I ask you, dear readers, to hold the following image in your mind: Imagine actor Evan Peters, sporting a manbun dyed blue, rhythmically thrusting his pelvis against a flat screen TV while shouting “U-S-A!” I assure you that this is very much relevant, as the above scene opens for us the highly political seventh season of American Horror Story: Cult. No previous season has ever been so relevant and so worthwhile. Believe me when I say that there’s a lot to discuss, namely the death of patriotism in politics.
The season maintains an admirable balance in its parody of both Democrat and Republican citizens. This is unusual; most TV shows typically swing in one direction or the other, however subtly. We may be tempted to say that this season of American Horror Story does the same at first glance; Kai Anderson (Evan Peters), who appears to be the main antagonist, is a virulently Anti-Latino Trump supporter obsessed with fear. There also exists the small matter of him allegedly running a band of murderous clowns, whom he dispatches to remove potential threats. Further along, (SPOILER) we encounter a grocery store clerk willing to literally sever his own hand to cast a vote for Trump; his greatest terror is his country being run by a woman, especially right after a black man.
Yet our two protagonists, progressive married couple Ally and Ivy Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson and Alison Pill, respectively), swing far enough in the opposite direction to be laughable.
With Trump winning the election at the outset of episode 1, Ally practically loses her mind. Her crippling coulrophobia returns just as she begins being stalked by clowns everywhere, much to her chagrin. A piece of honeycomb is enough to make her almost faint from trypophobia. Her anxiety worsens to the point where, (spoiler once again) in a fit of self-defense hysteria, she murders Pedro, a Latino employee at Ivy’s restaurant whom she had defended. It all culminates in ridicule when Ally’s young son, Oz, receives a guinea pig which he proceeds to name “Mr. Guinea,” and she scolds him with, “Honey, come on, you know we don’t like cis-normative names.”
Entertainment making a mockery of liberals and conservatives is nothing new, even if this particular season of American Horror Story has done so with surprising equality. What’s fascinating in Cult revolves around the recurring theme of fear. In Episode 1, Kai delivers a sweeping monologue to City Hall about Americans valuing fear above all else. He is seen several times performing an exercise in which he will lock pinky fingers with another person and swear to tell only the brutal truth, by means of which he “keeps” the other’s fear for them. Fear drives more action than anything else. Kai Anderson weaponizes and monefies it; Ally Mayfair-Richards, with her multiple phobias, hoards it.
Show creator Ryan Murphy has a purpose in highlighting these classic caricatures – the ultra progressive, gender-aware liberal with a host of absolving mental disorders and the racist, misogynist, unreasonable conservative – in a horror story. The scary part is that we no longer vote because we believe, but because we’re afraid. In our last election, we voted for one candidate solely to prevent the other winning. We let our fear decide who runs the entire country.
A dead dog, which can be interpreted as the death of loyalty. A hand, writhing with flies, a classic symbol of decay. Red, white, and blue clowns rising from a coffin, showing the dead and ridiculous mockery politics have become. Centipedes crawling under a woman’s skin. Naked figures donning rubber masks of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The American flag, dripping with blood. These shocking images shown in the opening titles of American Horror Story: Cult serve to convey Murphy’s message: Modern American politics have become a game of fear in which loyalty plays second fiddle to the terror that if they win, they’ll destroy the country.