American Horror Story Cult: A Funhouse of American Political Ideologies
Entitled Cult, this season’s anthology of American Horror Story opens not with a Manson-esque religious commune as one might conjure from the title, but with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Interspersed between news footage of Trump, the show juxtaposes two living rooms of opposing political leanings — one of an alt-right Trump fanatic, and the other, a group of shocked and angry Hillary supporters. It is in this moment of Trump addressing the nation as President Elect that these two camps of ideologies are either broken or solidified.
As patronizing and glib as the poster art of the show appear, the theme of this season harks to a more tangible subject. American Horror Story magnifies the concept of the exploitation of Americans’ political ideologies over the hyperreality of a bipartisan political system during a time of exaggerated myth permeating our media. While sifting through ‘fake news’ and attempting to decipher what are true facts, America is in the midst of a presidency whose central figure convinces himself that his fantasy is reality. The terrifying concept within this paradigm is that, as Slavoj Žižek states in The Sublime Object of Ideology, within “a universe in which all are looking for the true face beneath the mask,” there isn’t another man behind Trump’s scowling visage. Trump is reality.
By depicting democrats as hysteric, hallucinating individuals, and republicans as blood-thirsty terrorizing clowns trying to ‘Make America Great Again’, Trump serves as a surrogate to the fears of liberals, while simultaneously giving conservatives permission to act on fears cultivated during the Obama administration.
In Mythologies, Roland Barthes proposes destroying myth by creating an alternate myth. In what is apparently a dark satire on today’s politics, does American Horror Story attempt to demystify today’s political ideologies by holding a fun house mirror to our political divide? Through this horror lens will we see the absurdity of the transference of American fears perpetuated by a grandiose individual?
Barthes, Roland. “Myth Today” in Mythologies. Translated by Annette Lavers, Hill and Wang, 1972, 135.
Žižek, Slavoj. “Law is Law” in The Sublime Object of Ideology. Verso, 2009, 42.