Horror Films: Current Research on Audience Preferences and Reactions

By James B. Weaver III; Ron Tamborini | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Gender-Socialization Theory of Reactions to Horror

Dolf Zillmann University of Alabama James B. Weaver III Auburn University

This chapter extends the proposal that adolescent enthrallment with horror, with cinematic horror in particular, derives from the rites of passage in ancient societies characterized by strong gender segregation along protector-protectee lines ( Zillmann & Gibson, chap. 2, this volume). More specifically, it is suggested that the practice of gender segregation in hunter-gatherer cultures may have undergone changes, but that it has never been abolished and that modern society has continued to place men into agonistic and women into sedentary roles. Although the utility of such segregation has been compromised, the archaic dichotomization has persisted. Societal precepts still force men into provider and protector roles, and they still encourage women to seek men's protection and to show dependence in these terms. As in earlier times, adolescent men and women are expected to prepare for these societally prescribed gender roles. However, unlike earlier times, formal rituals testing their accomplishments in this regard -- rites of passage into adulthood -- no longer exist. Adolescents of modern society have to demonstrate their compliance with societal precepts in alternative social contexts, and we suggest that going to the movies provides such a context. Societally prescribed emotional maturation may be exhibited to peers and others, for instance, by laughing, crying, and cussing at appropriate times during exposure to events featured in cinematic fiction. More important here, fearlessness and the ability to protect may be signaled by not blinking an eye when confronted with cinematic horror. Analogously, fearfulness and a need for protection may be signaled by showing acute distress. Could it be, then, that the horror movie, by providing a forum for the exhibition of societally appropriate emotional maturation, serves as a rite of passage for modern times? Could it be that this

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