Every morning we address the important topic of something big, significant, funny, weird, etc. that happened while we were lying on the couch in front of the TV last night. Today we're looking at an unpleasantly unsettling scene on FX's American Horror Story. Spoilers abound, so proceed with caution.
American Horror Story is, despite all of its silliness and overly manufactured mood, an undeniably entertaining show. It's campy and creepy and doesn't seem to take itself too seriously, as it shouldn't. It's not the kind of horror thing that demands we imagine ourselves in the situation in order to be scared, which would require the show to exist at least somewhat within the bounds of the real. No, this show eschews all attempts at relatability and just throws the grimy, gore-ridden kitchen sink into the middle of the room and we yelp and laugh in equal measure. It's fun! Sure it's dark and gross and everything, but all the depravity is such an operatic brand of grand guignolia that all the demon babies and bloody shows come across as nothing more than elaborate stage effects, akin to rattling a sheet of metal to make thunder. It's all so silly it's consequence free.
But then last night they go and open with an all-too-realistic high school shooting, in which young students are picked off one by one with a shotgun as they cower in the school library, and the whole thing just deflated into a gigantic bummer. The episode was still engaging, but in a different way. In a more stark and sinister way that doesn't fit at all with the campier aspects of the show -- Jessica Lange's loopy-kooky character, Denis O'Hare's grotesque vaudevillian, looming specters in vinyl gimp suits. The game of the show, at least for us and it seems many others, is to watch in delight, with hand-covered eyes, as the writers one-up each other in the nuttiness department. But a school shooting? Man is there nothing fun about a school shooting.
Was last night's opening scary? Of course. It was tense and awful. But it wasn't the right kind of scary for this dopey show. The chief (if perhaps initially unintentional on the creators' part) product of this show should be laughter. Maybe not during the immediate viewing, but certainly in the relieved, adrenalin-filled moments following. Like, look at these ridiculous folks getting scared at a haunted house. No doubt they were genuinely frightened when those photos snapped, but more than likely most of them were laughing only a few minutes, or seconds, later. That's the kind of silly, ultimately empty scare that American Horror Story is best at. A school shooting is not that. That's far too real, far too much of a downer for a dumb Wednesday night.
And, well, it's more than a little tasteless in a "Hey, this, y'know, actually happened" kind of way. Obviously everything on the show, if done in real life, is insanely terrible -- maybe a viewer somewhere knew a man who had his neck snapped while drowning in an apple-bobbing tub and was gravely offended when the show did that -- but this particular set piece seemed so deliberately exact. There was a particular event, or events, that they were trying to directly evoke and that's just cruel.
That said, the rest of the episode was pretty strong, including a jokey, subtle reference to "famous" celebrity medium Allison DuBois' disastrous appearance on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills last season. (Puffing away on a cig and everything -- only this one was real.) See! This show is funny. It's a lark. And there's no need to drag Columbine into that.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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