Dissertation Corner with Rebecca Scott: Moral Panic and 20th-Century Horror

In this week’s instalment of Dissertation Corner, Rebecca Scott tells us all about her project on moral panic and 20th-Century horror movie!

Focusing on three distinct periods in history; the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s, my dissertation aims to explore the effects of Moral Panics upon the horror genre. Coined by Stanley Cohen in 1972, a moral panic in the most basic sense is ‘the process of arousing social concern over an issue,’ that is often overexaggerated through mass media platforms. A controversial genre at the end of the 1960s, Horror has endured infamous media speculation from its relationship with heavy metal to the link to the rising satanic panic and video nasties. Parental fear and morbid curiosity took over.

When it came to deciding on the texts, I would use to argue my points I struggled. At first, I researched the rise in Splatter punk novels, such as Nick Cutter’s ‘The Troop,’ which focused on the graphic mutilation of the body in order to create shock value within a novel. Struggling to find both critical pieces and novels that I felt comfortable discussing, I reverted my focus to contemporary horror, reading Josh Malerman’s 2014 novel ‘Bird Box,’ Lauren Beukes’ ‘Broken Monsters,’ and Stephen Kings’ 1982 story ‘The Running Man.’ Yet, as I found with my previous research, I struggled to find a link between the three pieces, especially considering the drastic gap in relation to time periods. After numerous discussions with my advisor, in which we discussed the concept of the moral panic in relation to the time periods mentioned previously, I eventually chose to focus on Stephen Kings ‘Carrie,’ and the emphasis on the sexual liberation of females in 1970s, ‘Misery,’ and the excessive and possessive nature of the 1980s and finally, ‘Gerald’s Game,’ in relation to the rise of possessive and sexual destruction of the 1990s.

However, I must admit that during the proposal stage of the dissertation I was torn between both my interest in Horror and my interest in Post-apocalyptic Science Fiction. Being given the opportunity to finish your undergraduate degree focusing on a topic that is specific, special even, to you is both exciting and rather daunting. On the one hand it allows you to focus on a specific subject that you may have not focused on since secondary school, or one that you may not have focused on at all. Yet, for me somebody who struggles with the simplest of decisions, this proved stressful. What if there wasn’t enough critical material? What if I started writing but then didn’t enjoy it? Or it wasn’t perfect?

It was questions and stress like this that has made working alongside an academic advisor a vital part in creating a piece to the best of my ability. Having the opportunity to talk through my ideas face to face as well as discussing corrections, ideas etc, with someone who has a shared interest allows me to not only continue to learn and enjoy my topic and genre further but also drives me to create a brilliant piece of work to bring an end to my undergraduate journey. Something I hope will continue to flourish as I work towards a PHD in the future.