Div III Student Jordan Foley Takes an Analytical and Creative Deep Dive into Splatterpunk Horror

Media studies student Jordan Foley 17F’s Division III project on splatterpunk horror included a 45-page research paper and an equally robust television concept. We sat down [virtually] with Foley (they/them) to learn more about their Div III exploration  into the horror genre, the joys of watching scary movies with modmates, and how Hampshire helped them discover, and combine, their passions for media studies and creative work.

What brought you to Hampshire?

I heard about Hampshire College from a friend in high school. There were a lot of things that drew me to Hampshire initially—the gay reputation, the small student population, the ability to design your own major and your final year—but, to be completely honest, its biggest draw was the lack of letter grades and tests. High school had been a real challenge for me, and a college which offered me a respite from the parts of school that caused me to struggle and suffer the most was massively appealing. Hampshire offered me an opportunity to thrive as a student in a way traditional schooling did not, so from the very first day of filling out college applications it was my first choice.

Can you talk a little about your Div I and II experience and journey to your Div III? Were you surprised at all by the way your course of study played out?

When I started at Hampshire, media studies was a hobby of mine—something I did for fun. Overanalyzing movies and video games and books, nitpicking commercials on TV, and trying to apply feminist theory to C-list animated movies were all things my high school friends and I did regularly. But I had decided before going to college that I was going to do creative writing and game design, and nothing was going to get me off track. Not even my obvious passion for the media studies tutorial I took first year. If there was one thing I'd learned during all my prior years of school, it was that I was a creative person, not a smart one. I couldn't imagine myself capable of being both.

As my Div II started, though, I found myself taking more and more media studies-oriented courses. I did creative classes, too, focused on writing and concept art and worldbuilding, but the thing I always came back to was the analytical side of things. For the first time, reading textbooks full of complex theory was something I was good at. All the things I struggled with in high school—deadlines and memorization and staying on task—weren't struggles anymore. It feels disingenuous in some ways to say I was a natural at it; I made plenty of missteps, and I've never been the perfect student. The perfect student doesn't exist. But it was amazing how much caring about what I was doing changed the way I approached it.

Please tell us a little about your Div III project.

My Div III project is split into two parts, about 70/30 respectively. The first portion is a 45-page research paper titled "Where Horror Wrestles with Art: The Evolution of the Splatter Genre and Horror as Counterculture," which delves into the interconnected histories of 1980s splatterpunk lit/film and the boom of so-called 'torture porn' in the 2000s. These subgenres of horror share a lot of commonalities, on both surface and deeper levels. I do a deep textual reading of over a dozen films, books, and short stories which fall under either umbrella, finding five common themes between each genre, and ultimately coming to the conclusion that neither splatterpunk nor torture porn are artistically meaningless. Quite the opposite, in fact. Both subgenres have been incredibly influential in the world of horror, and each are undeniably political artistic movements in their own ways.

The second portion of my Div III is something of a supplement, a means of applying the themes, imagery, and political messages of the art I've spent so long poring over. This supplement has taken the form of a 38-page pitch bible—which is basically an overview of a story used to pitch television shows, especially animated ones, to network executives pre-production—detailing a world/story I've invented, titled “Les Champs D'Asphodèle.”

My main takeaway at the end of my Div III isn't that splatter horror is always good, or always bad, or morally repugnant, or above all moral critiques. My main takeaway is that all horror is worth looking at critically as valuable, fleshed out pieces of art, and we can't shy away from examining something just because it challenges us morally.

Who is on your committee? Are there other faculty, programs, or resources you also found helpful during the Div III process?

My committee's been great. Professors Susana Loza [associate professor of critical race, gender and media studies] helped me primarily with the analytical portion and Alejandro Cuellar, [writing instructor and faculty associate] with the creative.

Loza is the professor who really, truly got me to lean fully into my passion for media studies. Theory was always something I tried to tiptoe around and skim over and avoid, but their class's strict regimen of reading and writing made me dive headfirst into research. And it was worth it! The tight schedule of all those classes was the exact kind of structure I needed to make such overwhelming academic research feel palatable. I didn't have a choice but to try to sink my teeth into it. I really owe Loza a lot for getting me out of my comfort zone and helping me find a niche—even if it ended up being a really gross, weird one. Cuellar, on the other hand, has watched “Les Champs D'Asphodèle” unfold from the very beginning, when it was just a list of haphazard characters and a town name that I was turning in for his longform prose class in spring 2020. His critique and his guidance through those rocky beginning moments of worldbuilding were what allowed me to feel confident enough to make it a part of my Div III, something I'm really grateful for.

As for other professors, I can definitely name a few who meant a lot to me over the course of my four years: Viveca Greene, for getting me into media studies during the very first year; Jennifer Gutterman [visiting professor of animation and game design], for teaching me how to make my drawing hobby into something productive and meaningful without taking the fun out of it; Lise Sanders [professor of English literature and cultural studies], whose film class in the spring of 2020 was the inspiration for my research paper; and finally Yasotha Sriharan [formerly of the Writing Center], whose narrative evaluation for me after her class Writing about Exile makes me tear up to reread to this day. She told me to never give up on creative writing. Specifically, she told me: "You are made for it." I don't think anything has ever stuck with me quite like that.

What's been your favorite part of the Div III process?

My housemates. That might not sound related to my Div, but trust me, it is.

Horror is my favorite genre for a lot of reasons, but first and foremost I love how social the horror genre is. The palpable sense of excitement and fear and suspense in a theater full of horror fans seeing the latest scary movie is an unmatched feeling. And on a smaller scale, in the poorly lit living room of our mod with my closest friends piled around me, that feeling is even better. We jeer and shout and crack stupid jokes through the entire length of the movie, tensing collectively before every jump scare, cheering after every near death experience the protagonist has—it's too much fun to describe.

What are your plans / hopes / aspirations for after Hampshire?

Honestly, I don't know! I have some vague ideas, but nothing concrete, and certainly nothing that I think feel particularly related to this school. It's scary, not knowing, but it was scary starting at Hampshire back in 2017, and that worked out okay. From a certain perspective, it worked out great, even. So at least I know I'll figure it out eventually.