Thursday, September 14, 2017

‘American Horror Story’ and the Cult of Paranoia

Written by  Brian George Hose
Fear: fashionable Fear: fashionable

In case you missed it, the new season of “American Horror Story” has begun. This, coupled with the arrival of sweater weather, makes this one of my favorite times of the year. I’ve been a fan of “AHS” for years because there’s a lot to like. The award-winning show has given us some incredible performances and memorable storylines, all while illustrating and commenting on the horrors of American life in smart, sometimes subtle ways.

This season, “Cult,” looks like it’s going to be a winner. Inspired by the 2016 presidential election, the focus is less about the candidates and more about how the outcome affects the show’s ensemble cast of diverse characters. So far it has touched on themes of paranoia, power, control, influence, vulnerability, and persecution - and that’s just the first episode. Out and proud actress Sarah Paulson secures her leading lady status playing a character afraid of nearly everything, including tiny holes and coral (yes, coral), keeping her character grounded with subtle winks to the audience acknowledging that, yes, she’s playing a ridiculous contradiction on the verge of caricature. Oh, and she’s having what could be delusions of murderous-yet-amorous clowns that she’s sure are out to get her, proving once again that in the “AHS” universe she is the queen of pain and suffering.

The first episode of the season is always a kind of overture, introducing the audience to important characters and giving a taste of what’s to come. As such, the episode had a lot to take in. Somewhere between a memorable scene featuring actual Cheetos dust and a standoff involving weaponized rosé was a sweet moment in which Paulson’s character crossed the street with her wife, played by Alison Pill, their arms lovingly wrapped around each other, before being accosted. It was this moment, more than the scary clowns or creepy coral, that struck me as incredibly unnerving because it was such a relatable moment, a reminder that having won marriage equality does not assure our safety when we show affection in public.

This is where paranoia, one of the show’s themes, comes in. Having been out for half my life, I’ve experienced varying degrees of harassment in public in a variety of locations, just as I’m sure many of you have. It’s enough to make you think twice about holding hands with your date in public, regardless of whether you’re in a rural area or a thriving metropolis. The reason is that harassers tend to follow a simple unspoken rule: Only attack if they do something gay. By this logic it’s ok to be seen with your date, but only as long as it doesn’t look like a date – just two guys/gals enjoying a movie and sharing popcorn.

Before you think I’m pulling a Paulson and overreacting, consider this: I didn’t make this up; this is a sentiment I’ve heard from a number of straight people who say things along the lines of “I don’t mind gay people as long as I don’t see them doing gay stuff,” which loosely translates to, “Don’t be gay and there won’t be trouble.” This is the reason some of us have complicated situations in which we are out to everyone but so-and-so, or out to everyone except coworkers. We know that ignorance and bigotry exist, and unfortunately our community has experienced enough tragedies to know that we are vulnerable. So, when we feel paranoid, we also know that the feeling is real and justified.

There isn’t a simple one-size-fits-all approach to this. Use your best judgment if you’re concerned about your safety, but also remember that if you let others influence your decisions you’re also giving them control of your life. If you have concerns, talk to your friends and decide what works best for you. In the meantime, I look forward to a world where crossing the street with your spouse isn’t an American horror story.


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