Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Thing I Like: American Horror Story

For 2014, I want to try to remember to do some more "positive" posts.  Not sure why I'm using scare/sneer quotes there, perhaps I have a general aversion to all things toxic-forced-optimistic/positive.  It's my blog and I'll cry if I want to, dammit!

But seriously, many things in life make me happy and are pleasing to me and I want to start a somewhat-regular series talking about those things.  I should note that the media, people, articles, and things I choose for this new series may indeed be, and probably are, problematic in some ways - and I may point those things out (and feel free to do so also). It's a fact of life for me that enjoyment in life often comes with having to compartmentalize racist, sexist, homophobic, and otherwise-problematic elements from entertaining things.

So, that being said, I've been binge-watching all of the seasons of American Horror Story.  I've long been a fan of the horror genre and, actually, began reading Stephen King novels at the probably-too-young age of sometime in grade school.

Growing up, I was bored by the Friday the 13th type of slasher shows, and was more drawn to books like Misery where it seemed like the plot could maybe happen in real life or movies like the Nightmare on Elm Street series that, although slasher-y, also contained a scary psychological element.  Like, how awful would it be to be scared to go to sleep because of this scary dude who might kill you in your dreams?  Nightmare also had some pretty badass female characters, too.

*Spoilers and discussion of events on American Horror Story, all seasons; also content note for racism and general horror show stuff*

All of the seasons are remarkable, to me, for having a variety of female characters in addition to their subtle and sometimes-more-explicit critiques of traditional narratives about gender and family. The cast is mostly white, although that somewhat changes in Season 3, yet the female characters include those who are old, young, queer, disabled, mentally ill, thin, fat, and in-between.

While the beginning of Season 1, Murder House, might initially lead viewers to think that Ben, the adulterous, murderous husband, would be the main protagonist, he quickly - in my opinion - becomes supremely unlikable and secondary.  It's largely his wife Vivian, and those who are often mired in "supporting character" roles to the "Ben" roles, who end up as the (anti?)-heroes of the show.

One of my soundbite take-aways from that season is that family success and happiness are not obtainable by simple equations like "1 man + woman + their biological children," but rather honesty, openness, and trust. By the end of the series, the protagonist nuclear family doesn't seem to start effectively functioning as a family until they're all dead, there are no more secrets between them, and they're Beetlejuicing potential new homeowners away from the residence.

I'm currently engrossed in Season 3, Coven, and here are my somewhat random thoughts on it:

  • By my calculations it seems as though Coven has the incredibly rare honor of not passing a reverse Bechdel Test.  That is, I have yet to think of any one scene that exists in which two men talk to each other about something other than a woman! I'm okay with that, too. And, I'm going to justify me being okay with that by only noting that I've endured more than 3 decades of movies and TV shows failing the Bechdel Test, so yes, I can be happy about this one of the few things in the media that is so explicitly female-centric.
  • Jessica Lange is amazing. She's great in all 3 seasons, actually, I think.
  • Likewise, with Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Francis Conroy, and upcoming Stevie Nicks cameos, I find it difficult to think of a TV show or movie that features multiple women aged 55 or over that isn't called Cocoon.
  • I find myself more drawn to the older and middle-aged female characters, but of the "young witches," it's Queenie, portrayed by Gabourey Sidibe, who so far is perhaps the most decent witch of the bunch.  She has every reason to hate the racist Delphine LaLaurie, and maybe she does, but she's largely been compassionate. And, the scene in which she forced the body-less Delphine to watch Roots to overcome her racism was bizarrely moving. 
  • And, the finality of that scene, in which the white Cordelia's witch-hunter husband opened fire in Marie Laveau's salon, seemed to be a powerful statement about white women's alliances with white men. Until she lost her vision, Cordelia had been oblivious to her husband's membership in a patriarchal "brotherhood" of men who hate, hunt, and kill witches. Ultimately, Cordelia's husband whatever-his-name-is, ends up killing Marie's allies not only because he fears for his own life but because he loves Cordelia and wants to protect her.
  • I'm also intrigued by portrayals of female leaders. In Coven, we see several models of female leadership. Fiona was strong, for instance, but seems to have squandered her strength and ability to mentor other women by being selfish and absent. Cordelia is soft-spoken and the acting head of the witch school. Although she seems hesitant to see herself as a leader, others come to see her as one perhaps because she shows a quiet strength.  Marie is the leader of the voodoo practitioners and, through flashbacks, we see that she leads by providing a sanctuary from racism and by seeking revenge on the racists who have harmed her allies. 
Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing where Coven will go in the remaining episodes, particularly the potential alliance between Marie Laveux and the Salem witches.  I wish I cared more about what happened with the Frankendude Kyle plot, but I don't. And the zombies? Please tell me zombies will be "out" by the time 2014 ends.

What do others think - are you watching this too?

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