Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Horror, Puberty, and Ryan Gosling: An Existential Look at GOOSEBUMPS

Much as The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton, my soul was claimed by horror on the pages of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. 

A fraction of my collection.

It was probably also where my propensity for binge-watching began. I could knock out a couple of these slim novels in a day, and there were always more. As I transitioned into Poe, Lovecraft, and King, though, Goosebumps was relegated into the Sweet Valley High Memorial File of Series I Don’t Read Anymore. There was a frisson of recognition when I sat down to watch I Know What You Did Last Summer and realized that I did, in fact, know what they did then and what they were going to do when a crazed fisherman begins picking them off one by one. What really got me nostalgic for Goosebumps was seeing there was a streaming television series!

Whereas detective fiction is classically concerned with introducing disorder so order can be reimposed, the mystery solved, the truth found and justice done, horror is a genre that excavates chaos—how the unexpected can (and does) erupt into our lives and there will be no promise that the center will hold even if the monster is vanquished. Horror shows us that order itself is a fiction. Sounds a lot like high school, doesn’t it?


I want to revisit Goosebumps to see how it imagines chaos in the setting of adolescence, so the biffle and I chose “Say Cheese and Die." 

For obvious reasons.

The plot follows three kids who sneak into the abandoned factory where the local creeper lives.

Twin Peaks fans, sorry for any "Bob" flashbacks.

One walks off with what looks to me like a space helmet for a hydrocephalic alien, 

Would you think camera?

but they immediately recognize as a camera. Oh! And did I mention that the kid who ganks the camera is 





It turns out the camera photographs not what it is pointed at, but what the subject is pointed towards. The camera works Polaroid-style, and the image reveals an impending disaster--a fall, a car crash, a disappearance. As the episode progresses, it seems that the camera actually causes these disasters. Ryan Gosling reluctantly takes a photo of his friend, she doesn't appear in the print, and later disappears. Gosling is a baby-faced Cassandra in this episode, explaining that the camera is evil while his friends and enemies alike request, with a baffling insistency, that he take their picture. Had these kids never seen a camera before? The episode concludes with Ryan Gosling trapping the creeper in the camera . . . only to have him released by the local jocks/bullies, upon whom he seems about to open a can of whup-ass when the screen fades to black.

What does this say about adolescence? That when we're teens, our own bodies are hurtling towards a fate we can dimly glimpse, and it's terrifying. The narcissism that propels us prescribes a future that cannot be resisted, only documented. Also: Ryan Gosling.

Hey girl. Goosebumps rules.

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