Recently, I published a piece on IGN about Control and the weird and “New Weird” subgenre of horror. To me, what makes this such an essential genre is how it taps into the two conflicting realisations: our need for answers and our recognition of the vastness and weirdness of the universe in which we live, enduring an existence that will never result in such answers.
The “New Weird” for the creators of Control taps into balancing wonder with mystery, indicating something vast, neverending without allowing moments to investigate. To me, this is has a similar effect to witnessing something beautiful but instead of speaking to something numinous or transcendent in a good way, it speaks to our small stature in a vast universe, our minimal existence spinning in a tiny corner of the universe to be snuffed out without concern to anyone else other than those spinning with us.
Authors currently operating in the “New Weird” are those like M John Harrison, China Miéville, Jeff VanderMeer, David Mitchell, Cixin Liu, Octavia Butler and NK Jemisin. Elivia Wilk defines the weird as
“is an element or zone or experience that is not completely explainable according to our current structures for categorizing the world. And yet it exists: we can come in contact with it, experience it, and try to describe it, knowing description will fall short.”
Jeff VanderMeer defines the New Weird in a specific way:
New Weird is a type of urban, secondary-world fiction that subverts the romanticized ideas about place found in traditional fantasy, largely by choosing realistic, complex real-world models as the jumping off point for creation of settings that may combine elements of both science fiction and fantasy. New Weird has a visceral, in-the-moment quality that often uses elements of surreal or transgressive horror for its tone, style, and effects – in combination with the stimulus of influence from New Wave writers or their proxies
I used to think that explaining what it is like to be the target of racism is akin to describing colour to someone who cannot see. However, since reading the weird and new weird subgenre, the illustrations and feelings these stories elicit have a lot of resonance as someone who has experienced racism.
To put it in terms of the new weird: White supremacy is about current structures in the world, ones we all come into contact with and experience yet know our “description will fall short” (to use Wilk’s phrase). To describe being targeted by someone who sees you as beneath them in terms of humanity, by virtue of your skin colour, is inexplicable until you realise the structures that have facilitated such a viewpoint. Consider, too, the evolution of such viewpoints, which mostly do not come in a white hood or wearing Nazi regalia, but claim universal themes such as “economics” or “realist” or “asking the hard questions.”
Not being a racist, for many people, means merely not being an outright racist – such as shouting racist slurs. But that ignores the towering structures that linger in the world that maintain white supremacy. Like alien monoliths hanging for no reason in the middle of the landscape, oppression doesn’t dissipate because we ignore it. We know its presence: even if you’ve never been a target of those structures, you at least know they exist.
Contrast this to Control. There, Jesse is not affected the Hiss but she sees the effects around her and does what she can to fight it. She’s not being possessed, she doesn’t need magic machines to prevent this. Jesse is like a white friend who calls out other white people when they do something bigoted.
White supremacy doesn’t require you to be on the receiving end of racist slurs to know it exists. It hangs and ebbs and slithers its way throughout society: we see it in how white people disproportionately control much of the world, retain its wealth, are treated in media, sentencing in justice systems and so on.
James Baldwin once said to be a black person in the United States “and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” Importantly, “Part of the rage is this: it isn’t only what is happening to you, but it’s what’s happening all around you all of the time, in the face of the most extraordinary and criminal indifference, the indifference and ignorance of most white people in this country.”
One of oppression’s most powerful tools is the immunisation via indifference. To tell them structures are there, but they refuse or cannot see, it creates a feeling of constant anxiety, fear, anger, frustration. The new weird often taps into that frustration and the fear that results: You can see the blades swinging, see the blood it draws, but so many who should help cannot and will not.
If you play or read the new weird, know that the dread it delivers – of knowing and yet of being helpless, of reaching yet never grasping – is very similar to what a lot of us who are targets of racist structures have felt.