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The Worst Cable Content of the Week

 

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American Horror Story: Asylum on FX

By Christopher Gildemeister

PTC Senior Writer/Editor

October 26, 2012

 

“Television is a thing where some doors have to be pushed open and, once those doors are pushed open, other people will follow.”  -- Ryan Murphy, at the 2007 Television Critics Association (Multichannel News, July 12, 2007) 

 

Created by Ryan Murphy, who previously invented FX’s demented doctor drama Nip/Tuck, and who is currently creator and showrunner of Fox’s Glee and NBC’s The New Normal, the FX drama American Horror Story is precisely what its title claims…or it pretends to be. Though dominated by twisted sex and bloodshed, in its first season American Horror Story did occasionally manage to instill a genuine sense of dread and unease in the viewer. But this season, the program is so overblown it could almost qualify as a comedy…were it not for the blatant bigotry on display.  For its sickening content, and even more, the prejudice behind it, the October 17th premiere of FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum (Wednesdays, 10:00 p.m. ET) definitely deserves the designation Worst Cable TV Show of the Week.   

After a teaser showing a honeymooning couple who “visited the 12 most haunted places in America and screwed our brains out in every single one of them,” and who have chosen to do the same in the now-abandoned asylum which is the series’ setting, the episode proper was preceded by the announcement, “The following program is rated TV-MA LSV. It contains strong language, sexual situations, violence and nudity.” Of course it does – it’s a Ryan Murphy series on FX. But in addition to the Nip/Tuck creator’s trademark mélange of perverted sex, gore-soaked violence, non-stop profanity, and mood of dark depravity, this time Murphy has added anti-religious invective into the mix. Such is shown by the program’s opening credits, in which creepy music, graphic surgery, and copulation are interspersed with images of the Virgin Mary.  

After a seemingly irrelevant interlude about an interracial couple who are attacked by UFO aliens, the program introduces its principal setting and characters. In the year 1964, the mental asylum Briarcliff has recently been taken over and is being run by the Catholic Church. Viewers rapidly meet the perky but simpleminded Sister Mary Eunice; her sadistic superior, Sister Jude; the sanitarium’s administrator, Monsignor Timothy Howard; chief of medicine (and mad scientist) Dr. Arthur Arden; and investigative reporter Lana Winters. Learning that the serial murderer “Bloodyface” is being committed to Briarcliff, Lana sneaks in, attempting to interview him. (It turns out that “Bloodyface” is a victim of the alien abduction, and murdered his own wife after the aliens implanted a device in his body.) But the sadistic Sister Jude is enraged by Lana’s prying, and imprisons her in Briarcliff.  

A sane innocent wrongly imprisoned in a mental asylum under the control of a sadistic warden is a time-honored trope in horror fiction; but American Horror Story: Asylum is so over-the-top in its execution that it is less One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest than The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The program would actually be hilarious camp…were its underpinnings not so ugly.  

In addition to sporting a wavering, now-you-hear-it-now-you-don’t dialect comprising equal parts Boston, Brooklyn, and Southern cornpone accents, Jessica Lange’s performance as sadistic nun Sister Jude is apparently a deliberate attempt to ape Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest. While threatening to beat Sister Mary Eunice with a cane, Lange shrieks, “I favored you! I coddled you! I refused to see what others saw when they said you were STUPID!” Were Lange to conclude her histrionics by bellowing, “NO WIRE HANGERS EVER!!” it would be perfectly in keeping with the rest of her performance.  

Similarly, Sister Mary Eunice is a caricature of the perky, upbeat religious sister, with mannerisms reminiscent of The Flying Nun – until Sister Jude berates her, whereupon she dissolves into overblown sobs, bends over Jude’s desk, bares her buttocks, and wails, “PUNISH ME!!! I’m so STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!” (Predictably, Sister Jude replies, “If I ever hear you call yourself stupid again, I’ll cane you bloody.”) And James Cromwell as the mad doctor Arden is so far over the top that he all but twirls his mustache and sneers, “I’m EEEE-VIL! MWAhahahaha!”  

