Joe Bob Briggs Saved My Soul: Thoughts on High Sheriffs and Horror
Imagine watching the Omen films and thinking they’re possible.
I grew up during the Satanic Panic of the 1980’s. Raised Evangelical, Pentecostal, singing “Oh! Buddha” as popularized by the Imperials in front of the entire congregation at five years old. For those unfamiliar with the song, it’s a swinging country gospel number where the singer rebukes various religions and messiahs, praying for all of them lest they wind up in Hell. Not your average nursery rhyme, is it?
To sin in thought was to sin in deed. There were no degrees in sin. All offenses were equal in the eyes of God the Father who gave His only begotten Son as ransom for the Fall of Man, with the obvious exception of the ‘unforgivable’ sin–blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. I was shown the great Rapture Scare films like “A Distant Thunder” where Christians suffering the Great Tribulation would be beheaded by the authoritarian New World Order. Jack Van Impe. Bible prophecies. Rock music is Satanic. The Devil & his minions will devour you and your kin like ravening lions having set traps all over the cultural landscape to ensnare us in sin. Night terrors of the Antichrist, the Mark of the Beast.
Horror movies found me early, via PG releases like Jaws and Jaws 2.
In 1979, during my parents’ first divorce, my mother took four year old me to the Greater Pittsburgh Drive-In. Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm. Upon seeing the spheres, Tall Man and almighty Finger Fly, my mutant genes were activated. Horror movies kept popping up on network TV. The Omen. The Final Conflict. Tawdry, but permitted because it was based in truth. I ended up a bit of a weird kid.
“Born again” by age 9. Wasn’t permitted to listen to the radio but would occasionally get glimpses of something or other that would break my brain. The first time I saw “Changes,” excerpted from Ziggy Stardust The Motion Picture, on HBO’s Video Jukebox. Bowie. There was a can of worms in the Christian community. If they only knew. Something changed along the way, music was allowed into our house, I think via the persuasive arguments of my aunt. Freddie Mercury and David Bowie had unknowing roles in my sussing out faith, because a Heaven that would not include David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, or Elton John was not a Heaven that could possibly be worth going to.
There was always one central ideology or tactic. Censorship in the name of ideological purity. 1985 is where the Christian Right plants a soft, sucking kiss right on the mouth of the Left via Tipper Gore and various other stiffs that start the PMRC, or Parents Music Resource Center, who we can thank for the Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics stickers that launched a thousand merch sales. I was still consumed with the notions of my guilt, sin, and the damnation of all mankind but horror films as warned would encourage me to take longer and longer mental excursions outside of the world of faith.
I was fucking awesome.
And this headline came out of Dallas:
Drive-In Movie Critic Knows No LimitsAP
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I’m still awesome.
The headlines haven’t stopped, but are changing mediums.
Every era gets their own High Sheriffs. Not the ones they deserve, necessarily. Some of these High Sheriffs look around and think because they’ve heard somebody’s name that fame is proportional to power, not realizing that sometimes our legendary genre figures or beloved new influencers have been in situations more precarious than you might expect. And that you, YES! YOU! might have a direct bearing on whether or not that person, not an idea, not an icon, but flesh and blood person can make it.
The “Horror Community” shouldn’t have leaders, and if it gets any, they should be immediately deposed. Horror should be transgressive, unsafe, untidy. No two fans can or should completely agree on what horror ideally should be or where the boundaries of taste and or decency might be.
Even “Masters of Horror” can’t agree. See Cronenberg and Carpenter. Major differences of philosophy and approach.
In 2020, High Sheriffs don’t just police the actual words used, no, we have to parse out every last quantum molecule of possible ‘intent’ out of anything, our confirmation bias playing Connect the Dots in a Paint By Numbers. And, thanks to troll farms, bots, disinformation campaigns, we can’t ever be sure when something is being done out of a sense of genuine emotion or responsibility or whether something has been designed with a ulterior motive.
You can’t rule out the idea of making a name by taking down a “sacred cow.” Which plays real interesting-like in this case, because as someone somewhere has said about satire, “…you shoot at the targets until you find the one that squeals the loudest and keep hitting it.” You want to take that notion and flip it on its head, you hit the Cis-Straight-Male-Redneck-Cult-Legend-Horror-Host. Joe Bob’s fans can squeal with the best of ’em.
The whole thing could be a “work.” It could be the cleverly executed coming out party for a new ring of bright young things, pouncing on horror history like hungry little tiger cubs. It would work precisely because the horror community is largely comprised of warm-hearted people who want to do the right thing. The amount of good-natured hand wringing I’ve seen over the last week is…enough.
Or, if it were a “work” perpetuated by Darcy the Mail Girl? Darcy, of the Ralphus cosplay. Darcy, associate of #LeChampion, AEW’s Chris Jericho. Brilliant babyface PR move. I could be working myself into a shoot, brother.
