I be highbrow horror, it’s true.

I made a discovery recently.  I was looking into the mirror and saw something.  That something was my brow.  I think it’s a little higher, now.  I’m not talking about my hairline (though if I was talking about my hairline, I’d be freaking out, because, if I’m allowed a shred of vanity, or anti-vanity, I’d be the ugliest bald man alive, I need my hair, oh please, I need it).  I pulled out a handy-dandy tape measurer and discovered, yes, my brow is indeed high.  A highbrow, as it were.

What am I talking about?  Within the horror small press community you hear talk of the highbrows vs the lowbrows.

While I’ve been aware of recent squabbles about pay rate in the SF/F community (and I do hope to add my two cents to that next week), I tend to pay more attention to horror’s own dysfunctional band.  And it’s the frankly childish (to be kind) highbrow/lowbrow complaint from the self-described lowbrows that never fails to make me want to pull out my own precious, precious hair.

A few examples I’ve recently stumbled upon:

1) This from a book that I enjoyed and would recommend.  From Rocky Wood’s and Justin Brook’s impressive compendium of Stephen King’s non-fiction, was their wildly misplaced and misguided commentary on a critic of King’s Dance Macabre, of whom the editors said, “Perhaps feeling she should look down, high browed upon the best selling up start, she continued…”
At the root of most HBvLB comments seems to be the knee-jerk sting of criticism.  If an editor/reviewer/reader criticized my work (or what I like) and therefore they, like the giant mutant ants THEY!(um…I know the giant mutant ants are THEM!, but I wanted to work that in there somehow, all right?), are the highbrows, the elite, looking down upon the dirty genre work, holding me down, etc.

Okay, I’ll bite.  Hey LBs out there.  You need to learn how to deal with criticism better.  Okay?  It’ll make you happier.  I promise.  Even us HBs get bad reviews (usually from the LBs…I’m kidding, I’m kidding!).  Believe me, I’ve had plenty of bad reviews and rejections.  I, as a higbrow, have even been trumped in highbrowness!  An editor at one of the big houses told my agent that The Little Sleep was “too much Chandler, not enough Lethem” (insinuating the book wasn’t literary enough).  Of course another house told me my book was “too literary for their line.”  So I got it from both sides.  Hey, now.

2) From blog post written by Kurt Newton:

Clearly he’s talking tongue in cheek in this passage.  But.  But the problem is, within the context of the larger blog post, he’s not.  We HB truly are “glower(ing) condescendingly with eyebrow raised (as only a Highbrow can do).”
If you read horror message boards (please don’t) regularly you see this language cropping up all the time.  All. The. Time.  Wine and cheese, snobs, look down their nose, references to effete NYC editors/critics who aren’t, you know, male and horror-tough, or you even get called a ‘beret wearing faggot’ as Nick Mamatas was once (and there’s the origin of his beret LJ icon for those who didn’t know).  Invariably, the self-defined LBs react to criticism and advice from other writers (usually…oh no, another HB term coming…professional writers) by stomping feet and lobbing insults.

Translation:  The Elite Horror Cabal is holding the masses down.  And, really, what previously denied population has had its publishing fortunes changed by desktop publishing? Do you mean middle and upper-class Americans who can afford computers, printers, and the Lulu.com publishing fees?  Thank goodness that they can publish now and stick it to the man.

I do agree with Kurt (who is a good fiction writer, though his stake the HBvLB baffles me to no end) that defining “literary horror” can be slippery.  I tried to tread carefully on a brief attempt at a definition for the PHANTOM anthology (boiled down: lit horror does not fail as art).  If I failed miserably in my attempt at definition, I apologize.

What I won’t apologize for is wanting more than boobs and blood in horror fiction.  I won’t apologize for criticizing misogynistic, torture porn crap that comprises way too much horror.  I won’t apologize for hating the zombie mashup crap.  I won’t apologize for vomiting into my own mouth when I see what non-Stephen King horror books are stocked in Borders.  I won’t apologize for telling new writers not to go the Lulu or Publish America route.  I won’t apologize for pointing out the irony (oh now, gone all HB again) of the chest-thumping, macho, too-brutal-for-your-grandma writers who throw tantrums when criticized and scream and wail about the mean old HBs holding them down.  And!  And!  (more irony)  These are the same people who will complain that horror has been ghettoized an they aren’t taken seriously as writers.

Finally, I won’t apologize for daring to read horror fiction critically, or discuss it…gasp…intellectually.

If that makes me a highbrow, then, bring it on.  And make me a hat that accentuates my highbrow, please.

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