Is the season's buzziest new show as sexist as critics claim?
by Litsa Dremousis
Love Lessons From… is a new Nerve column in which Litsa Dremousis examines the love-and-sex themes of buzzy pop culture.
As we head into tonight's Season 1 finale of FX's gothic smash, American Horror Story, I want to address the oft-bandied and totally erroneous Internet chatter that American Horror Story is misogynist. No, it's not. Not even close.
American Horror Story has engendered passionate online debate over its every facet, and with good reason. The latest offering from Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (the co-creators of Glee and Nip/Tuck) features Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton as fractured midlife couple Ben and Vivien Harmon, and Taissa Farmiga as their gifted and alienated seventeen-year-old daughter, Violet. The season began with the Harmons departing their Boston home to search for a new life in Los Angeles, after Vivien gave birth to a stillborn baby. Her grief manifested itself with a funeral, replete with baby coffin. Ben, being a psychiatrist and trained in such matters, responded by repeatedly sticking his penis into his twenty-year-old kohl-eyed student, Hayden. Must be a strict Freudian.
When the Harmons arrive in Los Angeles — a city awash with successful fresh starts and emotional health! — they discover a stunning Victorian mansion in their price range. Their real-estate agent says the previous owners died there in a murder-suicide pact, hence the steep discount. While Vivien expresses reluctance, Violet seems drawn to the house because its peculiar sadness matches her own. Ben brims with the contrition that sometimes follows penile mishaps and insists he'll set up his practice upstairs, allowing him to spend more time with the family.
Then seemingly out of nowhere, Moira, the housekeeper, appears and explains she has worked for the last several owners. Vivien sees Moira in an older, reserved incarnation (the always magnificent Frances Conroy) and Ben sees her as a scorching hot penis magnet (portrayed with scorching hotness by Alexandra Breckenridge). Wait, how can that be? Might the house be… haunted? Well, obviously.
Now, there's no denying what the show's critics allege — the women of American Horror Story embody some weapons-grade gender stereotypes. Vivien was a cellist who abandoned her music to stay home and raise Violet. Violet is sullen and falls in love with Tate, the first guy she sleeps with, despite his being homicidal. Constance (Jessica Lange) is the archetypal "bad mom" whose kids are homicidal (see Tate) or wounded by her paradoxical combination of total control and abject neglect.
To which I say, "What about the men?" Ben navigates his penis like a drunk pilot in a thunderstorm. Tate randomly kills his classmates and, oh yeah, rapes Vivien and creates what might or might not be the anti-Christ. (More on that in tonight's finale, presumably.) It's like the men of American Horror Story are chugging testosterone laced with PCP and Red Bull. How can a show be misogynistic when both sexes act full-tilt batshit? It's not as if the women here are siphoning all the crazy: the men are ruled by their hormones to same degree. Indeed, it's horrific. That's the point of the show!
American Horror Story polarizes. No one watches it and shrugs. But it is, at its yearning, erratic, loving, and vengeful heart, a show where women and men, gay and straight, try, fail, and try again to find meaning and peace in a world often short on both. Equality, after all.
Litsa Dremousis' work appears in The Believer, Esquire, McSweeney's, MSN Music, The Onion's A.V. Club, Paste, the Seattle Weekly, on NPR and in sundry other venues. She is completing her first novel. On Twitter: @LitsaDremousis. She archives her previously published work at http://theslipperyfish.