© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Dr. Dan Shaw, Lock Haven University - Why We Like Horror


Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Dan Shaw of Lock Haven University discusses the range of theories explaining why many of us enjoy horror films.

Dan Shaw is Professor of Philosophy and Film and Philosophy Department Chair at Lock Haven University. He is co-editor of Dark Thoughts: Philosophic Reflections on Cinematic Horror, with Steven Schneider, co-producer of the Paranormal Activity horror films. Shaw's additional publications include Film and Philosophy: Taking Movies Seriously, and the forthcoming, Morality and the Movies, due out in 2012. He holds a Ph.D. from Ohio State University.

About Dr. Shaw

Dr. Dan Shaw - Why We Like Horror

Like tragedy, the horror genre generates an ambivalent reaction in its appreciators. Our enjoyment of horror is clearly more problematic than, say, indulging in the pleasures of a good romantic comedy. Monsters, aliens and psychopaths, committing acts of radical and unrelenting violence, should simply disgust and repel us, and to some degree they do. But many of us also take exquisite joy in the horrifying force, in watching its carnage unfold, and in the hunt that usually results in its destruction or expulsion. Accounting for the ambivalence at the heart of our enjoyment of horror is a philosophical issue. The problem is to explain how we are both attracted to and repulsed by the monstrous threat that such a force embodies.

Various explanations of how we can be of two minds about these phenomena have been offered. Recreational terror theorists claim that it's fun to be scared, and that horror generates an adrenaline rush that is enjoyable because it is make-believe. Freudians describe monsters as embodying "the return of the repressed," gratifying the dark desires of our Id and attaining a healthy catharsis of surplus repression in the process. Formalists account for our enjoyment in terms of the narrative satisfaction of our curiosity about impossible beings, and feminists see the genre as a battleground on which the sex wars are being fought, and often won, by women. To my mind, our reaction is ambivalent because we have a negative response to the undeserved suffering caused by monsters and psycho-killers, while simultaneously taking pleasure in their display of power. We have a dual identification with both the monster and the (generally heroic) protagonists of traditional horror fictions, doubling our vicarious enjoyment.

Academic Minute Home