American Horror Story: Why am I watching this?

Super casual post here, but can anyone tell me why I’m watching American Horror Story?

Because it’s not like I have a problem with dark (aren’t I always talking about the receptor sites I don’t have for happy shiny things?), and it’s not like the show isn’t structurally masterful.

The parallels in 1.02 with nurse-murders and the abortion alone are worthy of one essay, and there’s certainly another to be found in “I don’t believe there’s any door beauty can’t open” when linked with the bad girl mirror closet and the broader body of Ryan Murphy’s work (honestly, I should Netflix all his stuff and write that for a journal, because awesome).

But I’m not a horror fan, and I’m more than a little resistant to shows with a guess-the-mystery structure.

Patty, however, is a horror fan, and she’s on board. But I’m like “Why are we watching this grisly murder? Why did we need this level of detail? Why do I feel like this show is trying to make this titillating as we identify with the victims? Is the horror not what happens but how I the viewer experience the horror? Please explain this genre to me, I don’t get it.”

I, in a single sentence, asked this same question on Tumblr last night, and the answers I go ran the gamut from “best show ever” to “because it’s awful.” And certainly, American Horror Story does seem to be, in part, explicitly about rubbernecking other people’s bad choices; much like fandom often seems to be about rubbernecking what’s wrong with stuff we actually love.

But all of this is besides the point. I just want to know why I’m watching this thing and what the purpose of the revulsion I feel is.

Do I just not get the genre? Does it just not matter if I’m miserable and uncomfortable with the content if I am (and I really am) turned on by its structure and winking fourth-wall mocking in-jokes instead? And can I love a show if my experience of it is completely divorced from any character empathy or long-term curiosity about the narrative?

Because I think I might, and, well, that’s strange.

For those of you making your way through this thing (or who have given up on it), what’s your relationship with it?

11 thoughts on “American Horror Story: Why am I watching this?”

  1. I gave up two minutes in when there was a dead cat. Turns out dead cats are my oddly specific hard limit.
    I think if I were going to watch it (you know, if there hadn’t been a dead cat) I would, like you, endure the horror for the sake of appreciating the more subtextual stuff, because I always find that sort of thing fascinating. But, dead cat, so we’ll never know.

    1. I got past the dead cat because we never saw the cat alive. I’m currently freaking out because there’s a little fluffy dog, which we know is going to die, because that’s how the genre works. But it’s still not dead. And I keep wishing the dog would bite it already so I can stop spending every episode going “IS THIS HOW THE DOG IS GOING TO DIE?”

      1. Yeah, the dead cat was uncomfortable. But nothing like the dead cat in True Blood. I was SO upset they killed the cat. I mean, granny, yeah, that was sad, but the freaking cat?! I may need some lessons in priorities or something.

  2. I haven’t given up on it yet, though I honestly can’t tell you why. I find most of the characters completely unappealing, a lot of the horror over-the-top, and there’s a distinct lack of suspense which is the one thing in horror that can really get me freaked out. It’s not the gore itself that gets to me, it’s the anticipation of the evil.

    I think part of the reason I watch it is because practically all of the higher ups on AHS are also the higher ups on Glee. And there’s a part of me that thinks that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk often have moments in the Glee writers’ room when they go “No, we couldn’t do that here, but we could take that and make it a hundred times worse and do it on AHS!” It’s the combination of the two being produced simultaneously that kind of fascinates me.

    Plus, ever since I saw/read (I’m a total sucker for a great infographic) “The Tropes Of Ryan Murphy“, it’s made me hyper-aware of those tropes and I do enjoy getting a massive chuckle out of the sheer predictability of it.

    That said, if the narrative and/or the characters don’t start to draw me in soon, I’m not sure how long any of the above will keep me interested. Then again, I said that after about episode three.

  3. For me, it was the girl, Adelaide. I get very sensitive about how those with Down Syndrome and Mental Retardation are portrayed and I didn’t like how they seemed to use her for a creep factor rather than plot purposes. Although to be honest, I only saw the first episode so if that changed, I’d love to know. I do know they killed her off just a few episodes later as if not knowing what to do with her.

    I have grown to like Twin Peaks and American Gothic so I thought I might like this, but it wasn’t like those shows at all.

