Writings from Underground


It's time to talk about the ultramarginalized

By Carrie Vandevender

I am very uncomfortable writing these words. My quest for social justice has led me to a place I did not foresee. It has brought me to—as it is the wont of my friends and fellow warriors to say—"a decision I must make and a stand I must take."
Moments like this are always wrought with fear. When you challenge the white patriarchy-capitalist-supremacist complex, it is not hyperbole to say you are risking your life. Until now, I took comfort knowing my friends and fellow warriors would stand with me. Writing these words, though, I am very uncomfortable because this time I fear I will stand alone.
First, a confession: I love slasher flicks. Since a sleepover at a friend's house when I was twelve years old, I can't get enough of them. The first one we watched that night, also the first one I ever saw, dear to my heart, was Cabin in the Woods. I had never seen anything like it. I was mesmerized by the beautiful people and how they were reduced to bloody pulp in the end. The copious amounts of blood, the silly predicaments those beautiful idiots got themselves into, the rock 'n' roll soundtracks and swirling sounds of stabbings, slicings, choppings, the sloppy squishes, clean punctures and metallic chimes, were as thrilling to me as fireworks bursting over an amusement park.
Deep into the night, our sleepover film festival continued with Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Scream 4 and the original, 1984 version of A Nightmare on Elm Street, which scared me so badly I did not sleep. Instead, I obsessively checked the locks on the doors and windows, afraid to dream. Still, I couldn't get enough! Early the next morning, with my friends asleep in their sleeping bags, I watched Cabin in the Woods a second time, at low volume, munching stale popcorn and sucking on caramels.
It was a memory that would be pleasant for many years.
Now, into adulthood, some of my best memories are of evenings spent with girlfriends, drinking wine, watching slashers and laughing at depictions of the gruesome deaths of attractive young people. Being a child of the 2000s has been a bumpy ride, full of anxiety, uncertainty and fear. There's something about finding amusement in hideous murder that seems to lighten the burdens we carry.
So, why do I submit my "confession"? Well, my friends, whether you are connected to me personally or by these words, the answer to that question is complex yet simply stated: I confess because my love of slasher movies is—and has always been—a selfish act of triggering.

Who are the ultramarginalized?

Fellow slasher geeks, I understand if you take offense. I had the same response when somebody came to me saying this stuff. Her name was Juanita. In real life, her teenage daughter had been stabbed and decapitated.

"Parts of her still have not been found," Juanita said. "You live through something like that, it crushes the soul. And then you see the society responsible for creating the monster that massacred your child making movies about monsters massacring daughters, and not just making them. For God's sake, they're everywhere. They're celebrated.

"And people say, 'Just don't watch those movies.' To them I say, 'You wouldn't watch a movie that had a dog getting carved up that way. You'd be outraged. You'd speak out against it like any decent person. You would understand that watching something like that for enjoyment is sick and wrong.'"

Juanita educated me about the pain families of young murder victims endure, not only at the hands of killers but also at the hands of all of us.

"Everyone says there's nothing worse than losing a child," she said. "Well, yes, there is. Losing a child, in this way, is worse. Losing a child and being mocked by movies with hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket sales is worse."

I felt like Juanita was calling me a bad person, and so I resisted, until she said something that woke the warrior in me.

"If everyone could feel my pain, stand in my shoes," she said, "then they would know that the suffering of just one person is sufficient to pass laws against these movies."

I have marched city streets many times, whether demanding justice for George Floyd, mere recognition of the existence of trans people, or simple compassion for the victims of white supremacy, toxic masculinity and every wicked tendril of the Western patriarchy. Supporting marginalized groups is my passion.

Juanita opened my eyes, more than ever before.

She taught me about the "ultramarginalized," miniscule or disregarded members of society linked together by suffering both caused and dismissed by society's masses.

We are right to stand up for marginalized groups like persons of color, trans people and persons with health conditions or impairments, but these demographic groups are much larger than ultramarginalized groups such as the families of young murder victims.

If we truly stand with those cast out to society's fringes, adding our voices to theirs, that they might be heard, then we must include those suffering few, clinging to the outermost fibers.

The lonely path of "ultra"-activism and the dangerous roads of life

My friends warned me not to take up this cause. My friends, with whom I have stood, arm in arm, protesting inside legislative buildings, on college campuses, outside the Supreme Court, held up their hands and told me I was on my own.

It's just entertainment, they said. Nothing is for everybody. It's a personal preference, not aggression. I can't stand period pieces, so guess what? I don't watch them. You can't tell people what to like and dislike. You can't tell them to give up things that make them happy. What are you going to do—take on Hollywood? How will you ever get enough support to accomplish anything?

I pleaded with them. I tried to educate them. Things got heated. We did not speak for several days. They changed the location of Sunday brunch without telling me. They said the message had been sent on the wrong thread, one that includes them and excludes me, I suppose.

This is a decision I must make and a stand I must take.

Headstrong, as usual, I ventured on my own to learn more about the ultramarginalized. My studies led me to another mother, Krystal, who also holds a Ph.D. in sociology. Krystal lost her husband, the father of her two-year-old son, in a car wreck. Police said speed was a factor. The other driver had been going seven miles per hour over the limit.

"Even one death caused by reckless driving is too many," Krystal said, "because in every instance, it is avoidable, yet these deaths happen in large numbers. People like my husband, our son, and I are not ultramarginalized because there are not many of us. Apathy causes it. Society just doesn't care enough. We're on an island, surrounded by oceans of insensitivity."

