For many internet users, real-life gore content has reached default levels of inclusion under the ‘horror entertainment’ genre, along with scary films and the rest of the fictional butchery available out there. The only difference is that seeing someone getting stabbed dozens of times in a horror film is manageable for most adults—because we know this is not reality—but doing the same knowing fully that the footage took place in the real world has a whole different meaning.
As taboo as harbouring an interest in gore content remains, video-sharing platforms specialised in shocking images and videos like BestGore and TheYNC have been thriving for years now—decades almost. So what is it about gore content that gets so many people hooked, you ask? Well, today’s your lucky day because one gore enthusiast agreed to speak to Screen Shot and tell us exactly what they like so much about it, along with what it makes them feel.
First of all, it is important for you to understand that the stigma surrounding authentic gore content is very real. As I searched for potential interviewees, it took me more than a month before finding one willing to speak up about their peculiar interest. Along the way, a few people agreed to speak to me, only to change their mind at the last minute, probably worried about the consequences this piece would have on their ‘reputation’.
But one user agreed to share the ins and outs of what being a real-life gore content enthusiast entails; TangerineTragedies on Reddit, who I will name TT for the purpose of this article. What usually pops into most people’s mind when thinking about those who enjoy watching shock videos or images, is the question ‘Why did you start watching it in the first place?’.
Understandably, initiating your kid to websites such as BestGore is not on a parent’s to-do list when it comes to their children’s education. On the contrary, most parents tend to put age restrictions on those platforms, along with porn websites and specific TV channels.
For TT, it all started when their brother showed them “a picture of a guy who was in a motorcycle accident on rotten.com when I was about 14.” While the simple thought of what this could have looked like has me shaking in my boots, for some reason, TT got some form of enjoyment from it: “He looked like somebody dropped a handful of teeth into an uncooked meatloaf and I was incredibly intrigued.”
Now, I know what you must be thinking. What’s wrong with people? Well, actually, there’s a scientific explanation behind why so many people enjoy scary movies and horror entertainment—which could arguably also include authentic gore content. As Psychology Today writer and chartered psychologist focusing in the field of behavioural addictions Mark D. Griffiths explains in an article, quoting Doctor Glenn Walters, “the three primary factors that make horror films alluring are tension (generated by suspense, mystery, terror, shock, and gore), relevance (that may relate to personal relevance, cultural meaningfulness, the fear of death, etc.), and (somewhat paradoxically given the second factor) unrealism.”
But what about real-life gore content specifically? Although TT explained that these images have a strong impact on them, “I get enjoyment from my curiosity being temporarily resolved, but I do not enjoy the images themselves. I generally cringe with disgust and feel empathy for victims but it’s hard to explain exactly what I feel. I usually have the ‘that’s enough’ moment after about an hour and I may not go back to it for months afterwards, even years. But I always go back,” many researchers have linked low empathy with gore enthusiasts.
According to a research published by Doctor Deirdre Johnston in the 1995 issue of Human Communication Research, looking into motivations for viewing graphic horror, “gore watchers typically had low empathy, high sensation seeking, and [among males only] a strong identification with the killer.” Thrill watchers, for example, were found to have both high empathy and sensation seeking, and identified themselves more with the victims than the killers.
Whether you personally enjoy shock sites and slasher films or not, there is something about those that speak directly and instinctively to the human ‘animal’. But brain scan research conducted in 2010 by Thomas Straube at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena showed that scary movies don’t actually activate fear responses in the amygdala (which is the core of the neural system for processing fearful and threatening stimuli) at all.
Instead, it was other parts of the brain that were firing: the visual cortex, the part of the brain responsible for processing visual information, the insular cortex—self-awareness, the thalamus, the relay switch between brain hemispheres and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain associated with planning, attention and problem-solving.
Simply put, this showed that humans aren’t typically scared by this type of content (at least not in their brain) but more interested in it for a plethora of other reasons. Taking this into consideration, it can be assumed that gore enthusiasts enjoy it for different reasons—while some might feel a boost in adrenaline, endorphins and dopamine, which can make the experience somewhat enjoyable, others can “have a harder time screening out unwanted stimuli in their environment,” as professor Glenn Sparks told Psych Central.
As TT proved to me, gore enthusiasts watch shocking images and videos for many different reasons and purposes. For TT, “I like GoreGrish and I tend to gravitate towards still photos of murders. Or suicides. But videos are not for me, I cringe too hard at the action, I’d rather just see the aftermath.”
When asked about whether they ever tried to reach out to other members of the gore community, TT added, “I’ve never actually talked to anybody on a gore site, the comments are usually ‘still fuckable’ or some other stupid bullshit that I can’t relate to. I think I like gore because I can’t imagine feeling so ‘insert emotion’ that I would hurt someone, so I find it fascinating.”
