Have you ever seen one of those horror films where a group of teenagers is stranded in a forest or some random scary location? They are usually set in places that are not recorded on any map system regardless of the advancements of technology. The Maryland woods are popular for this kind of thing. For some reason, these kids (usually between the ages of 18 and 25) always think it is a good idea to take a summer vacation in places called Camp Death Trap or the Murderous Woods. You must have seen at least one of these films. They seem to be floating everywhere; at any given point in time Hollywood has at least two teenage slash fests.
The stories are always the same. Always. This lost group of adolescents winds up in their soon-to-be gruesome execution in the same repetitive manner: someone at some point suggest that they take a turn they all know they should not take. Or in some teenage fuelled angst, they abandon all parental control and decide to fall off the grid by taking a road trip to the most absurd locations in the US.
The group usually has around five or six members and the characters that make up the troop are perennial. There is a jock who acts a lot tougher than he actually is. Through a combination of steroids and good old American football he becomes the leader of the group, bossing everyone around with his alpha maleness. More often than not, he gets most of the crew killed through his poor decision making.
Then there is a nerd as well. No one ever pays any attention to him (most of the time it is a guy) since he is a nerd after all. Who listens to nerds anyway?
Just to toss in some colour, there is a black guy or a black girl. They usually die first. It is a written Hollywood rule that if you are black, you are prime death material. This never makes sense to me though: I know for a fact that in any given situation – whether it is running from the riot police or a dog that has jumped its fence – a black person will outpace any white person in a Porsche. How a crazy axe-murderer even catches a black person has never really been explained to me. Another question that keeps me up at night – when the mosquitoes are not – is what a black person was doing going on a camp with five white people to the middle of nowhere. Whenever I find that I am the only black person in a group of friends I call a friend over to increase the chances of my survival: one lone black man = death; two = f*** this Freddy Krueger b**** up!
There might be other characters as well, but these are not important, they are usually just massacre fodder for whatever machete-swinging murderer is lurking in the woods, park, house or building the unfortunate group finds themselves in.
The script is generally the same – everyone knows how the script plays out. The manner in which the characters die might be a creative, but the order in which they die is not: we all know who pegs first.
It’s the black guy. By hook or crook, the black guy will die. Black people in horror films seem to lose all of the common street sense they have in real life. Basic things that are second nature to people with our skin colour: don’t go into dark rooms, don’t go to places that are not on a map; don’t trust white people when they say the lake is perfect to swim in; don’t go camping with white people and most of all, don’t stick around when people start losing bits of them in a more than figurative way. All of these survival instincts we have developed over thousands of years are instantaneously forgotten as soon as someone mentions a road trip.
But these are the movies we are talking about, and as soon as a camera is pointed at a black man, all common sense goes out of the window. It’s why he dies first. Occasionally he or she makes it past the first round of butchering but never the second. There is an uncanny feeling of disappointment when a black person makes it to the credits – it seems so…unreal.
After that, the nerd disappears in strange circumstances. This seems to be the lot of the nerds – for a long while they are the voice of reason and the source of survival savoir faire until the group turns a corner and lose their nerd. In the really cheap films the nerds are presumed to be dead, in the more expensive franchises they at least decapitate them in a gruesome manner. But it is pretty settled; after the black people, the nerds are next.
And then the high school slut dies in a spray of bloody intestines and virginity that was given up too soon and too fast. This usually leaves the awkward girl with the muscle-bound idiot of a jock who miraculously survives every swing of the axe and other perils that should have separated his hormone-taking torso from his useless head ages ago. They survive the experience, they kiss and then the credits roll up. End of the horror film. We all know this script.
What I specifically like about these films is not the acting – which is always terrible – or the script. There is only one aspect of these films I truly enjoy: the looks of fear the unlucky group shares when people start vanishing without warning. I find the panicked screams they make when they turn a corner and run face into meat hook with a fedora-wearing accident of plastic surgery amusing. When the unfortunate band of campers is trekking through a forest and people are swallowed up by holes and dark recesses of trees, I could laugh myself into hysterics.
I like seeing the fear of their faces – perhaps because I know it is not me in the situation – and the feeling of inevitability when bits of high school slut are being sprayed everywhere by a chainsaw. But at the same time, I hate it.
You see, it is because I know that feeling quite well. Mind you, I have not been trapped in any Saw or Nightmare on Elm Street scenarios, but with the current AIDS rates in Africa and the rest of the world, it feels as though I am in one hormone-driven horror script that has everyone starring in it. There are jocks, there are nerds, there are losers, and there are athletes, presidents, doctors, lawyers, gays, lesbians, you…me.
One minute we are all laughing and smiling, the next everything is deathly serious, trying to piece back the pieces to see where it all went wrong. And one by one, people start disappearing.
It is scary – not scary in the way you feel afraid when you see a spider or a lizard. No, this is genuine mind-numbing fear, the kind that seeps right down to your bones when you realise you are actually in a real-life script where HIV and AIDS are the silent killers dictating the duration of the film.
