Nyctophilia, and the love of Grimdark Things

Nyctophilia, and the love of Grimdark Things

When I was a kid, I had an extremely irrational, and frankly, quite annoying fear of the dark. My mum and older brother who, admittedly made some very bad (good) parenting choices when raising me, kind of had a “he can handle most things” attitude. We watched the entirety of Blade 2 with Wesley Snipes when I was just 3 years old, which promptly made me release the contents of my stomach onto the living room floor after the movie ended.  I’m guessing my mum thought nothing of it, because for the next few years, I was exposed to significantly more mature and dark movies, including the horrific Grudge, which gave me extreme anxiety and sleepless nights for a few weeks even though I only watched the very end of it. My worst memory was watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban right after it was released to video. I begged my parents to buy it, but after reading a certain Tintin book and then watching the movie, I woke up that same night, having experienced my first wave of night terrors, delusional and feverish. I carried an irrational fear of werewolves for at least a decade after that. Needless to say, my mum never allowed me near Harry Potter again, and she monitored me as best as a mother working 5-7 on a normal day could. Thus began the censorship of my childhood, leading to the banning of many things including Avatar the Last Airbender, Courage the Cowardly Dog and the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. My older brother on the other hand, couldn’t care less, and we indulged in whatever suited our fancies as long as it contained no nudity or sex.  However, by the time I was 8, I could barely sleep in a lit room. My fear had also manifested into extreme anxiety and I was afraid of what I thought hid behind every post and beyond my vision.

So after this, you’d think that I would become an absolute pussy, afraid of every bump in the night with an aversion to anything remotely frightening…no. As I’ve said before, two of my favourite genres of all time are Dark Fantasy, and Grimdark. Two genres not at all for the faint of heart, with themes of excessive violence, hatred, and hopelessness. Even from as early as 11, only a year or so after the end of (most) my night terrors and sleepless nights, I was staying up until 1 AM, reaching Level 35 in CoD Black Ops Zombies with my childhood friend.  Not a year later, my friends and I would usually be huddled around a laptop playing Dead Space in the darkest hours of the night. What could illicit such a prompt recovery? Well, firstly, Dark Fantasy and Grimdark are extremely unique. They are a subgenre, and when these works of fiction reach the ears of the mainstream audience, they are extremely good. That’s because the best Grimdark authors, are extremely good writers, and they need to be in order to sell to the more tame people. There’s a reason A Song of Ice and Fire is so popular, or that Dredd 3D managed to gather some success at least, or that The Witcher series achieved widespread recognition and get turned into an incredibly popular video game series. And its not just these examples, Grimdark and Dark Fantasy pop up wherever you look, because their fan base is both loyal, and a little crazy.

Even if you don’t like them, never played, watched or read them, you’ll have heard of them and the widespread fame they illicit from their fan bases. Look at Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, Kentaro Miura’s manga Berserk, easily one of my favourite manga, and of course, the hellish Dark Souls trilogy, and my personal favourite, Bloodborne, its spiritual successor. They’re famous, and extremely good because they do something that most works of fiction don’t do. They portray a painfully realistic, depressing and morbid world, whether it is one that bears a likeness to the past, or one that hints towards a future so evil that people today would slit their throats before living one day there. I mean, admit it, you’d think twice before even considering to be a Stark in Westeros. But, in all these works, there’s an element of reality in them. Both Kentaro Miura and George R.R. Martin take inspiration from historical settings. Warhammer 40K, which has lore that stretches back to the 80s I think, paints a dark future, which, while incredibly fantastical, paints a picture of the future that is very realistic when one comes to think about it. Not the Psykers and Daemons of the Warp, but the rampant xenophobia against alien races, the fanatic worship of a man as god far surpassing zealotry, and the extermination of “heretics”. Of course, to be fair I’d hate Chaos Cultists as well…moving on.

These factors are extremely important in attracting an audience that is more mature, slightly darker, and who are not fazed by portrayals of violence, or sex, or religion that are totally unacceptable in today’s society, even if they are completely true or semi-accurate. And when theses curious minds begin to immerse themselves in these genres, they are poised with important, but highly philosophical questions of morality, “truth”, and even love. If you were to read Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire Trilogy, which is arguably on the same level, or even better than A Song of Ice and Fire, you could clearly see the similarities, as well as things that set it apart in some places, even above its rival work of fiction. These are works of fiction that portray the world with the same level of disillusionment most people get as they grow older. An Anti-Tolkien sentiment where morality is painted in monochrome shades much like it is in today’s world to those who have seen enough of the world to realise this simple fact. That life is cruel, and that to stay sane, or survive, people cling onto whatever idealogy, creed or way of life they can to justify their encroaching death at whatever time it comes. And in some ways, Grimdark helps people come to terms with that reality in a disturbing, often bloody way. That life is short, and often times unfair, and that as bad as the world truly is, we are granted some peace and amenities from which we can truly live in our own way, with our own choices, and our own repercussions.

Whatever your preferences are, Grimdark and Dark Fantasy will continue to exist so long as human malice does, which I should think, is forever. But it is a reminder of what we were, what we could be, but also, what we can prevent from happening.

