How 'American Horror Story: Freak Show' Critiques Our Culture

American Horror Story: Freak Show (which airs Wednesdays at 10 on FX) is set to wrap soon, with only three more episodes left in the season. This installment is set in the early 1950s, which was an era generally characterized as conservative and repressive, prone to McCarthyism, racial segregation, and female domestic confinement. As such, it's appropriate that the season arc concerns itself with the topic of "freaks," being set in such a traditional era.

The season also explores classism and social privilege, with the affluent mother and her sociopathic, spoiled son. They live in obscene wealth, with sprawling manors displaying both their decadent splendor that their affluence provides, as well as the emotional distance, isolation and subtle yet divisive separation in their familial relationship. The son, Dandy Mott, is the epitome of the excesses of wealth and privilege taken too far to its detrimental conclusion. Dandy is apparently incapable of finding satisfaction in anything. The world is seemingly at his fingertips, and yet he's consumed with a constant, gnawing feeling of ennui and Feminine Mystique housewife-like malaise. The only way he's able to slake his boredom is through murder.

In one episode, in a scene classically indicative of the urban legends/cautionary tales-of-morality format, a pair of teenage lovers are about to have sex in a park when they are interrupted by a homicidal, maniacal clown bent on a murder rampage. The boyfriend is brutally stabbed to death (which is a phallic, penetrative symbol akin to sex itself) and the girlfriend (with her classic girl-next-door, blonde-haired and blue-eyed features) is taken hostage by the clown and imprisoned, along with a young boy. The couple is punished for their loose or lack of appropriate sexual mores, a la the custom of anyone who drinks, does drugs, has sex or engages in any other "wild" behavior always dies in horror films. The young boy represents the impressionable, vulnerable, wholesome young children of America collectively at large. As such, his danger and imprisonment reflects the fear that's instilled and instigated whenever seemingly morally questionable or taboo, controversial behavior is displayed. From the War on Drugs to gay marriage to sex education and abortion, the question is always, "what about our nation's children?" It's what's always called upon as reasoning or explanation for a necessary traditional, conservative schema or paradigm. Thus, the clown (symbolic of deviance, nonconformity, and shock-and-horror-eliciting reactions) threatens America's children.

An interesting aspect to the character of the murderous rich kid Dandy Mott is that he wants to run away and join the circus. He's ostensibly the most "normal," WASPish person around, and yet he feels like he's painfully different (which, in a way, he is). He teams up with the unhinged clown in a spree of murder, torture, kidnapping and imprisonment. It's worth noting that all the killers are white male characters (the rich kid, the strongman, the con man, and the clown). Thus, evidently the real dangers to society are those at the top of the social hierarchy, those whom appear to be innocuous and hide in plain sight. As current events have shown, this is a woefully true observation.

The homicidal rich kid's sociopathic nature is presented as being due to inbreeding of affluent families, and apparently his father had the same psychosis. His psychotic nature is looked at as being a sign of his familial prestige. His mother even tells him, "These mental perversions are an affliction of the extremely affluent... It becomes a rite of passage to have a psychotic or two in the line. Jack the Ripper was a Windsor, for god's sake." He also has an unnaturally close relationship to his mother; his character is very reminiscent of Norman Bates from Psycho and Bruno from Strangers on a Train. He desperately wants to be an actor, is effeminate and melodramatic, prone to bratty histrionics and temper tantrums. There is an inferable gay vibe to his character, yet again equating nonheteronormativity with pathology and psychosis. At one point, he says (in a workout scene recalling American Psycho), "This body is America: strong, violent, and full of limitless potential." It seems to be a succinct summation of the dark nature of American capitalism and imperialism. His wealth essentially ensures his legal insulation or clemency. It's a pay-to-play legal system wherein those who can afford to hire the most skilled and most expensive lawyers have a much better chance in court. Plus, as recent current events have sadly shown, there's an inherently institutionalized racism to the so-called justice system. After discovering Dandy Mott's true nature, Gabourey Sidibe's character brings a cop to his manor to arrest him. Dandy Mott offers the cop $1 million to shoot her, which the cop does without the slightest hesitation. The scene is a scathing yet all-too-true indictment of American corruption, greed, racism, yuppie culture, and ruthless capitalism. Evidently, these "American horror stories" are truly American in essence and consequence.