This will be in And the Skin Was Gone: Essays on Works of Horror Art.
The plot of Children of the Stones is wild, by which I mean, there would be no dumbing down, no needless holding back. This was a series that had respect for its audience.
There’s a mistake that many content creators often make: they think everyone is an idiot who needs to be spoon fed, largely in following from what they themselves have become. The result is that the content creators themselves are a version of what they create. There’s a devolution, and idiocy begets idiocy, presumption presumption, laziness laziness. Echoes spawn echoes. Foster enough echoes and you get what is tantamount to faux-gospel; the accepted way of How Things Must Be, with no admittance of wiggle room nor a second thought that there could be any. A lot of naked emperors and empresses pass through the streets of our culture to the accompanying strains of praise for raiment that isn’t there.
If you’re around anything long enough, it can become your version of normal. Standards change based upon environment and exposure and what is reinforced—insisted upon—supported, backed, touted as high quality.
Imagine a planet where you listen to Kenny G 24/7, try to make music like Kenny G because that’s what you’ve been taught or told was the way to go, enough people cite the work as outstanding, nonsense like a Genius Grant is awarded, and then when you’re given a copy of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, you don’t know what’s going on and reject it as inferior, because it’s so dissimilar to what you have come to think of as good.
We push back from reality without even knowing it. We don’t need a trip to another planet—ours will do in this unfortunate regard.
That’s why we see awful, forgettable works win major awards and a litany of content creators gain lionization status by default. Once we go down that ladder, it’s increasingly harder to reverse course and begin climbing upwards again.
The mistake that many make is thinking that entertainment content has to be this way, which results in a drastic underselling of the capabilities of an audience by people who should care the most about audiences. Humans don’t need to get everything in a book, a film, a show; they need to be pulled in. They need to care. They need to be roused. They need to feel the work in their breast. They need to be invested and they need to think about how the work applies to them. That takes many forms.
Sometimes it’s just a case of compelling people to ask themselves what they would do in the same situation. I say “just” but it’s a tricky, hard-won “just” that takes someone who is actually good at something, not good in the pretend, pile-on way way we so often see as we collectively skid down that ladder. Approbation becomes about everything save the actual quality or appeal or utility of the work.
What suffers? The best works, for they’re less likely to have a chance to get in front of audiences. And: the world, because there are fewer and fewer people to go back up the ladder and create those works we need and actually love in a real way.
Never forget that something always has to finish first. You go to the fair and there’s a contest for the best pig. Three gassy beasts are in a pen, lying on their sides, passed out. One sort of snorts, which is more life than the other two show. Porcine Pam is taking home that ribbon, because a ribbon is being bestowed. Someone has to “win.” Increasingly, that winning means nothing, and we all end up losing out.
Content creators typically play to themselves, low to non-existent standards, and a prevailing dispensation of sloth. Anything that stands in contrast to those anti-virtues that are trumpeted and rewarded as actual virtues is deemed bad, a risk, a possible menace, a threat, an affront, a fount of envy, a look in the mirror which ends up feeling like an assault courtesy of one’s own comparative limitations; or perhaps a mind-blowing masterpiece, a work to change the world, but who will step forward and break with the pattern of devolution? Who—or what—will proclaim the worthiness of the work to everyone else? It doesn’t matter that everyone else could and would embrace it; it’s how to begin that process which itself is nearly as great a challenge as creating the essential work in the first place.
The hermetic prevails in the meanwhile. One will see a writer, for instance, try to make some impressive flourish by incorrectly using a world they just looked up in an attempt to attest how smart they are, playing to the crowd—or what there is one of one. It’s akin to flashing a signal to others who do the same that here is worthiness. They’ve devolved sufficiently as a result of years in this environment of derelict standards that there’s nothing else they can do anyway, and when enough people fall to that level, new standards are put in place which are inversions of actual standards. We have Darwin’s island going in reverse.
If you want to prove how smart you are, move someone at the core of their being. Children understand this, which is why a child makes for an excellent audience, as well as adults who retain this crucial quality of childhood and a life backed by an open mind.
Children of the Stones was a work of horror art that understood the value—the essentialness—of moving the members of that audience. It still is. That’s why it’s so valuable for us to venture to Milbury, where a mind-bender of a story makes us care very much indeed, while treating us as an audience deserves to be treated.