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Danse Macabre: the Healing Power of Horror Community

I have previously shared my thoughts here regarding the healing power of horror; how horror is unique among fiction genres in its ability to help us confront – and cope with – mortality. It has also been demonstrated to have a correlation with stability, the ability of one’s psyche to weather events like the COVID-19 pandemic. Horror has helped humanity confront political strife, religious and ethnic hate, and all the monsters that can be found lurking within the ugly nooks and crannies of the human mind’s vast labyrinth. All of those visions of the healing or existentially validating nature of horror, however, have been, as I’ve described them, mainly solitary endeavors. They have been edifying but lonesome journeys into the dark. This is an incomplete picture, and the journey does not have to be – often is not – a lonely one.

Horror fans are an amazing community of people – there’s no other way to say it. The generosity, open minds and open hearts, and creativity of the fandom will never cease to amaze me. I’ve had the good fortune to go to a few cons (although only a handful so far), and I’ve had uniformly excellent experiences. Even at its most gruesome, its most nihilistic, horror attracts the outcast and the weirdo, the artists, geeks, and odd kids, some of them now old enough to have kids of their own. Over the past half century of what could loosely be termed modern horror fandom, a generation has, indeed, brought a second generation of age and has weaned them on monsters and raised them up in the art of peering into the darkness.

But even those of us who aren’t busy warping a whole new generation of amateur kaiju biologists have a horror family – the extended family of horror fandom, in all its infinite variety and glorious freneticism. It is not a family that is unacquainted with tragedy, nor with challenges. Horror has absorbed and responded to challenges before, and if there’s a way forward from our current polarized, enraged, and confused state, I like to imagine that there’s a place in that way forward for art. If there is, I hope there’s a place in that art for horror. Certain things – old hatreds and new fears – require certain responses. Horror is the only appropriate palette with which to paint some scenes.

In January, I thought I was a funny fellow. “2020,” I started to say, “is going to be a hell of a year.” The joke got less and less funny over time, in part because I ran it into the ground but also in part because the grim realization began to steal over everyone, myself included, that 2020 really was going to be a hell of a year. I would go so far as to venture that there have been few years this bad in recent history; certainly none within my lifetime. I’ve been relatively fortunate thus far in my ability to absorb fear and uncertainty, and I know that it is in no small part because I haven’t had to make the hellish journey of the last year on my own. I’ve had friends, I’ve had family, and I’ve had you – the community of Madness Heart readers and fellow travelers.

If I have one suggestion and only one to impart about the community of horror fans, it is this: lean on them. Reach out. If not to your horror family, reach out to whatever geeky tribe you’ve made your own. Human beings are social animals. The ways in which we socialize – and Lucifer knows, the rules of how we socialize – may change, but our basic need for contact doesn’t. Horror itself is at least in part about this quest for togetherness, and the mortal terror that being alone can inspire.

The journey into the dark can be one in which you find fellowship and even love. At their best, our fellow horror nerds can become beacons for us, a light in the darkness. We will get through 2020 together. We can get through anything together. Indeed, that is the only way we’re going to be able to get through what no doubt lies ahead of us.

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