by Shannon Tinkham, Economics major at the University of Vermont.
Since its release in 2011, American Horror Story has been known for taking chances and testing the limits of cable television. It has touched on subjects such as supernatural events, mass shootings, and serial killers, among many others. This season continues the use of these controversial subjects, but also brings something new the table – a healthy dose of politics, and with it, stereotypes based on political affiliation.
The premiere episode of the season starts out on election night of 2016. We see two different perspectives at this time – one of a group of Hillary supporters, and another of a Trump supporter. The show is not shy in playing into the stereotypes of these different groups of people. The Hillary supporters are comprised of liberals minorities – a lesbians couple and a Chinese couple, for example, while the Trump supporter is a crazy white male. Upon Trump’s victory, his supporter, Kai, blends a bag of cheetos, covers his face in the powder, and pretends to be Donald Trump. His sister, a Hillary supporter named Winter, is also an unapologetic stereotype. While watching the election, writer’s poke fun at millennials sensitivities when Winter complains about not being given a trigger warning before the results were shown
Television viewers are no strangers to stereotypes in the media. There has been an ongoing fight for better representation for women and racial minorities in television since the creation of the medium. In a study done by Martha M. Lauzen, David M. Dozier and Nora Horan, they found that women are consistently placed in roles focusing on marital and family roles, while men are portrayed in more work centric roles that allow their characters to support their families (2008). Other studies focusing on racial stereotypes have shown that racial minorities have been consistently portrayed as lazy, criminals, and unintelligent (Mastro & Bradley). This season of American Horror Story sets up a new area for stereotypes to be exploited, but this time through political affiliation. The political ideologies and personal stereotypes have not gone unnoticed by viewers this season (not that the show had any intention of making them ambiguous). For example, Vanity Fair author Laura Bradley explains, “Both Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters seem to be playing caricatures this season: the former is a typical “liberal snowflake,” while the latter is a literally Cheeto-dusted, fear-mongering monster” (Bradley). Although not necessarily as controversial as gender and racial stereotypes in the media, it is interesting to see how American Horror Story : Cult has chosen to represent people on both sides of the political spectrum.