Wednesday, September 11, 2013


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John Conner

I think there are certain moments in history that define a time period.  September 11, 2001, for instance, drastically changed the entire world.  There is the world pre-September 11 and the world post September 11.

The Columbine Massacre in 1999 was a similar situation.  It changed the face of school violence.  It brought attention to bullying and created an environment that caused people to ask why.  Why would these young men go into the school and kill all those people and then kill themselves?

The answer?  Violent video games and movies.

However, similar to September 11, a simplistic answer to that question provided simplistic solutions.  They ignored the history of such acts.  Short term fixes without any sense of context brought about nothing but more problems.  If anything, school violence has only intensified.

Adults have probably always feared their children.  Those rowdy and rambunctious street toughs with all their hormones and their destructive tendencies.  However, a certain crowd of kids seems to have been especially targeted since the mid 1980s.  Goth culture was an easy target.  Wearing all black, listening to scary music, having an interest in the occult and loving horror movies are immediate and simple signifiers for evil.  That diving into the dark side of the human experience was alienating to adults.

Likewise, there has always been a fear of cinema itself.  From the beginning, people thought it would be the downfall of society.  The first image of a moving train sent audiences screaming out of the theater.  For fear of corrupting the youth, different censorship groups have showed up over the years to attempt to protect us from the dangers of cinema.

This fear of goth culture started to show up in mainstream cinema as early as Blade Runner.  When it really intensified, however, was in the mid 1990s.  Films like The Crow and Interview with the Vampire appealed in a certain way as ambassadors to the dark world.  On the other hand, films like The Craft and The Lost Boys provided a much more chilling archetype of young people who dress in black.

Enter Brainscan.

This little film from 1994 is deeply ingrained in my psyche.  I can vividly remember going to my friend Cody's house and playing Resident Evil nearly every day.  We would slowly shamble through that old house as Jill (the master of unlocking) and cut down zombie dogs, killer plants and giant monsters.  Maybe it's there where my love of the macabre began.  I fell in love with zombies as a concept and sought to find anything remotely similar in tone or concept.

One afternoon, Cody and I were at the video store and picked up this crazy looking movie that Edward Furlong was in.  Edward Furlong?  wait... JOHN CONNER!?!?  Consider us invested.  The video store clerk called home to Cody's mom (my mother would never have let me rent an R rated film) and got permission to rent that sucker.  We skateboarded home as fast as we could and put that baby in the machine.  The next hour and a half was mind-blowing for our little 12 year old minds.

The basic premise is that Michael (Furlong) lost his parents in a car accident and now owns a giant house with all the sweet stuff he could ever want.  Mostly, he wants to watch horror movies and play horror video games and get with the cute girl who lives next door.  He is introduced to Brainscan, the new interactive horror video game that puts you in the driver's seat.  In the process of playing the game, he finds out that he's actually killing people and is forced to continue to kill to cover up the mess.  He's fooled into accidental murder through a video game... And the same could happen to you!  Or your kids!

Sure, the film is far from brilliant and probably never registered with anyone else the way it did me, but it's stuck with me and it was influential in it's own way.  The trope of the horror club that actually kills people in Scream is a rehash of the ideas here.  The assumption that it's the goth kids who did the murdering would become reality in West Memphis as the ritualistic murders of three young boys were falsely pinned on some teen goth kids.  The culture of fearing goth had gone mainstream.

The thing that never sat well with me in Brainscan, or the much inferior Scream, is that the cause of all this violence is movies and video games.  That same overly-simplistic answer.  As an aside, I think Wes Craven made Scream over a bloated and megalomaniac guilt over making horror movies.

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Video games and horror movies did not cause the Trench-coat mafia to open fire that day in Columbine.  It is the culture itself.  Its us.  Its our disconnect from one another.  It's the endless and ruthless bullying of the small, the weak, the weird, and the outsiders.  Its our obsession with guns.  It's the health-care system and our mis-prioritizing mental health.  Its singling out goth kids and horror kids as villains that should be feared.  It's the inability to accept people who are different.  Its a lack of listening.

It is not video games and it is not movies.  They simply feed us the innate fears we already have.  They are a way for us to interact with the darkest and deepest wells of human experience.  And, so ends Brainscan, simply a harsh nightmare that we can move past.  Or, share with others.

-J. Moret


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