American Horror Story: Asylum
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.
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!”
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.”
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.
is virulent anti-Catholic propaganda of a type unseen in America since the days
Maria Monk. It is as though Murphy and his fellow writers consulted the
Philip Jenkins before writing their script. Among the program’s catalogue of
anti-Catholic canards 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.
clergy are motivated solely by ambition.
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…
clergy are sexual perverts and hypocrites.
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.
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?”
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?
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.
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.”
companies sponsored American Horror Story. To contact them with your
concerns, click on each name below, or use the address provided.
Joe’s Crab Shack
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