As Juanita advocates for laws outlawing production of slasher movies, Krystal seeks stricter enforcement of existing traffic laws and harsher punishments for offenders.

"Just try driving the speed limit," she said. "You will quickly realize two things: Almost everyone else is going faster, and almost no one gets pulled over. To me, every speeding car looks like the one that killed my husband. It makes driving a macabre, triggering experience."

At its core, Krystal said, speeding, along with road rage, reckless and drunk driving, is fascistic bullying in which lawless drivers control the roadways by means of violence, intimidation and fear. With every tailgate, middle finger, dangerous pass and one for the road, the message is clear: Get out of my way or I'll put all your lives at risk.

A gentle plea for compassion, a battle cry for change

Imagine what Halloween is like for Juanita. Imagine her coming home from a hard day's work, turning on the television and being ambushed by a commercial for the next hit slasher flick. Imagine what Father's Day is like for Krystal's son. Imagine the man who flips off Krystal as he speeds past, oblivious to her terrified child, in a car seat in the back.

Imagine the daily horror that consumes them, that the rest of us think nothing about.

It is time for activists to think about the ultramarginalized, to seek them out, and to add our cries for justice to theirs. To ignore their suffering is to erase it.

We are the ones to change the status quo, because we have done it before. Less than a decade ago, who would have predicted a Black man, marginalized by society, murdered in the street by a white cop, would have statues erected in his image? Or that American courts would enter sexual abuse verdicts against powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Donald Trump? Or that in 2023, trans people would hold public office and high-level positions in business and education, would be honored in churches and at professional sporting events, and be held up as role models for children, in schools, drag clubs and public libraries?

Who would have dared to dream a woman of African-Indian descent would be vice president? Or that a lesbian person of color of Caribbean descent would become White House press secretary?

Or that a 55-year-old man, an unknown college professor with a family, would transition to female and, in just a few short years, shatter glass ceilings, first as Pennsylvania's physician general and later as a senior official in the US Department of Health, where she would be commissioned as a four-star admiral? Or that fewer than eight months after beginning her transition from manhood to girlhood, a trans woman would be invited to sit down for an interview with the President of the United States?

Our voices helped raise awareness of the marginalized. We can do the same for people like Juanita and Krystal. We can advocate for legislative improvements. We can boycott slasher movies and protest theaters that show them. We can drive the speed limit and insist others do likewise.

"Record them on your phone, get their license plate number, report them to police," Krystal said. "Call them out, encourage them to alter their behavior. Get on the agenda of city and county council meetings and demand more be done. For God's sake, stand on the sidewalk yelling 'Slow down, fascists!' if you have to. Do something and keep at it until things change."

The activist soul: A final word

This has been uncomfortable to write. Part of me wonders whether, when the day is done, I will submit it for publication. If people pay huge amounts of money to watch slasher movies, if almost everyone speeds without getting caught, if hardly anyone cares about the sufferings of the ultramarginalized—and they bristle when told they should—then what's the point?

But I know that I will publish these words. I'm stubborn and it's the right thing to do. I cannot change who I am. Supporting the marginalized is my passion. I bear the activist soul.

The ultramarginalized exist in hidden places, suffering in silence. To help them, we must actively seek them out, to the ends of society.

We must be dismissive of no one's sufferings. Groups like the color-blind, the lefthanded, the undermedicated and the exceptionally anxious suffer in ways unknown to most of us. To ease their pain, we must educate ourselves. We must do better. We must discover and define more ultramarginalized groups.

We must work harder (nothing new to us) to improve our sense of compassion, becoming comfortable with fine-tuned, social-justice concepts like "hairtriggering," in which an innocuous hand gesture, passing facial expression, subtle intonation, or how a person eats, stands, sits in a chair or breathes, causes emotional outbursts, trauma and fear in unsuspecting victims; "hypermicropassiveaggressions," which neither perpetrators nor victims consciously realize are happening; and "clear-white supremacy," aka "paper-thin supremacy," which addresses the systemic privileges of white sub-groups like gingers and albinos.

One evening, Juanita invited me for drinks, saying I needed a break from work. She picked me up in a BMW and drove like a bat out of hell, at times as much as thirty-five miles per hour over the limit. When I asked why she drove so fast, she said life was too short.

After she had three drinks at the bar and got behind the wheel, I said I couldn't let her drive and threatened to call the police, at which she flipped me off and sped away, leaving me alone in a dark parking lot.

Another time, Krystal had me over for dinner and a movie. After we read stories to her son, she put him to bed, opened a bottle of wine and played a gory, slasher film. When asked whether she, a mother and sociologist, ever thought about how these shows make the families of real-life victims feel, she said she has a child to raise, by herself, and can't be worried about every little thing.

Soon, her wine glass still full, Krystal turned off the movie, claimed she was tired and had to call it a night, all while leading me towards the door.

The activist takes on the just, though unpopular, causes of the marginalized in the hope of turning them into popular causes of the previously silent majority.
I invite you to join me in advocating for the ultramarginalized. Do not, however, be deceived about what you are doing. The extreme end of activism—as illustrated by my lost friendships and uncomfortable evenings with Juanita and Krystal—is an isolated space where the activist stands alone, an ultramarginalized group of one.

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