For any critic on the internet edgy is an essential buzzword ready to be sprung like Bat Shark repellant from there Critic copter. Some have argued that it has become overused to a meaningless extend but for my money’s worth it still is a useful term. That being said I’m not here to ask whether it’s a good term but try and explain why I think edgy material appeals to many people.
To start I think its worthwhile to define what I consider edgy material. The best answer that I could come up with is material that uses controversial subject matter without fully understanding the ramifications of what using such subject matter entails. For example take a look at say The Boys by Garth Ennis’s use of violence vs the use of violence in Miracleman by Alan Moore. Both are used to produce a sort of gut reaction of shock from the reader but Miracleman underscores the violence with a real sense of weight. The first death we ever see in the series is of a woman named Stephanie. In here very short appearance she is humanized so we truly understand the absolute horror of what has occurred.
This idea of understanding the true pain and effects of violence lasts all the way until issue 15 of Miracleman which to this day stands as the most violent issue of a comic I have ever read. After some truly horrific panels detailing the true destruction that would be caused by a superhuman in reality it ends not on some brutal act of violence but on a sad reflection on those who have died and a reminder that one should not forgot horrific and tragic acts.
On the other hand we have Garth Ennis whose sense of gore is based around pure shock value. It stems from a juvenile desire to see how fucked up one can go and we know little about the victims of said violence.
The point both are trying to get across is the same. A truly vile superhuman would be someone who would not care for people he perceived as weaker than them. But the difference is Garth while viewing these superhuman as despicable really doesn’t care about the people weaker than the heroes. Moore on the other hand does. It all comes down to not what is shown but how what is shown is contextualized in a larger work. That’s what makes something edgy.
Now that we determined what makes a work edgy we can start to look at what makes edginess appealing to a certain group of people. Freud theorized that human behavior is based of two drives Eros the sex drive, and Thanatos the death drive. Eros was in the broader sense was a desire to create and Thanatos was a desire to destroy (For the record this is an incredible oversimplification). While in modern psychology these like much of Freud’s work are largely considered bunk I do think on some level most humans have some fascination with both sex and death.
For teenager’s especially teenage boys this fascination is at its height. They’re at the perfect sweet spot where they are aware sex and violence, but do not truly understand them. With that mindset they can look at edgy art and appreciate it. They, like the works that I define as edgy lack context.
When I was a freshman in highschool I was a pretty big fan of a manga that was called Freezing. Its plot was basically EVA met Sekerei but dosed with more sex and a ton of gore. The characters frequently lost limbs in combat and the female characters were constantly shown in various modes of undress. It tried and failed pretty miserably to add sexual assault in the backstory of one of its characters and resolved that sexual assault in probably the worst way possible. It’s a work that I think I am more fascinated with because of what it said about me when I read it than the work itself. Out of all the terrible early anime and manga that I consumed I think it’s the one I think about the most looking back on it with a sense of nostalgia for ignorance I had. Its rather funny how much I thought that Freezing was some great mature work of art for all of its violence in sex when it was really my own immaturity that made me like it.
My point is twofold, that there is a reason why edginess appeals to a certain group of people and that for many people an interest in edgy material is just a phase.