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Imperial Guard Tactical Manual

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Streamlining Out of the Mainstream

Streamlining Out of the Mainstream

It is no big secret that I am a counter-culture kid. I’ve often hated mainstream media and all the trash that goes in it-not to say that all mainstream media is bad. No, some mainstream media is alright, and even good. And some of the best are the ones that have subcultures existing within them, like Doctor Who, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings and the Nier/Drakengard series. However, there are some…some that are so abhorrently mind numbing and boring, that they would surely give most people brain damage after a while, but we’ll get back to that in a bit.

For me, subcultures, countercultures, and things that often depart from the mainstream have a level of depth that only the intellectual, curious or a combination of the two, can really enjoy. To put it into perspective, let us for a moment examine the Hobbit movies, as well as the Percy Jackson movies, and their respective literary counterparts. The Hobbit was an entertaining movie, but an undeniable cash grab, consisting of irrelevant characters, two sequels, and misinterpreted scenes when compared to the phenomenal books. Contrast it to the LOTR movies, which were incredibly accurate, and in my opinion, some of the best fantasy movies of all time, filled with an amazing cast and amazing battles. In tuning the movie to the mainstream, they dumbed it down, removed crucial information, added things like female warrior elves who love dwarves, (nothing wrong with that, it happened in other Tolkien works, it’s just irrelevant to the Hobbit itself), and fucking Legolas.

Moving onto Percy Jackson. All. Fucking. Hells. It was a disgrace to the original books, which were filled with witty dialogue, strong and well fleshed out characters, and a plot that kept me hooked to my seat. The directors were obviously more interested in making money than actual delivering a riveting experience for a new and old demographic. And this tends to happen when people are too afraid to take risks, receive criticism and improve their creations. Can you imagine if they made a Star Wars short with hipster versions of our favourite characters doing mundane things like heading to Starbucks and gossiping about how fucked up the Skywalker family is. Cringe. My point is that mainstream media has this way of poisoning great things and creating media that has no value. I absolutely hate Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Jersey Shore and and most other reality shows. To be honest, I do enjoy a few, such as Catfish and Doomsday Preppers, but the number is small. That’s because to cater to the mainstream audience, to create products that will be viewed by as many people as possible, producers need to create things that will be absorbed by the masses without real question. Something that, at first resembles real drama, but is later exposed to be fake, horrible acting. Pimp my Ride is one of those shows, later revealed to be an absolute farce. Many people find excitement in watching seemingly “normal” people, if any celebrities could be called that, do both day to day things as well as extravagant things. This creates a superficial connect between the viewer and the character. In younger viewers, it makes them want to achieve it, and in older viewers, it gives them a sense of excitement, especially in their mundane day-to-day lives. That someone, somewhere has achieved this level of fame while they are living a life, not as lavish, that could have been achieved. After all, these celebrities which we have little in common with are meant to be portrayed as commoners, which is something that they definitely are not.

Despite this, however, it is an effective tactic, especially if you look at how many people watch these type of things. In the end, however, it is purely up to you as to what to watch, however, it is important to note just how poisonous mainstream media is. Feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, hating one’s own image and unrealistic expectations for one’s own life are some byproducts, and the majority of reality TV and mainstream media and pop culture achieves this easily. Breed internalized fear and inadequacy, and they’ll buy our products, watch more shows, and fall into the net more easily. Even games, cartoons, anime, manga are subjected to the thumb of mainstream media. Simply omitting popular trends from your creations might prove detrimental to your future success. Some of the worst pop culture trends of 2016 such as over-excessive use of memes, dabbing, Harambe and uninspired pop songs slither way into mainstream media because they are, as the name implies, popular. But too much of mindless TV can turn the brain to mush, and before you know it, your speech patterns will consist of memes, dabbing, pop culture references, and reminding everyone of that one episode of that one reality show.

Now, where subcultures and non mainstream media stuff diverges, is the fact that it is tailored for its target audience. It knows what type of audience will love it, and so, it’s not afraid to take risks, whether it be by being offensive, poking fun at sensitive topics, or shining through with some highly intellectual shit from time to time. Rick and Morty is one such example of a show that does all of these things, and has now become so popular that it’s popularity has shined outside of its loyal fan base and is able to attract even more fans. Some of which may become extremely loyal die hard fans like Whovians and Trekkies, or may simply be the casual watchers. Either way, this is a win-win situation for both producers and fans. And don’t think that the best non-mainstream media does not include pop culture references. They do, undoubtedly, but in a subtle, and rather impressive ways rather than seemingly revolving the shows around these things. Furthermore. they will almost always find something thought provoking to add to the mix. I have come to expect topics of existential crisis in Doctor Who, I have pondered the reality of causality in Berserk, and even dabbled in a little spiritualism during the odd Adventure Time episode.

This is because more often than not, the obscure things tend to appeal to the intellectual, and the morbidly curious. Those who are not afraid to go against conventional ideas of entertainment in search of things that perhaps raise more questions than answers. Which is why its so important to get out of comfort zones and pursue things that are not filtered by 50 other sources to make it so easy to digest. It may be a little disheartening, but in the end, an open mind is a powerful mind. Get out of your comfort zone occasionally, and explore different things. You never know, because at the end of the day, the hidden things are usually the most interesting.