Friday, January 18, 2013

American Horror Story and Gratuitous Rape

American Horror Story is a show that loves to push boundaries. Sometimes it does this with some terribly emotional, painful and dramatic scenes that are incredible to watch. Sometimes it does this by invoking and presenting a horrendously hard to watch issue, realistically and with no sugar-coating as it did in American Horror Story: Asylum, with the painful depictions of ex-gay “therapy” inflicted on Lana. And sometimes it does this by deciding to have Anne Frank run around in an act of line crossing that left us stunned.

In it’s urge to shock, American Horror Story loves to leap across lines it should hesitate to cross, and rarely have we seen this more evident than with the constant depiction of rape through these 2 seasons.

Rape was a consistent theme throughout American Horror Story: Asylum. In many cases, it was absolutely brutal and painful to watch.  In the media, it is not uncommon to see violence aimed at women but the degree to which American Horror Story: Asylum included rape in its storyline this year was absolutely gratuitous. One cannot even reasonably argue that the rape occurred to move the plot along - it was inserted for shock value, nothing more. Leigh didn’t need to try and rape Jude to have his revenge with her, any more than in America Horror Story: Murder House, Tate had to rape Patrick to murder him. The point of  American Horror Story: Asylum, was for the viewer to be horrified by the conditions of the inmates and this most certainly could have been done without the continual rape of women.  Rape became a facet of entertainment, a tool for setting the theme.

All of the rapists were clearly to be understood as evil and in particular Dr. Thredson played by Zachary Quinto. It is good that rape is understood as a terrible violation; however, American Horror Story: Asylum made it seem as though all rape occurs because of psychopaths. Even though the rape itself was intimate because all of the victims knew their attacker in someway, the attacks still occurred within a framework of the rapist being psychologically damaged in some way, as a way of explaining his actions. The true motivation for rape is power, not psychosis, as American Horror Story: Asylum would have us believe. It doesn’t take a mental illness to make a rapist, nor can we attempt to excuse or distance ourselves from the horrors of rape, by presenting the perpetrators as always as these evil, mentally damaged people, rather than, as is often the case, the normal man in the street, the neighbour, the friend - even the loved one. This is a trope which was continued on from  American Horror Story: Murder House, where the rapist of Vivien and Patrick was Tate, a mass murderer and someone who was again presented to be insane. This approach servers to pathologize the mentally ill and establish mental illness as a threat to the safety and society. 

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