  4. I’m watching, but not in any way religiously or feeling any kind of compulsion to watch it, which, frankly, is nice.

    I like the kid. And the other teen. I’m terrible with names.

    And I love the whole “the basement is where the evil is” and I wonder will the dog die? Because hey, sometimes they like to fuck with us so maybe Fido lives.

    And I love how nuts the characters are. And the fact that it’s all seemingly based around a shrink, and crazy (mostly dead) people. It’s kind of delicious, but I can’t figure out why (and haven’t tried, really) because it’s fun and gross and my wife loves horror so it’s something we can watch together.

    My cup o’tea would mostly be thrillers rather than horrors, but I enjoy some of the stuff they do to shake us up, and because I enjoy being uncomfortable, I can get through the rest of it. Horror, or supernatural stuff is distinctly anti-rational, which I think hooks a lot of people. Like, oh, look at the cocky modern people thinking that ghost stuff is all pucky, well they’re gonna end up dead.

    Apologies if that made no sense. I think I’m becoming a Night Nurse addict.

  5. I wish I could watch it–I have to stay far away from horror, but I have some friends watching it who are all kinds of thrilled and fascinated by the disability politics there.

    Some day I want to know why Murphy and Falchuck focus on the things they do. They’re oddly specific, deeply weird ,just two degrees shy of what you might expect, and fascinating.

  6. There’s a healthy minority of Friday Night Lights fans (yay!) who are in love with Connie Britton (swoon!), who plays the wife. Seriously. I know this is probably a stretch for you, but that show was unbelievably good.

  7. I’ve never been into horror, although I can appreciate it when it veers towards sci-fi or suspense or humor; I’m not sure any other genre does self-referential funny and trope-awareness funny as well as horror.

    But I don’t get it either.

    People have tried to explain it as “Well thank goodness that isn’t me” or even “Well thank goodness I’m smarter than that idiot who walked right into the serial killer’s trap”. And it seems to me that most oft he horror fans I know are not people who have particularly suffered from horrible things in their lives (by comparison, which is always dangerous, but: horror fans seem to be pretty average Americans, not Kosovar refugees or formerly homeless teenage addicts or systematic torture victims). Maybe the fact that many horror trope characters are not so sympathetic is partly deliberate; people want to feel superior to the idiots who decide that during the monster attack is a good idea to sneak off and have sex in the spooky abandoned building.

    And sometimes horror can be a great metaphor; vampirism-as-HIV, zombies-as-racism, and the like. But I like that best the farthest it gets from gore and screams and things that try to scare me. I like the monster-as-man business, but I’d be happier with a psychological thriller about it than a slasher.

    I wonder if it’s related to my love of “disaster porn” and emergency preparedness. I like to think that when a volcano pops out of downtown Los Angeles or aliens attack, that I will be one of the “heroes” with my disaster kit and first aid knowledge, rather than one of the screaming useless victims. Maybe horror movie lovers figure they’re preparing for the worst.

    I had a weird childhood, and I never thought serial killers or monsters were a plausible threat; they didn’t scare me because they weren’t real. I was afraid of World War Three, of Iranian terrorists taking my family hostage, of having to escape from a suddenly hostile city, of terrorist bombs under our car. But I grew up an overseas kid, so those were “real” threats to me; much more plausible in the scenario of my life. I didn’t live in a horror movie; I lived in a “taut, gripping psychological thriller about the post-cold-war era”. If I want to be afraid, escaped serial killers with immortality and a lust for my spleen is not what comes to mind, it’s a stolen nuke in the Middle East. That’s what was relevant to me. Do most Americans find horror more relevant than I do? I don’t know. Those movies sure are popular.

    We didn’t watch horror at home. We didn’t watch war movies either, unless they were PG-rated black-and-white ones or MASH. Dad was a Vietnam veteran who had nightmares if he watched that stuff.

    And I do worry about desensitization caused by those sorts of things. My own almost total lack of TV-watching means that when I am exposed to a TV commercial, I nearly flinch from the volume and intensity. Coming back from then-undercommercialized North Africa to American ads and billboards was shocking when I was a tween. I don’t want to not feel shock or disgust when humans are killed graphically on screen.

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