Polygone: On Being Too Scared of American Horror Story

Long story short: Polygon, a site with great writers, overzealous editors, and awful moderators, banned me (forever) from their message boards, in large part because I would disagree with an opinion piece and provide my rationale in the comments section. I still read the site because it’s well-designed and, as I said, has (on the whole) great staff. That said, I still find myself disagreeing with some of their more agenda-driven material. I’ll use the “Polygone” tag to denote these sort of short responses, and I’ll open my comments section up to anybody who wishes to disagree.

First off, here’s a link to the article, so that it’s clear I’m not taking anybody out of context.


Next, my issue with the piece, presented as clearly and plainly as possible: the show’s title is American Horror Story. Calling a rape scene “unnecessary” basically misses the point of horror. It shocked you, it disturbed you, it exploited you, and if it happened to you in the real world, it’d be horrific. To be fair, the author sees this coming and qualifies her stance with the following:

“If there isn’t a reason for the characters to suffer, the horror of the situation fades into the background and it becomes grotesque torture porn, written for no other reason than to exploit the characters and shock the audience.”

But what does that mean? If horror only ever happens for a reason, then it’s not awful so much as deserved. This is the very thing the Scream series and Cabin in the Woods deconstructed, as if there’s some moral or apocryphal hand behind every monster. And while Funny Games was designed to criticize the titillation we derive from horror movies by stripping away all hope, all motivation, it was also effective in being more deeply horrific than anything before it. By the author’s reasoning, the Saw series is the be-all end-all of horror films, because violence is turned into a game, and each awful thing that occurs is carefully planned. Ironic, given that that series, along with, say, Hostel, are the films most often blamed for giving rise to so-called “torture porn.”

The author, then, like so many politically correct and social justice warriors before her, is calling for a sanitized world. She can’t enjoy Game of Thrones if it’s going to feature unjust things happening to good people, especially if that thing is rape, which is to be treated like this generation’s “N-word,” in that maybe if we just don’t ever say it, the sentiments and actions behind it will go away. But a horror film or television anthology isn’t interested in conforming to the pleasant world around us. It’s there to shock us and make us turn away, and the only point at which Ryan Murphy owes you an apology is the point at which it’s so common or poorly acted and shot that you don’t want to turn away (at least, not because of physical revulsion). The author’s welcome to her opinion, of course, but it’s a bit like blaming a dog for acting like a dog (although, to be fair, that’s something we’ve been doing for years with our domestication of the species). The easiest way to deal with that, then, is not by writing an opinion piece about it, but by simply not tuning in. There’s a lot of stuff I can’t watch on ABC Family, but if your baseline for something happening is that there needs to be a reason for it, you’ve basically just discounted every procedural and sitcom out there.

In any case, there is a reason for this scene. The Hotel is a character, and the ghostly characters that reside there are emanations of its aura. Seeing how horrendously it treats visitors provides a reason for the act itself. And, for the record, author to author, I really wouldn’t hold up “Nip/Tuck” as an example of a non-exploitative, better Ryan Murphy show. That’s a show in which a man was bound to a chair and literally turned into a teddy bear, one of the most horrific and exploitative images I’ve ever seen. And that wasn’t a show that billed itself, first and foremost, as horror.

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