Book Chapter

Brad Falchuk's American Horror Story (2011-present) - Queer Horror and Performative Pleasure



Elliott-Smith D (2019) Brad Falchuk's American Horror Story (2011-present) - Queer Horror and Performative Pleasure. In: Bacon S (ed.) Horror: A Companion. Genre Fiction and Film Companions. Oxford: Peter Lang, pp. 35-42.

In my recent book, Queer Horror Film and Television: Sexuality and Masculinity at the Margins (2016), I outline that post-2000 queer horror film and television renders the longstanding monstrous metaphor of queerness more explicit. These ‘out’ (but not necessarily proud) texts are largely created by queer-identified directors and producers; and contain narratives and characters that are unambiguous in their presentation of sexual difference. As a result, the symbolic value of monstrousness as a metaphor for the threat that homosexuality poses to heteronormativity, ceases to be coded and, instead, becomes open. Stacey Abbott and Lorna Jowett remark in TV Horror Investigating the Darker Side of the Small Screen (2014), that in recent years there has also been a noticeable boom in TV horror as part of a New Golden Age of television content. Due to the diversification of cable channels and streaming platforms like Netflix, HBO Go and Amazon Prime, TV content has arguably become equally varied in its portrayal of non-normative and marginal characters, its presentations of diverse and alternative sexualities, and in its visualisation of often taboo-breaking, visceral horror. The TV horror explosion arguably demonstrates a merging of horror with other genres, an embrace of genre fusions that suggests a ‘loosening up’ of generic tropes and conventions marking a shift away from fixed genre forms. Such a thematic shift can also be seen in recent TV Horror’s depictions of non-essentialist representations of gendered and queered identities. The central text for analysis in this chapter is anthology Gothic horror series American Horror Story (henceforth AHS) which appropriates and pays nostalgic homage to a number of horror texts drawn both from TV and cinema. Across its (currently) seven seasons, the show has garnered a cult following in the LGBTQ+ community and attracted a wealth of interest in queer academic circles. I want to suggest that the appeal of AHS as the Queer Horror TV show par excellence, lies specifically in its anti-essentialist queer appropriation of both gender and genre. Via the show’s focus on the concept of identity-as-costume, the queer fans of AHS experience a jouissance-filled immersion in genre, gender, identity and temporal forms that are all effectively shown to be constructed, culturally imposed and therefore, able to be assumed and rejected at will. AHS’s capacity to appropriate cultural forms, and its tendency towards repetition and mimicry, operates to oppose essentialism. By highlighting the constructed-ness of genre, of gender and of identity per se but it also functions to deconstruct that same meaning.

Horror Studies; LGBTQ Studies; Queer Horror; TV Horror; TV Studies; Film Studies; Gender Studies; American Horror Story

FundersUniversity of Hertfordshire
Title of seriesGenre Fiction and Film Companions
Publication date30/06/2019
Publication date online30/06/2019
PublisherPeter Lang
Place of publicationOxford
ISSN of series2631-8725

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Dr Darren Elliott-Smith
Dr Darren Elliott-Smith

Senior Lecturer in Film & Gender Studies, Communications, Media and Culture