Perhaps the most distressing thing about my analogy – and possibly the truest thing about it – is the way in which AIDS is perceived in Africa and the world at large. It all happens exactly the way it does in the films: someone suggests a stupid idea (let’s do it without a condom, just this once); other people are either invited to join in the stupidity or are strung along without knowing what the stakes are and from there, the rest of the script pretty much writes itself.
You would think in the 21st century, university-level students would know all there is to know about HIV or AIDS and the dangers they pose, but you’d be fooling yourself.
At high school and even as far as university level, the level of AIDS awareness leaves a sour taste in your mouth. Everyone knows the science behind how the disease is spread, the various ways it can be contracted and the methods of protection. But the science is shelved once the possibility of a cheap lay is on the cards. The logic is filed in that cabinet at the back of your mind where all of your biology notes are kept, you know, the no-smoking, no-drinking, exercise everyday notes you took in high school. It’s all there, but no one really pays attention to it.
As soon as pretty girl or some handsome boy is picked up on the lay-o-meter, common sense is overridden and the horror film starts playing. And the similarities between the way teen horror flicks pan out and how AIDS is spread in my age group (the 18-25 year olds) are uncanny.
For starters, everyone thinks the black guy will get it and die first. AIDS, despite all of the awareness campaigns is largely a black disease, you know, “it like infects people in Nyanga and Gugulethu and stuff.” It is not something that happens in the posh suburbs. It’s a black man’s disease. I can only make this assertion with confidence because I have the benefit of rolling in multi-racial circles and seeing the manner in which AIDS is talked about (and reacted to). In the black circles it is a watchword, as you progress to the lighter end of the scale it is gradually watered down to urban legend status.
So people relax, consoling themselves with the deluded knowledge that they have another ninety minutes to prance around the screen.
After the black guy gets it, enter the nerds.
People believe that the nerds – or that less socially active part of society – will get it next. Poor nerds. I don’t know where the reasoning comes from, but it seems to be acceptable custom that AIDS works its way through the black people first before targeting socially awkward boffins. Oh well, another sixty minutes of screen time for the rest of us.
We sit and wait for the high school cheerleader with the much waved pom-poms – there’s innuendo there somewhere – to get it and then that will pretty much wrap up the script, leaving us with the virgin whom we walk out of the AIDS nightmare with.
It sounds like a stretched analogy, but it isn’t. You just have to hang around people in my age group to know what I am talking about. There is a general feeling of invincibility that runs amongst university students, a feeling totally devoid of fear. It defies mortality. It’s so strong that it quells all fear of infection, working on the prejudice scale of the model set out above: blacks, uncool people, sluts and then the rest of us get to live in peace.
The feeling of invincibility is made worse by the grouping of economically similar people, especially in a university setting: everyone assumes that by being at UCT, Africa’s finest tertiary institution, everyone else has heard and followed their ABCs when it comes to AIDS awareness. There is a blind, baffling belief that by the sheer coincidence of being in university, whatever bed warmer you choose will have used protection throughout their sexual history. Better yet, he or she will be a virgin – it is the ideal horror film scenario.
It would be funny if I hadn’t kept one too many friends company during anxious waits at the AIDS clinics.
I have always found AIDS campaigns run at UCT slightly amusing. By amusing, I mean that I walk by posters and billboards and think, “Oh! This tune again?” I don’t actually laugh at them, there is nothing funny about spending a sunny Friday morning at a testing centre with a friend whose future depends on a certain bar not turning a certain colour. What I do find amusing about such campaigns is the target group they aim for: they always aim for the nerds, the blacks and all of the other people who apparently will not make it to the end of the movie. No one targets the Tiger Tiger girls. No one targets the BEE jocks. No one targets The Invincibles.
That is what scares me. That is what should scare everybody. Because when places like UCT host their bi-annual HIV testing drives, only the people who do not have sex or know they have nothing to legitimately fear attend them. The Invincibles are nowhere in sight; they are out there somewhere under the delusion that the script will play out the way it usually does in the films.
The problem though, is that AIDS is a monster that does not follow the script – it just does whatever it wants to, when it wants to. And the most troubling aspect of our generation is that despite the number of random and unscripted deaths, we still try to follow conventions we believe will protect us – we alienate those who suffer from the disease; we refrain from talking about it like it will go away; and we blame it on mysterious and otherworldly happenings – even at university level where it is hoped that people get some kind of education.
The Invincibles refuse to acknowledge the sad truth: that their script is losing more and more actors, sooner or later, it will find every single one of them.
It is sad, but that is what it is like living in Generation Invincible – engaging in unprotected sex is a lot like being in a high school teen horror. The problem is that you never really know when the script is running or not. And you never know whose ticket is going to be pulled next.
AIDS: All the Invincibles Die Slowly. It’s a scary movie. You should watch it sometime.