2020/04/25

The Violent Unknown Event: Diegetic Horror

I'm not a huge fan of blog posts about definitions, but (as far as I can tell), there isn't one for this genre. "Conspiracy Horror" might work, but I prefer "Diegetic Horror". Horror, or something like horror, that is created by in-setting materials.

Defining the Genre
-Primarly diegetic media (public service announcements, posters, documentaries, game shows, etc.)
-The Event is not defined. We do not see The Event occur or learn exactly what it is, but details and hints are present. 

-Horrifying details are presented blandly and dispassionately, or with inappropriate emphasis.
-Connections are implied. The audience is encouraged to put the pieces together.
-The camera is not a participant.

This genre is distinct from found footage horror films, where the viewpoint is a participant or direct witness to The Event, or films where The Event occurs and is later fully, or mostly, explained.

The Falls (1980)

It is not recorded what Orchard thinks of the Violent Unknown Event, and he is very noncommittal about any opinion concerning the Responsibility of Birds, though in an unguarded  moment, he has described his enemy as The Fox. This might be no more enigmatic than a reference to his profession as a seller of chicken wire. 
-The Falls, Entry 1: Orchard Falla
The world has been struck by a mysterious incident called the "Violent Unknown Event" or VUE, which has killed many people and left a great many survivors suffering from a common set of symptoms: mysterious ailments (some appearing to be mutations of evolving into a bird-like form), dreaming of water (categorised by form, such as Category 1, Flight, or Category 3, Waves) and becoming obsessed with birds and flight. Many of the survivors have been gifted with new languages. They have also stopped aging, making them immortal (barring disease or injury).
-Wikipedia
The Falls is deadpan, absurd, and brilliant. The trailer covers the basic format. It might not be the origin of this genre, but I suspect it's more influential than people think.

Local 58

A perfectly ordinary local television station. Though I think "Contingency" (linked above) is the best short they've produced, "Weather" is closest to pure Event media.
 

The Event - Mitchell and Web

Stock up on basic supplies. A suitable shopping basket would include sand, tinned tomatoes, and six hundred toilet rolls. Get your supplies early, as smaller shops may run out of sand.
A series of linked skits about The Event, beginning (chronologically) with an eerie PSA and ending with a slowly collapsing game show.
   

Welcome to Night Vale

A long-running podcast styled as a small town radio program. It's famous enough to have books in big book stores, so presumably it doesn't need an introduction.

Scarfolk Council

An image-based blog about an imaginary town where it's always the '70s. Always.  Some posts are closer to current political satire than Diagetic Horror, but there are some superbly eerie posts buried in the archives.
 

The Mystery Flesh Pit

A relatively new, location-specific blog about a fictional national park. The author's found the perfect mix of deeply disturbing and utterly banal details.
 

Debatable Media

-Lessons Of Darkness (1992)
 -The Visit (2015). I've been unable to locate a copy of the full film, but the trailer, stripped of context, seems to qualify.

-The SCP foundation, if you stick to some of the early articles only and ignore the vast realms of explanatory fluff that have sprung up over the years.
-Bits of The League of Gentlemen apply.

 
If you've got other suggestions, post them in the comments.
 

Why Do I Love This Genre?

First, it tickles the human need to pattern match and problem solve. A web of connections is presented; the reader is rewarded for making connections and catching obscure internal references. There's craft to appreciate.

Humans are also very good at adapting to remarkably terrible world-changing events. There's a reason this genre tends towards '50s-'70s aesthetics; the first age of mass media, looming feasible global apocalpyses, and cheerfully dreadful government announcements.

Since we're in the middle of "The Event" right now, we can watch euphemisms and jargon go from strange to common in real time. "Flatten the curve", "social distancing," "N95", "isolation", etc; without context, a current news report sent back in time 1 year would be as alarming and interesting as anything in "The Falls".

So sit back, relax, enjoy the Event, and consider the Theory of the Responsibility of Birds. Or perhaps of Bats.

11 comments:

  1. Easily my favorite kind of horror. I know I have the term "media-liminal" scribbled in a notebook somewhere as my own term for this (diagetic works a lot better)

    I will argue the point on Night Vale, though, as I never found it a convincing radio show (and so never really got into it)

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    1. Night Vale leans into the "absurdity" angle more than most of the genre does.

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    2. This is fair. I guess it depends on how weird your local radio was, because some bits of Night Vale (of the handful of episodes I listened to) are surprisingly apt. Other bits, less so.

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  2. I was just watching Babylon 5 again, and some of the most significant and dramatic events in the storyline take place as main characters seeing them on the news. They spend several episode slowly building tension in the background that something big might be happening at some undetermined point in the future if the main characters can't resolve the simmering conflict.
    And then with no warning or foreshadowing, the news announce reports of a violent uprising breaking up and the military being deployed to retaliate.
    It's a storytelling method that I've never really seen used like that anywhere else, and one that I only think works on TV. Really quite fascinating to watch.

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    1. They used it in this aweful "The Walking Dead" prequell in the first few episodes.
      Also this method is used in a couple of video games, where you hear stuff that sounds like background fluff, until it suddenly isn't.

      Also Chris Kutalik's "News from the Hill Cantons" on his blog seem to fall in a similar genre.
      One part "What the players did last time seen trough the eyes of an bystander", one part "Adventure hooks", and one part "This might be background stories, or adventures to come".

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  3. Looks like The Visit is a youtube movie. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bv8sLljJoc4

    I really do enjoy this sort of thing. Though a lot of time I haven't actually considered it horror. Might just be because I'm a little weird, but several of the things you showed as examples I kind of consider to be absurdist comedy. Night Vale often falls into that realm for me. At least when I listened to it on a regular basis. Still, some good stuff you linked that I'll have to check out. The flesh pit and station 58 in particular.

    For more RPG stuff in a more general vein, the old Shadowrun sourcebooks are some of my favorite game books because they were like 95% in-game text. Renraku Arcology: Shutdown in particular was pretty close to horror, as was the adventure Universal Brotherhood and Bug City, the stuff about insect spirits.

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  4. The Mystery Flesh Pit is an adventure location in the making.

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  5. I've been listening to the Magnus Archives podcast lately and it uses this genre as a framing device. The workers at the Archive are slowly putting the pieces together (though I haven't finished season 1 yet, so I've got a ways to go), but much of the show fits this mold quite well - especially once they break from the formula of simply recording previous statements.

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  6. There was a series on Something Awful that used this trick until the end when it transferred to a narrative structure.

    https://www.somethingawful.com/series/that-insidious-beast/

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