And like TT mentioned previously, it’s that fascinating element to gore content that always makes them come back to it. Just like we may easily get glued to the endless scrolling through videos of puppies doing cute things, others are pulled towards images depicting stabbings, empaling and horrifying accidents. Even though the types of stimulation received watching those two types of content are different for most of us, a ‘nervous system arousal’ still takes place.
Our heart beats faster, our blood pressure increases, our pupils dilate—both acts are thrilling in opposite ways. Though almost everyone can handle puppy love just fine, it’s easier to get overwhelmed by the type of stimulation that gore content comes with.
When speaking to TT, I couldn’t help but ask them whether they ever fantasized about doing some of the awful things that they had so far only seen through gore images—don’t ask why, but I guess I was half-dreaming of interviewing a Luka Magnotta 2.0. Open-minded as I liked to think of myself, I also expected gore enthusiasts to all be psychopathic killers. But TT isn’t one of them, “I would never fantasize about doing that. I’m glad those sites are out there but I like to look at gore from a more academic perspective,” they told me.
And if you think of it, we’re not so far off from TT and other gore enthusiasts: an accident always draws spectators who were initially on their way to do other things. Why do you think that is?
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On 18 December, 2019, Netflix released a three-episode show called Don’t F**** With Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer, opening a gruesome Pandora’s box most people had forgotten about. The show follows the story of Luka Magnotta, a former adult entertainer turned sadistic cat-torturer, turned—eventually—killer. What the documentary also did, in hindsight, is shed light back on bestgore.com, the most popular, and arguably the most disturbing shock website, and the moral and legal controversies behind its existence.
In 2013, a video called 1 Lunatic 1 Icepick was published on bestgore.com showing Magnotta brutally murdering Lin Jun, an engineering student from China who had moved to Montreal, Canada, for his studies. After dismembering his body, Magnotta sent several of Jun’s body parts to Canadian political parties among other recipients. The video is a 10-minute unbearable sequence of images, which was described by Mark Marek, Best Gore’s founder, as “without a doubt the sickest thing you will have ever seen in your entire life,” on the video’s caption.
Shortly after posting the video, Magnotta was trialled and found guilty of first-degree murder in 2014, while Mark Marek was accused by the Canadian authorities of “corrupting morals,” based on a law from 1949 which states that anyone who “makes, prints, publishes, distributes, circulates, or has in his possession for the purpose of publication, distribution or circulation any obscene written matter, picture, model, phonograph record or other thing whatever” might risk going to jail. According to the law, the word ‘obscenity’ is used to describe any materials mixed with violence, sex, and degradation, as reported by Adrienne Jeffries in an article published by The Verge. In it, Jeffries questions the responsibility of Marek within this story, asking whether is it correct that he faced jail for posting a video of the murder.
Despite the sickening violence depicted on 1 Lunatic 1 Icepick, when you scroll through Best Gore, Magnotta’s video is in good company. The Canadian website features some of the most graphic violence that occurs on earth, all made by human hands. Among its different categories, users can find gang executions, ISIS beheadings, car accidents and videos depicting cases of police brutality from all over the world. With an average of 200,000 pageviews a day, the demand for this type of content is high, to say the least.
Shock, or gore, websites started appearing in 1996, when rotten.com was founded. Rotten started the ‘trend’ by mostly featuring still images of car accidents and medical conditions but it was in the early 2000s that ogrish.com paved the way for a category of its own. These types of websites are technically legal and are still live online, like the famous theYNC and goregrish, both available on theync.com and goregrish.com. In the US, all websites are protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), meaning that if you publish user-generated content, you’re not responsible for what it portrays.
The circulation of violent content online is part of an ongoing debate that repeatedly puts at stake the internet’s freedom, but what is the price users are willing to pay to keep the internet a free—and to some extent unregulated—space? Despite the voyeuristic and sadistic purposes that most likely hide behind most of Best Gore’s users, the idea behind Best Gore and Marek’s manifesto lies on a (relatively) reasonable basis.
Among the website’s several statements on freedom of speech on the internet and the threat of online censorship, Marek writes, “Harm to freedom of expression caused by censorship of content just because some may deem it blasphemous, obscene or morally-corrupting would be devastating and should be of utmost concern to all people of conscience. […] And this is where Best Gore steps in, as the website has played a pivotal role in exposing lies which were declared as official truths by the mainstream media, exposed countless cases of police brutality, governments sanctioned terrorism, war profiteering, fear mongering and other unsavory activities which enslave the people in injustice.”
The issue with online toxicity is that we don’t seem to be able to pinpoint whether what we see online influences real-life actions or vice versa. If this violence exists in real life, is there a point in censoring its representation online? The internet entailed a moral and ethical compromise since day one, and it’s with websites such as Best Gore that we are reminded of how severe this paradox can get. Whether we can handle it is up to you and me.