so i’ve noticed a trend in tags on my pacific northwest gothic posts that i’m finding interesting, yet (more than) slightly frustrating, because i love gothic americana and i think adapting southern gothic to other parts of america is a fantastically great idea, but it’s pretty obvious that a lot of people don’t actually understand what makes southern gothic, and therefore any gothic americana genre, different than just plain old gothic literature. so. i’m here to hopefully clear that up.
while southern gothic, as a genre, emerged from gothic literature, it didn’t stop there: taking the Romanticism-meets-horror style and trappings of its parent genre and using it to depict the very real horror of the american south (adopting the culture, characters, and themes appropriate of that setting) transformed it into a sort of grotesque magical realism, and a both powerful and captivating new form of literary social critique.
from there, you can transplant the idea into any region in america, adjust the story elements, themes, and settings as appropriate, and use it to critique any part of our society. with these devices, you tell a true story, but you tell it like a horror story, and it forces us to realise that the truth is horrific, and the monsters are real.
where gothic literature might give you a ghost just to have a ghost, gothic americana gives you a ghost to show you who it was before it died, who and what killed it, why it died, what it died for, and who it haunts. and ultimately, gothic americana gives you a ghost to haunt you. the horror of gothic americana is the reality of american culture, wherever and whenever it’s set. it’s not about the ghost itself, it’s about what the ghost represents, and how the characters and setting around it are presented. the gothic elements are really just there to give you the tools to tell a horror story about reality.
which is to say, it’s almost a realer kind realism, one that gets away with a special strange kind of brutal honesty by hiding the real monsters under a thin veneer of exaggerated, supernatural monsters, and then slowly but surely peeling back that veneer. in the end, it’s clear that the real things that go bump in the night are the harsh, dark, even grotesque secrets and facts and figures of the way things really are. the chill running down your spine is because you realise this isn’t your average ghost story, and you can’t outrun it just by closing the book, because the real monsters turn out to have been us all along.
which, you know, is pretty fucking cool if you ask me