Is ‘American Horror Story: Coven’ a gay non-gay show?
by David Goldberg
According to GLAAD’s annual media analysis, only 3.3 percent of 796 regularly appearing characters on television identify as LGBT. I know, I know: we need to nap up and gather the torches. But is it possible that GLAAD is missing something wicked big?
American Horror Story: Coven is the gayest series on television since The Golden Girls. And midway through the season, there’s not one explicitly homosexual character on the show.
While the numbers game of LGBT representation is certainly worth fighting for and our gains are worth celebrating (check out those dudes kissing on Revenge and Masters of Sex and The Carrie Diaries), sheer numbers on the ground do not always equate to that small-screen satisfaction we long for in a nasty way. Queer viewers who have come of age on a blender of Gremlins, The First Wives Club, Hugh Jackman, and Buffy don’t just want to see two men embracing in a family-
friendly way. We want hot, dripping blood. We want deviance, dirt, and devil worship. We want viscera.
So now, Hail Satan!, a show has arrived that really turns us on in our innards. Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s Horror anthology works like a Christopher Guest movie on marijuana edibles: each season presents a new self-contained story with a core group of actors who return in endless combinations. The first season, Murder House, was a riff on Beetlejuice but with a clever eye for our country’s fetish with birth and babies. Asylum featured a dismembered Adam Levine and epic turns from Sarah Paulson and Lily Rabe as a lesbian journalist (who gets raped by her psychiatrist) and a nun possessed by Satan, respectively.
But all that was small gay potatoes compared to the Death Becomes Her-level campfest that Coven has given us. Jessica Lange snorts cocaine and throws people around with a wave of her hand. Frances Conroy…don’t even bother asking. Just know that it involves a crimped red wig. Emma Roberts plays a movie star with telekinesis named Madison Montgomery, which is the gayest name since Malibu Stacy. Evan Peters looks real juicy as the reanimated version of many large and bulging parts of a slain football team. He’s one of two—two!—male cast members on the show, and neither of them has uttered a word in
weeks. I guess that’s how we like ’em. There’s a fertility ritual sequence that involves Angela Bassett dancing freestyle, goat sacrifice, and Sarah Paulson holding a jar of “man juice.” And all of this is shot in Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s batshit fisheye style, which makes every scene feel like a sweaty fever dream.
Like all Falchuk-Murphy series, Horror Story is so constantly wild and ridiculous that it could break apart at any moment. It’s certainly progressive in its casting and content, but one questions if this show has the maturity to handle the issues it takes on at such a ruthless speed. Episode one featured a rough gang-rape that obviously recalled the Steubenville Rape Case. It ended minutes later with quips and Carrie-style bus-throwing. Like Glee and Nip-Tuck before it, Horror Story takes on a scorched-earth policy with political and social issues: bring up gang-rape, miscarriage, or lynching, push it to the most absurd extreme, and forget about it in time for the next episode. This doesn’t make it so easy for us to trust these writers, and…wait—Precious just got molested by a minotaur. Now what was I saying?
Look, this is a show that features full-scale male objectification, a little bestiality, girl-on-girl bitchery, racial and feminist revenge fantasies, a cast of fabulous divas, and camp on the highest level—and we’re not having to watch it on late-night Cinemax. Coven is the highest-rated season of Horror Story yet, with ratings that average out at 7.7 million viewers a night—a pretty prodigious number for cable. This is a mainstream show. Straight men are watching Kathy Bates in a maid costume and not even asking questions.
It’s probably for the best that Coven doesn’t figure into anyone’s official calculations of the LGBT presence on television. You can’t quantify the bliss of watching Kathy Bates with a bowl of eyeballs. But it’s a victory, no doubt. The deviants have made it to the mainstream. And we’re not going to burn for our sick taste in television…not this time.
American Horror Story: Coven airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on FX.
David Goldberg wrote about the Carrie remake in the November issue of OutSmart.