Jason, the Klan, and Killing Monstrous Others in Friday the 13th
Friday the 13th: The Game (Gun Media) is a third-person horror, survival game where you either play as a camp counselor trying to survive or as Jason trying to kill all of the camp fornicators. I was ecstatic to see this game as I recall playing the 1989 version on Nintendo. Being an avid fan of horror classics like Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween, I was overjoyed seeing the return of Jason and his complex relationship with his equally monstrous mom. And it appears the game developers are working on a single player mode. I hope they keep dear old mum in tact.
But in playing the multiplayer version, I quickly lost interest in the game (as I do with most games these days). Aside from growing bored with spending extensive amounts of time locating a lobby and other gamers to play with, I was bothered by a segment of the gaming population using “Jason Part 2” in a particularly disturbing manner. On the surface, the image appears to be one of Jason with his mama’s pillowcase over his head with one eyehole cutout (Jason apparently didn’t spend much time in arts and crafts as a kid). However, some gamers opt to play this variant of Jason as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. For these players the pillowcase represents a Klan hood.
In one game in particular I spawned as “Buggzy.” Yes, he’s Black but I like playing him because of his speed and strength (of course they’d give these characteristics to the Black man). While playing I got trapped in a house and Jason overpowered me (as always). I went back into the lobby and began to spectate the other characters’ games. There were four more alive. I watched Deborah Kim. Jason killed her quickly. Then I moved on to AJ. And as Jason came upon her, he kept her alive. I assumed they were working together (though helping Jason is a bannable offense) and didn’t think more about it, but hoped that time would quickly expire so we could start another round.
Jason and AJ then walked to find other counselors. Vanessa was next and she was quickly killed. When the gamer who was playing Vanessa entered the game lobby, she explained that they didn’t in fact know each other, but Jason saved AJ because she was White. I then asked how he knew that since in-game chat wasn’t being used, but when characters come into close proximity to one another, the chat becomes active. The person playing Vanessa went on to explain that “Jason Part 2” was being used because his head wrap appeared to be a Klan hood and many gamers were using it as such – killing all of the characters of color and sparing the White ones.
So aside from the game engaging in stereotyping each counselor’s attributes, gamers who play have employed their own racial hierarchy making the experience even less enjoyable. I’ve encountered this several times while playing Friday the 13th. But I was quickly reminded of literature, like Nicholas Ware’s “You Must Defeat Shen Long to Stand a Chance”, on monstrous bodies of color embodying horror through White eyes, thus, needing to be purged and killed from the Earth. As Ware explains, the “Monstrous Other” in gaming in particular has been constructed and is sustained through White Western thinking of the default racial setting and the racial order. Specifically,
Without the monstrous body to demarcate the borders of the generic, without the female body to distinguish the shape of the male and without the pathological to give form to the normal, the taxonomies of value that underlie political, social and economic arrangements [of power] would collapse” (Erevelles, 2000, p. 35).
Visualizing non-White characters as monstrous exists within the racial system of producing and consuming Black bodies in pain. According to Elizabeth Alexander, the production and consumption of “Black bodies in pain” not only serve to maintain the structures of power that institutionalized the myth of White racial superiority. It is also the practice that continues to define the Black body, in particular, as monstrous (thank you Edgar Allen Poe and others).
As Jack Halberstam posits in Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters, Dracula “condenses the xenophobia of Gothic fiction into a very specific horror – the vampire embodies and exhibits all the stereotyping of nineteenth-century anti-Semitism” in which the Jew was marked as a threat to capital, to masculinity, and to nationhood. Jews in England at the turn of the century were the objects of an internal colonization. While the Black African became the threatening Other abroad, it was closer to home that people focused their fears about the collapse of nation through a desire for racial homogeneity.
Halberstam’s mention of Black Africans as “threatening Others” is especially worth noting in the context of “Jason Part 2” or Jason the Klan member. The “monstrosity of blackness is one of the final contributions of the nineteenth century to the modern myth of the vampire”. Such arguments clearly foreground the social, cultural, and political links between racism and the horror genre. Thanks largely to the lasting impact of slavery and its attendant prejudices, the Black African in this context is constructed as a monstrous Other that threatens the dominant society just as the Jew was perceived to threaten England: from within.
While some may consider my conclusion to be a stretch, it is my contention that the dramatic structure of gamers re-appropriating “Jason Part 2” into a Klan member sends a very clear racially charged message and meaning that reflects the cultural anxieties of a White America newly confronted with the fact that it can no longer segregate itself from those whom it has labeled Other; and as the events of the past few years continue to remind us, this Blackness must be killed.
White Americans rely on their constructions of the “Other”, literary and otherwise, as being key to defining their own White identities. And without the Other, white gamers would have no meaning of self. I would have never thought that my post about Jason and Friday the 13th would not be about the horrors of Jason, but rather about what the brutal character of “Jason Part 2” has come to represent. Jason as a White figure adorning a Klan hood, embodying the invisible, omnipotent, and ever present Whiteness, that must purge figures of color.