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Sexual monstrosity in contemporary cult TV series: the case of the American Horror Story



Abundant and vivid sex scenes have become a distinct feature of some of the most popular TV series, the phenomena transgressing producers and genres (Benioff and Weiss’s fantasy series Game of Thrones; Michael Hirst’s historical romance The Tudors and Tom Kapino’s comedy Californication; Nick Pizzolato’s crime series True Detective and Jake Manos Jr’s Dexter, Lena Dunham’s comedy Girls or Alan Ball’s vampire fantasy True Blood). Because usually these scenes show no significant impact on the story or the characters’ development, viewers often identified them as nearing soft-core pornography meant to (re)ignite the consumers’ interest in the series, by conveying various yet standardized representations of sexual activities.

In 2011, American Horror Story (AHS) producers added to this the risky re-writing of well-known horror film subgenres, using for their five seasons to the day most of the genre’s strategies, from body and psychological horror to slasher and splatter. Aside from this manifest revisiting of familiar themes and motifs of horror movies, the series fired at their spectators shocking and deliberately scandalous depictions of sexual practices, ranging from the ever-going innuendo and sex scenes rather common in an erotic thriller to a paraphilic panopticon that entraps transvestites, voyeurs, frotteurists, sadists, masochists, rapists, somnophiliacs, pedophiles, incestuous characters, acrotomophiliacs, necrophiliacs and zoophiles.

However, in terms of defining key-elements of contemporary television series, one could easily link AHS to the aggressive use of para-cinematic techniques (exploitation of sex, sensational elements, gore, kitsch) for the construction of a cult-sensed product out of hypersexualized second-hand horrific imagery and narratives, most frequently chosen for their memetic potential (the Rubber Man, the young witch’s man-killing vagina, the incestuous mother, the demonic nun, the Three-breasted woman, the macrophallic villain).

Keywords: horror series, AHS, re-writing, memes, hypersexualization, cult television