I’m always amused when writers and journalists who are clearly not fans of horror movies attempt to educate the masses about our beloved genre. Last year, for example, a blogger at Vice.com postulated that horror movies are part of an ultra-right-wing conspiracy to scare people into going to Church. Yesterday, I was similarly tickled when Anne Billson of The Guardian published an article suggesting a surge in “kindergarten horror” is a reflection of 21st Century “helicopter parenting”.
Related Article: Vice Columnist Condemns Horror Movies as “Christian Propaganda”
First of all, what exactly is “kindergarten horror”? A subgenre Billson seems to have defined on her own.
If I call this “kindergarten horror”, it’s not intended as an insult (watching these spookfests with a rowdy but attentive audience can be a blast), but if you check out any recent horror movies – or even just their trailers – you’ll see the same imagery cropping up so often that it feels as though you’re stuck in a gruesome variation on Groundhog Day. Get a load of those dolls (Annabelle: Creation, Cult of Chucky, The Conjuring 3), clowns (It, Crepitus, Clowntown) or clown masks (Rock Paper Dead, Happy Death Day) and creepy kids (Ouija: Origin of Evil, Sinister 2, The Darkness) possessed by vengeful ghosts or ancient Babylonian deities.
So how does this connect to helicopter parenting?
Could this be a response to the “helicopter parenting” of the past couple of decades, in which (largely middle-class) parents have wielded unprecedented control over their offspring’s daily lives? It’s a 90-degree turn from the neglectful workaholic parents who were a regular element of John Hughes films such as The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Maybe the new cinema cliche is parents who care too much. Helicopter parents are so determined to prevent their children from being possessed by vengeful ghosts, or ancient Babylonian deities, or whatever those things are metaphors for, that they micro manage their offspring’s childhoods out of existence.
I had a good chuckle; Billson’s relationship with horror must be severely limited if she believes there is currently a surge in “kindergarten horror” (an umbrella term that is ultimately meaningless, as it encapsulates supernatural and creepy kid subgenres, as well as others). If there are more horror movies featuring dolls and kids, it merely reflects an increased quantity in overall movie productions.
Kids are a prominent, almost integral element of horror. Even if a movie doesn’t feature kids, a good horror film taps into the fears of our youths. Kids on film also get the audience’s blood racing, as they usually set up scenarios of innocence vs evil. It’s one of the most basic motifs employed.
Billson essentially concludes:
Today’s parents are keen to spend “quality time” with kids who might be better off left to their own devices – and I don’t mean the electronic kind. Every minute spent in adult company is a minute of childhood lost. Maybe horror’s dolls and clowns are the lost childhood’s way of belatedly circumventing those curbed imaginations. The popularity of TV series Stranger Things was surely connected to nostalgia for an era when adults let kids cycle off on their own to face the monsters.
While horror movies definitely reflect an era’s specific mores and anxieties, I believe the connection postulated between “kindergarten horror” and “helicopter parenting” is non-existent. First of all, for a collective anxiety to manifest in the form of a major studio, blockbuster horror movie, it has to affect more than a small subset; parents of toddlers represents such a small fraction of the overall horror-viewing audience it makes no sense to target them. Horror movies mirror our fears of terrorism, the unknown, and socio-political unrest—not a phase of life that affects first-time parents almost exclusively.
To be clear, I think Billson is smart as a whip; she’s a skilled journalist with the ability to clearly communicate complex ideas. I just think she missed the point in this case. What do you guys think?