I watch a lot of horror movies. It’s fun because either it’s a great movie that intrigues, frightens, and engages me. Or it’s a terrible movie and I get the schadenfreude of watching a group of interchangeable idiots blunder into well deserved deaths (bearing in mind I clearly separate the actors from the interchangeable idiot characters they’re portraying. I don’t wish harm on any real people). One thing that all these movies (good or bad) have in common is the idea of isolation. The idea of isolation is actually a corner stone of the whole horror genre. It doesn’t have to be literally isolating the protagonists (though that is an effective way of doing it) but rather cutting them off from any outside help. Trapping them in the horrific circumstances they find themselves in. It’s getting rid of the cell phone coverage, collapsing the bridge, and boarding up all the doors. It’s making the thing follow them wherever they go, and then having it disappear the moment a police officer shows up. All horror media, good and bad, tries to get you to feel the fear of being in immediate and constant danger, and then heightens that fear by removing your ability to simply run away.
Reading about the shootings that happened in Atlanta, GA last Tuesday (March 16, 2021), I felt actually afraid. Eight people were killed in cold blood, six of them Asian. The shooter specifically said that he, “wanted to remove the temptation of Asian women,” because he was ashamed of wanting to have sex with them. Until I read those lines I believed I’d always treated racism with indignant anger. It was wrong, dehumanizing, and morally bankrupt. All the rationalization around it used double think trickery, half truths, or otherwise ignored commonly known facts and human decency. But racism had never affected me to the level where I felt afraid. I’ve dealt with it plenty of times. I’ve been called a “work stealing chink,” a “fucking rice eater,” and been pointedly ignored and all but refused service at stores in certain areas. But it’s always been physically harmless and often comical (‘Rice eater?’ Really? ‘Rice eater?’ because NO dishes in Western cuisine use rice). Even reading various articles I managed to rationalize away my fears. They just beat the hell out of this man. They just jailed this person and took their money. As long the racism never escalated to actual death (in recent history (that I was aware of)) I’d always be alive to recover.
As an aside: That thought process is a great benchmark of just how terrible things are in the United States right now. Racists can physically attack me, steal all my stuff, and legally blame me for it, but as long as they don’t outright kill me, I refuse to be afraid. Can you imagine a white person thinking like that? Setting the bar so low that “not killing me” was the line that a group of ‘others’ weren’t allowed to cross? As opposed to constant exploitation? Or physical and emotional beatings? Or outright robbery with the law siding against the victim?
Anyway, reading about how a madman murdered six Asians in cold blood, and how law enforcement condoned it saying, “He had a bad day,” stripped away my facade of anger. I was afraid, I realized I’d been afraid the whole time and was just using my anger to hide from my fear. I’d been spinning the facts the same way racists spun facts just so I could keep moving instead of being paralyzed with fear everyday of my life. But now I encountered proof I couldn’t spin, couldn’t turn into anger.
So, I panicked. I started making plans to move out of the country. I looked up potential new countries, started listing various organizations I’d need to contact to let them know, starting thinking about what to do with all my stuff. And made the obligatory social media posts proclaiming my intent to leave.
“I wanna get out so bad, I don’t think I could ever escape tho. Most places aren’t likely to take a disabled nobody.” Amidst various ‘likes’ and comments about well wishes, that comment stood out, shocked me out of my panic.
Remember at the start of the article when I mentioned that ‘isolation’ was one of the (if not the most important) cornerstone of the horror genre? Imagine you live in a world where any time, any day, someone could rob you, or rape you, or yes, even murder you. Because they don’t like your skin color, because they don’t like your gender, because they don’t like whom you fell in love with. If/when these crimes happen you can’t go to law enforcement, because law enforcement and the justice system have sided against people like you over and over since those institutions were founded. And that everyday when you wake up, no matter how much you try to be a good person, how much you help others, or refuse to harm others, someone might kill you because of something you have no control over. Can you imagine the strain of needing to live with that fear everyday of your life? Of having it internalized because the governing bodies of that world sided against you for the very same circumstances that you were murdered? Now imagine that you’re trapped there. That broken, hateful society is all that exists for you across all time.
I’m guessing many of you can’t imagine it, you’ll come up with some reason that it would never happen to you. And I’m guessing too many of you don’t have to imagine it, you live it everyday.
I’m lucky. I have money, connections, and can appear able bodied and cis-gendered enough that I can escape. Living in America isn’t a horror movie for me because I’m not isolated, I can just leave. But it takes time, and money, and effort. And so many people, so many of my friends just don’t have that. They work a full work week and then some, and they’ll never make any more than subsistence wages. They’ll never have the time and emotional energy it takes to find an escape because they have to spend all their efforts in just staying alive. They’re living in a collective horror movie, The American Nightmare.
I’m not going to leave the United States. There’s too much I can still do to help. I’m still giving to civil defense funds, progressive politics, and helping the houseless. My guilt would eat me alive if I left knowing there was still more I could do to help out. Though who knows what the future holds? One day I might be pushed too far and actually leave. Or maybe I’ll spend all my resources trying to fight an unwinnable fight, and join everyone else in The American Nightmare. At least I know I’ll be in good company.