It was a dark and stormy night… Okay it wasn’t, but US election night 2016 might as well have been. Where other far-right freaks had failed in western countries, Agent Orange triumphed. The political rule book was well and truly ripped to shreds by the narcissistic billionaire reality telly host, whose presidential campaign amounted to lies and whipping up squalls of hate. He promised to ‘drain the swamp’ that was DC politics, build a wall across the southern border and ‘Make America Great Again’.
American Horror Story’s seventh season grabs the zeitgeist with a tale set in Donald Trump’s America. Will it prove a benefit or a wrong turn? It’s hard to judge based on one episode, but given only World War III could make things worse right now, it’s understandable that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk were inspired enough to dedicate an entire season of their hit show to the waking nightmare that is the Trump presidency.
Sarah Paulson’s Ally loses more than her cool when the announcement comes in that Trump is the new President Elect: she starts tripping out and is unable to tell reality from unreality. Clowns are in the White House, and it just so happens she’s coulrophobic. The demonic circus performers operate as manifestations of her inner fears. The aggressive male behaviour of the chief clown, his dildo nose, and the sexualised activity Ally imagines in a supermarket produce section appear to target and taunt her gay identity.
Ally looks a ‘problematic’ creation, though, to use the de rigueur cultural buzzword. Why attack liberal folk, when it’s the far-right that needs a good pasting? She represents the embodiment of everything the right hates – left-wing, comfortably off, gay, successful in life, in a relationship with another woman and co-parenting a young son. But it’s as if Murphy and Falchuk saw Ally – and people like her – as ripe for monstering, too. Then there’s the fact she threw away her vote on Jill Stein, instead of Hilary Clinton. What her actions should reveal is the lack of true choice in American politics. Yet, at a time when Trump and all he represents being anathema to American ideals and its self-image as an open, tolerant nation, Ally messed up big time, according to Murphy and Falchuk. Therefore, it’s open season, or, at least, it provides a convenient character to terrorise. In the wider culture context, Ally sort-of fits in with the current crop of ‘liberals as monsters’ seen in movies and TV. Nasty Baby and Get Out are two key examples and Nicole Kidman’s character in Top of the Lake Season 2 fringed upon it.
New cast member Billie Lourd (the late Carrie Fisher’s daughter) is a fine addition to Americna Horror Story. Winter is a creepy, Manson Family-like college dropout and Hilary acolyte, who becomes nanny to Ally’s kid. Winter is the sister of Kai (Evan Peters), who, if not for his blue hair, wouldn’t be out of place at the recent Charlottesville rally. Kai is simply overjoyed by Trump’s win. At the start of Episode 1, he’s so thrilled he blends up a bag of cheese puffs and smears his face orange as a sign of victory. He then goes to a local council meeting and tells the board that fear is what motors society and keeping people in fear will make for a better world. He’s like an Objectivist psychopath (if Ayn Rand created The Joker), intent on bring about Trump’s racist vision for the country by instigating his own Tyler Durden-style Operation Mayhem.
American Horror Story has always traded in being crazy and outrageously transgressive and Season 7 promises to be a trawl through the madness of the American psyche like never before. Whether it’s successful or not remains to be seen.