I gazed into my crystal ball, and I predict the following questions to be raised by American Horror Story: Freak Show…
What is the best way to enrich the lives of people with special needs?
With the return of Pepper pre-Asylum, you can bet there will be some debate whether it was more humane for her to be in the side show than the institution. I would love for this to pop into a contemporary look at how people with special needs are treated. Even though the primary storyline will be 1952, I still bet we’ll get some current day glimpses as we did in Asylum. All three seasons so far have compacted time to some degree.
This will be taken a lot of ways. Not only will Jessica Lange’s character be a woman running a business in a man’s industry, she’ll be a German ex-pat not that far out from World War II, where the Nazis, like Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) from Asylum, were busy turning people into freaks through experimentation. Being German in America will not be fashionable. Neither will physical deformities, nomadic lifestyles, or sexual deviance. As with Asylum and Coven, I expect Murphy will comment on how taboos shift with time, but he will also make the point the carnival folk, along with gypsies and physical oddities, have always remained on the outskirts, no matter the time period. Evan Peters will play one of the only “non-freak” characters, the son of the bearded lady (Kathy Bates). One wonders what normal feels like to him.
Do you look because you want to?
The latest trailer hints at a peekaboo, voyeuristic culture within and without the freak show. There will be lots of peeking through tent holes to uncover knowledge, as well as the peanut-crunching crowds paying to watch the shows. Perhaps Murphy will dive into Sylvia Plath’s examination of the medical-industrial complex in “Lady Lazarus.” In a recent Entertainment Weekly interview, he suggested that he may use this lens to question modern-day TV. Are all actors freaks? Does television make what we will pay for, and if the show is horror, are we the evil ones?
What makes happiness and safety scary?
The scariest character on the show this year–and perhaps ever–will be Twisty the Clown. Murphy confesses that this is to explore the widely held coulrophobia (fear of clowns) that he does not understand. I just finished It by Stephen King, so I feel like a bit of an expert on the subject. Clowns are supposed to represent uninterrupted joy, a delight so secure it can be trusted with children, but deep down in us, we know that joy and security are fragile. A person representing the contrary is frightening. Some people also have an issue with year-round costumes and masks (what are they hiding?), but that’s not a big deal to me. My first scary clown was the statue in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure that seems to laugh at Pee Wee when his bike gets stolen. Ever-happy clowns have no sense of empathy. My second scary clown was a customer at the ice cream store I worked at in high school. In full clown garb, she would tell me I was so cute that she was going to come behind the counter and take me home with her. Yeah, that’s scary.
What is the true meaning of asylum?
Asylum is supposed to mean a safe place, but Asylum showed a place that was anything but that. The freak show will be an asylum for people with nowhere else to go. That may also raise some tension–do they want to be there or is it the only option?
I’m interested in Americana right now, the idea that American artifacts say something about who we are as a country. While freak shows began in England, their heyday was American, suggesting that the American spirit desires spectacle. From the Salem witch trials to the recent JLaw photo leak, something in our society calls on us to distance ourselves from the other. This is especially problematic in a nation built for diversity.
Is there such a thing as a self-made freak, or are we all born freaks?
In addition to people born with certain physical traits, freak shows featured learned oddities: sword swallowing, full-body tattoos, and surgical implants, to name a few. This raises the question, did the people do these to feel special, or did they just want to do them? Is there something inside all of us that someone else would consider freakish?
What are you predicting for American Horror Story: Freak Show?