Naturally, the program is also packed with every imaginable variety of tawdry sex (including an inmate who masturbates, then throws his semen into Sister Mary Eunice’s face), graphic gore, and endless profanity, sandwiched between dialogue Murphy presumably believes is the very epitome of clever wit: when climbing Briarcliff’s staircase Sister Mary Eunice smarms, “Sister Jude calls this her stairway to heaven,” while after giving an inmate a haircut, Sister Jude sneers about the inmate’s “immaculacy.”  

Though sickening, all of this could be considered a laughable attempt at a serious horror drama – were it not for the solid foundation of unapologetic and blatant bigotry upon which the entire program rests.  

American Horror Story: Asylum is virulent anti-Catholic propaganda of a type unseen in America since the days of Maria Monk.  It is as though Murphy and his fellow writers consulted the research of Philip Jenkins before writing their script. Among the program’s catalogue of anti-Catholic canards are:

  • Nuns are abusive and sadistic. In addition to the instances mentioned above, Sister Jude brutally canes “Bloodyface,” allows him to be attacked by other inmates, then orders the asylum’s orderlies to beat him. The episode ends with Jude strapping Lana to a table and threatening her with torture.

 

  • Catholic clergy are motivated solely by ambition. Monsignor Howard rhapsodizes at length about how success in running Briarcliff will cause him to be promoted to cardinal, and eventually “the first Anglo-American Pope!” He offers to share his power with Jude, whom “thousands of sisters will call ‘Reverend Mother!’” Admittedly, this does take place in Sister Jude’s fantasy. But this is only natural, since…

 

  • Catholic clergy are sexual perverts and hypocrites. Before dinner with Monsignor Howard, Sister Jude is shown fondling her cleavage and donning lacy red lingerie as religious music soars. Her fantasy concludes with the nun stripping off her habit and straddling the priest’s crotch.

 

  • Catholic piety is phony, and Catholics are secretly bigots. Sister Jude is shown praying the “Hail Mary” – after which, she proceeds to abuse her patients, Sister Mary Eunice, and Lana. Instead of leading to compassion, Sister Jude’s prayers are shown only to engender a shrill hatred of everyone and everything that does not meet her limited worldview, and actually cause her to exhibit only brutality and sadism toward others. Sister Jude is also a bigot; while taunting “Bloodyface” (who killed his African-American wife), she sneers, “Did her dark meat slide off the bone any easier than your other victims?” 

 

  • Catholics are ignorant and substitute irrational dogma for science. Sister Jude snarls that one inmate was committed by a doctor who “compared her to a wood nymph.” “You mean nymphomania?” Lana asks. “Just more nonsense from the charlatans,” Jude replies. “That young woman is a victim of her own lust! Mental illness is the fashionable explanation for SIN!” Sister Jude also persistently criticizes Dr. Arden’s treatment of the patients. (True, Arden is a mad scientist who experiments on his charges; but Sister Jude does not yet know this. Her opposition to Arden rests entirely on the grounds that science is worthless.) That a nun with such beliefs would have been put in charge of a mental institution in the pro-science, pro-psychology Vatican II era of 1964 Catholicism is ridiculous; but then, why expect accuracy from a program which even features a secret tunnel under the convent?

 

  • Catholics use their influence solely to oppress others. In addition to her blatant abuse of the charges under her keeping, Sister Jude wrongfully imprisons Lana – a woman she knows to be sane – then bullies Lana’s lesbian lover Wendy into signing commitment papers by threatening to expose their liaison, which in 1964 would result in Wendy’s disgrace and dismissal from her job as a schoolteacher. Because Catholics – especially nuns! – are all about ruining other people’s lives, y’know.

  

Murphy is entitled to his opinion. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, and Murphy’s vast popularity in the entertainment industry assures him the opportunity to express it. But it is unconscionable that every cable and satellite subscriber in America (including many Roman Catholics, who comprise the single largest religious denomination in the country) is forced by the entertainment industry to subsidize Murphy’s bigoted attacks on their faith. By choosing to support American Horror Story, the FX network and its advertisers are making such material appear acceptable, and are opening the door to even more attacks on Catholics…and as Murphy himself has stated, “once those doors are pushed open, other people will follow.”

 

The following companies sponsored American Horror Story. To contact them with your concerns, click on each name below, or use the address provided.

FX network [email: user@fxnetworks.com]

AT&T

Anheuser-Busch

Bacardi

Dyson

H&M

Joe’s Crab Shack

Miller/Coors

Patron

Sonos

 

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