Darcy and Andy Kaufman, anyone?
If you’re feeling generous, which I’m usually not, you can make an allowance for naivete. The same kind of wrongheadedness that had me thinking in 1984, as a “born again” 9 year old, that Silent Night Deadly Night should be banned. Something I’d change my mind about after I’d grown up a bit at a wizened 13. That was when I started writing physical letters to the MPAA, pretty sure Joe Bob gave us the address, demanding the uncut release of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Rated X for the “Objectionable Moral Tone.” Unacceptable for public consumption.
As my parents succumbed to premium cable, and The Movie Channel in particular. I found Drive-In Theater. While my parents slept, Joe Bob was curator and commentator, cracking wise and doing battle with any and all self-righteous High Sheriffs. Melting my brain. Joe Bob was my Alan Freed. The Drive-In Oath is my Rock ‘N Roll. Movies for weirdos starring weirdos made by weirdos. I remember, later, I saw Paul Bartel’s Lust in the Dust starring Lainie Kazan and Divine. The first time I saw Divine, matter of fact. Kazan, a Drive-In Academy Award Nominee for performing the unforgettable song, “Let Me Take You South of My Border.”
In the mid 1980’s. The Reagan years. Think about that for a second.
I think anyone who is introducing born again Christian preteens to Divine and Paul Bartel is an asset to several communities.
Horror is heterogeneous. It will always be heterogeneous because horror has always called to the outcasts, the freaks, the mutants, the misunderstood. Mutants come in all shapes, sizes, religions and ideologies. It’s tiny little autonomous cells all over the world.
It is unruly.
It is why, occasionally, “…the young get onto the old like you done…” to borrow a phrase.
Horror is not a place. There are a slew of different companies that produce or employ someone or other whose point of view you’re gonna have a fundamental problem with. You can try to exert a sense of universal “moral responsibility,” but good luck with that in a community including such disparate flavors of fear as Tom Six and Mary Harron.
That’s a powerful mental image. Overseeing the moral responsibilty of horror leadership. Appointing yourself an arbitrator, or guard of morality. Make sure nothing bad gets in.
Like a person that watches or tends to a gate or multiple gates. Keeps it, you might say. If only there were a word for that.
You become what you fear.
It’s like that Force Cave, isn’t it? From those Disney movies.
Worried about being blacklisted for speaking your mind or having an opinion? So am I. And literally, everyone else on the Internet, because the High Sheriff rides on both sides of the partisan line.
What do our new High Sheriffs want? What’s the point?
Probably not gonna get anybody to agree. Psychologically speaking, it’s the least likely scenario.
One of the sillier notions that keeps coming up, so much so that it smacks of a talking point, is that all points of view presented on the same platform endorse each other by their very existence. That if you work at the same place as someone else, you are accountable for what they write, say or do. Everything’s a monolith, right? The queer community. The horror community. The straight community. Nonsense.
Instead of using humor or satire to strike their targets, they use dopamine-fueled addiction to outrage. Weaponize our desire to be virtuous or perceived as such.
Some of this smells ageist to me. That’s still acceptable, though. OK Boomer?
Publishing alongside someone or getting paid by the same company is not an endorsement. Said company may have an agenda, but you are not automatically complicit in it.
Imagine you quit your job. Every few weeks, a stranger runs up to you and shouts, “Hey! That place you worked was full of bigots!”
“I don’t work there anymore.”
“Yeah but u worked there tho”
“U DID THO”
“Are you literally turning into THE Internet?”
Suppose you better destroy anything you have from MGM or Paramount. You know, if you own a copy of Jeepers Creepers or Rosemary’s Baby…
I’m beyond irritated.
I’ve read 30 years of Briggs. It’s gotten a bit more complex as he’s integrated more John Bloom into Joe Bob, but like Trey Parker & Matt Stone, either it’s all fair game or none of it is. Joe Bob’s been catching Hell from all sides for 40 years, give or take.
“Bad satirists are left alone. It only hurts when it’s good.”Stephen King, Joe Bob Goes To The Drive-In
Horror’s crazy-big and diverse. That’s one of the reasons we don’t always have the same ideas. Or thresholds. Or tastes. Horror fans range from the suburbanites who are raising their kids on The Conjuring Universe to the sociopaths who break out A Serbian Film for laughs.
Now, please bow your heads in prayer.
Repeat after me:
We are Drive-In Mutants
We are not like other people
We are sick
We are disgusting
We believe in Blood
If life had a vomit meter
We’d be off the scale
As long as one Drive-In remains
On the planet Earth
We will party like jungle animals
We will boogie ’til we puke
The Drive-In will never dieThe Drive-In Oath, Joseph Biggers. I mean, Joe Bob Briggs.