Chess, Shira. When You See it You’ll S**t Bricks: Rethinking Horror Aesthetics in Digital Spaces. Presentation at the Rhetorical Society of America, Atlanta, GA, May 26-29.
Abstract: The scary stories we tell have meaning. The things that go bump in the night, the things we are terrified by, the monsters that creep under our beds and lurk outside our windows – those are the monsters that have both personal meaning and cultural relevance. Yet medium is also a factor that dictates how a scary story is told and the relationship that is ultimately held between the audience and teller. Emerging technologies, though, have begun to change the nature of storytelling; storyteller and audience are no longer as distinct as they once may have been. At the same time, new modes of horror have emerged based on the constraints of the format: horror online needs to appeal to viewers with divided attentions, creating a new set of aesthetic markers. This paper will survey several examples of online horror aesthetics, including shock gifs, creepypastas, forum horror (such as /r/nosleep and 4chan’s /x/), as well as YouTube horror series (such as Daywalt horror and Marble Hornets). In creating a new set of signposts for aesthetic guidelines in online horror, the goal of this study is to better understand how digital horror reflects an evolving cultural anxieties.