of the creepiest Easter bunny anyone could find. Cigarettes and tiny cars that explode if you tap them just right. Giant collars, bushy mustaches, giant glasses, and stupid haircuts.

    Leaded Gasoline when people actually had gas, cigarettes, Economic depression, one factory after another closing, muggings and murder, Los Angeles choked in smog, rampant sexual abuse of children.

    I’m glad to have been born in the 1990s.

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  5. Holly
    June 23, 2016 @ 3:03 pm

    As someone born in 1990, I used to get terrible, awful nightmares about PCs – not of anything specifically that I’d seen on them, but of the sheer horror of what they were. Seemingly magic devices with the power to show anything and manipulate things, cleverer than me and often behaving strangely for unfathomable reasons. It embedded deep into my psyche, and if I’m on the computer too late at night and an error message pops up, I still get a hit of my old technophobia.

    I wonder if it’s where my love of robots in fiction comes from. I also wonder if it might have a connection to the vaporwave aesthetic.

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    • Jacqueline Basco
      June 23, 2016 @ 11:25 pm

      Yes yes yes. CD-roms played a massive role in the nightmares I had well into my teens, including a particularly terrifying one wherein Grover reached out of my computer screen and forced my hand through the monitor and told me that if I ejected the Sesame Street CD-rom I would spend the rest of my life without a hand. It’s kind of telling that the most popular webcomic of the past decade is more or less built around the question of “What if our universe was an irreparably scratched CD-rom?”

      I think primitive CGI is going to play a huge part in the millennial horror aesthetic, judging by the videos of people like Andy Wilson and Bryko.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_TXgsFsh8g
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzoYfq_XRC8

      Reply

    • James
      June 24, 2016 @ 11:54 pm

      I was born in ’89, and one of the scariest things in my childhood was in an Australian Soap Opera – either Home & Away or Neighbours. One of the characters was on drugs SCARY SOAP OPERA DRUGS and was being manipulated by some hacker – in effect, somebody using bad CGI on a computer screen. It was an older man’s actual face against computer graphics, with a slightly distorted voice telling the character to do bad shit, not trust anyone. That image of the monitor, slightly smudged in its bad special effects, stayed with me for about a year in 1998.

      This is my new favourite of Jack’s writings.

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  6. Anthony D Herrera
    June 24, 2016 @ 3:18 am

    I was born in 83 so the horror movies I was watching on tv when I was little were the garish blood baths of the mid to late 80’s which is probably why I like series 22 so much and why I admire more than enjoy the sterile horror of the 70’s (with the exception of Don’t Look Now which I find to be one of the most exhilarating movies ever made). Also, I couldn’t finish the first Conjuring movie because it just seemed like such a poor copy of those films in exactly the same way Super 8 was such a poor copy of Spielberg. Don’t remind me of much better movies in the middle of your bad one.

    Oh, and speaking of garish blood baths I want to give a shout out to Combat Rock which is the only piece of Doctor Who media that has ever and probably will ever include a reference to Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

    Reply

  7. Aylwin
    June 25, 2016 @ 9:05 am

    Good article. I’m another one who’s never been drawn to horror, but it’s a fascinating interpretation.

    Not at all sure about this though: aggressively polytheistic forms of pseudo-Christianity in which a massive system of saints, angels and demons float around a universe heavily populated with spectral and semi-divine presences, in which signs and miracles are everywhere, in which prophecies are encoded within your morning toast

    That sounds just like pretty much the entirety of pre-modern Christianity, or at least the parts of it that took place outside the context of technical theological debate – I mean, have you read much hagiography? Protestantism trimmed back some of it, particularly where the saints were concerned, but an awful lot remained, as illustrated by many of the excitements of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, notably the witch-craze. It’s only when Christianity starts to get intruded on by Enlightenment rationalism that you find a widespread version of the religion purged of its supernatural cast of thousands, and even then it was hardly universal at any time.

    Now, it’s certainly possible to take the view that the beliefs and practices of the vast majority of a religion’s adherents through the vast majority of its history are “wrong” and “not the real thing”. There have always been plenty of people ready to do just that, but they do tend to be adherents of the religion in question themselves (even if Islam has in recent years picked up quite a few spectators eager to pontificate on what it “really” consists of from the outside, whether as a “religion of peace” or quite the opposite, with very limited reference to its history or its actual followers). And it seems, if I may make so bold, a particularly odd line for a Marxist to take – as a historical materialist, shouldn’t you be concerned with how an ideology has actually manifested itself in practice, rather than with an idealist conception of a “pure” version?

    Indeed, if this sort of thing is “pseudo-Christianity”, I’m not sure on what basis you would define “the real thing”. You would presumably have to rule out the Gospels for starters, as “pseudo-Christian” texts full of signs, miracles, angels, demons and prophecies.

    As an aside, this sort of thing is why I’m a little perplexed by the cliche of fantasy fiction in which Christianity or a surrogate for it is presented as “the non-magical one” (ASOIAF/GoT being a recent example). When comparing historical Christianity with other religions, it’s very hard to imagine anyone’s take-home impression being “it’s so free from pervasive supernaturalism!”.

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  8. Anton B
    June 26, 2016 @ 8:25 pm

    Brexit has taken us back to 1971 and it’s looking pretty scary to me.

    Reply

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