FR: Fascinating Horror

For Real is an occasional series about scary, horrific, and unsettling stuff that presents itself as non-fiction. This might include the paranormal as well as true crime and odd occurrences. The rest of the series can be found here.

The British stand-up comedian Stewart Lee once did a routine about British attitudes towards political correctness. While the term ‘politically correct’ has been partially replaced by ‘woke’, there’s a similar degree of confusion as to what this concept actually means. In Britain, political correctness started out as an attempt to confront overt racism by claiming that the use of racist, sexist, or homophobic language falls outside of the boundaries of polite discourse. Regardless of whether or not it’s morally wrong to hurl slurs at your co-workers, it’s kind of rude. Over the years, as boundaries of politeness started to shift, people began using the term ‘political correctness’ to refer to any kind of bureaucratic meddling in existing processes. Thus, according to Lee, was born a generation of people who seem to confuse political correctness with health and safety legislation.

The reason for this slippage is that most people only encounter health and safety legislation in the context of being told that they aren’t allowed to do something they want to do. Thus, the fictional bureaucrat informing you that you’re not allowed to black up for the Christmas party has merged with the fictional bureaucrat informing you that you’re not allowed to do tequila slammers while operating a chainsaw.

But what would the world look like if we didn’t have health and safety legislation? Let Fascinating Horror entertain and inform you…

There are loads of YouTube channels devoted to horror. Most of them look almost identical: There’s the slow voice-over, the sinister backing-music, the use of stock and archival footage, and some lurid iconography that frames the whole thing.

The vibe and subject matter of these channels is determined by their position on three different axes measuring their proximity to three other genres of YouTube Channel:

  • Paranormal – Tales of monsters and folklore
  • True Crime – Tales of real-world murders
  • Engineering Projects – Tales of large-scale engineering projects

No horror channel is completely pure and there is a lot of overlap when it comes to subject matter: Some channels will deal mostly in murders and serial-killings only to occasionally dip into mysterious disappearances while other channels will deal with the same disappearances from a paranormal/Fortean perspective by stressing potential super-natural explanations for the disappearances. One example of the overlap between different approaches can be found in different treatments of the incident at the Dyatlov Pass whereby a group of Soviet hikers froze to death because they left their tent in the middle of the night without bothering to get dressed.

While all videos related to the incident acknowledge mundane explanations such as a malfunctioning stove and the way that hypothermia can manifest itself as feelings of being overly warm, some channels mention Yetis and Aliens.

Other Youtube channels mention elements of mundane conspiracy such as nuclear testing and Soviet Special Forces. And some, like Fascinating Horror, stress the most mundane of explanations.

While early Fascinating Horror videos did flirt with True Crime audiences by dealing with issues such as the Ed Gein and John List murders, later videos have tended to be positioned closer to engineering project YouTube in so far as the channel looks at disasters caused by large-scale industrial and nuclear accidents.

Fascinating Horror is a relatively new channel but it has already found its own unique angle. Indeed, while the horror motifs and lurid images do feed into Horror YouTube’s love of messed-up stuff, Fascinating Horror mostly deals almost exclusively in disasters that resulted in changes to health and safety legislation including the Aberfan mining disaster, the Beverley Hills Supper Club fire, and the Enschede Fireworks Incident.

These are three of my favourite Fascinating Horror videos as they show the astonishing carnage that can come from a lack of proper health and safety enforcement regime. For example, in the Aberfan mining disaster, a mining company were allowed to build a massive slag heap on a ledge above a town resulting in thousands of tons of rock tumbling down the hill and burying a school: Hundreds of kids, dead in a matter of minutes. As is often the case in Britain, the company in question was run by a peer of the realm and, despite making a lot of noises about assuming full responsibility, the mining company fought tooth and nail to avoid paying out a single penny to the parents of the children they had just negligently murdered. When the channel talked about how politicians would warn of the ‘dangers’ of giving a load of money to working class families, I was reminded of a lot of the discourse that surrounded the Grenfell tower fire. A similar vibe permeates the video about the Enschede Fireworks incident as that involved a small factory near a residential area growing larger and larger while being slowly enveloped by the town. Given that the fireworks company was providing jobs and developers were growing the town’s tax base by building houses closer and closer to a dangerous factory, no Dutch politician thought it right to complain. When the company’s lax safety protocols resulted in a fire, the explosion took out not just the factory but loads of nearby houses as well.

The primary underlying message of Fascinating Horror is that, left unsupervised, humans will kill themselves at an alarming rate: A band will turn up late to an over-sold gig and dozens of people will be crushed to death waiting to come in. Someone will aggressively market a concert to children and worry less about safety than people sneaking in resulting in hundreds of children being crushed to death for the sake of some cheap toys thrown into the audience at a Christmas concert. The incidents described in Fascinating Horror have these extraordinary death tolls, all resulting from people cutting corners and everyone in power conveniently looking the other way.

The second, more interesting, message of Fascinating Horror is that people in power would rather choke the rivers with your lifeless corpses than spend a single penny to protect you: They will allow several people to be decapitated in the exact same way before they think to build higher fences or put up more signs. They will dress themselves in full radiation suits in order to attend meetings informing people that they are perfectly safe and don’t need any protection from radiation. They will tell you to ignore the funny smell and not evacuate the city while the sewers fill with gasoline resulting in an explosion that injures and mains hundreds and makes 15,000 people homeless in one of the poorest cities on Earth.

The central message of Fascinating Horror is that the ruling class want you dead. Unless you are giving them your money, you are in the way and even then you could probably stand to give them more money than you currently are. They will watch you burn, drown, suffocate and die of radiation sickness rather than eat into their profits. The only thing preventing our wholesale slaughter under the existing political system is health and safety legislation. Without it, we would be dying in our thousands while the ruling class pays someone a month’s rent to scatter salt on some mediocre food in a somewhat amusing fashion.

One of the most interesting works of cosmic horror to appear in the last 20 years is Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia. What that book does is look at the amount of death and misery created in the shadow of the oil industry and presents the information in a way that makes it look as though oil were a kind of Lovecraftian deity. The fact that most of Fascinating Horror’s videos describe hundreds of people dying so that a handful of people could make a little bit more money conjures a similar vibe. Rather than viewing health and safety legislation as a bureaucratic imposition, maybe we should view it for what it is: A thin, fragile circle of salt struggling to protect us from the gods of capitalism.

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