You are reading this online, so you are undoubtedly familiar with the nefariousness of trolls. Trolls, of course, being those who purposely provoke their audience, often through sexism, racism and other inflammatory actions. They are less concerned with the harm they cause than what they deem their personal “free speech.” Oh, and lulz…they do it for the lulz. Now, online trolls, like the recently-unmasked Violentacrez, known for running threads like Misogyny, Jewmerica, Jailbait and…wait for it…Niggerjailbait, rightly earn the enmity of all right-thinking people. But TV trolls earn huzzahs from mainstream critics and more viewers for their creative output. Just ask Ryan Murphy.

Murphy is a television screenwriter, director, and producer, know for work, including Nip/TuckThe New Normal, Glee and American Horror Story, which is now in its second season on F/X. American Horror Story is an homage to frights on film–a pastiche of tropes, classic horror scores and anything-can-happen, edge-of-the-seat shocks. Each season of the show introduces a new balls-to-the-wall storyline. This season, true-to-form, in just four episodes of American Horror Story: Asylum, Murphy has thrown us a serial killer; two demonic possessions and an exorcism; aliens; man-eating, forest-dwelling zombie thingies and a mutilating Nazi doctor. He has also assaulted us with his trademark casual racism, ableism and disregard for marginalized people.

Using off-hand slurs and un-PC narrative is as much a part of American Horror Story’s schtick as devil babies and overt sexuality. In season one, a scenery-chewing Jessica Lange, as Constance Langdon, spouted lines like “Why can’t you people just be content with having pets? Why must you subject an innocent child to your perversions?” (to a gay character)” and called her daughter with Down’s Syndrome “a Mongoloid.” This season, in episode three of the series, we are treated to Lange as Sister Jude, along with everyone else, referring to a Latina patient derisively as “The Mexican.” But it was with Wednesday’s episode of American Horror Story that Murphy cemented his trolling credentials. This week, who should be ushered in to the Briarcliff Mental Institution’s hellish halls, but Anne Frank (or at least a woman who claims to be Anne Frank), who has hidden her survival of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp so that her recently-published book can continue to inform the masses of the Holocaust’s horrors.

World War II and Nazism have been used as fodder for drama, and even comedy, before. But belittling evil men, as in say Hogan’s Heroes or Inglorious Basterds is different than appropriating the life of a young victim of evil men. What next? Will Emmett Till show up as an asylum orderly?

American Horror Story recappers seem to be titillated by all this. On Salon, J. Bryan Lowder wrote:

As far as I can tell, there’s no word in English (but probably one in German!) for the reaction that most recappers experienced when Anne Frank shuffled into Briarcliff last night—something  like gasping, cringing and being turned-on by the brashness of it all, simultaneously. Call me crass, but I just kind of took her arrival in stride; are we really surprised that Murphy would make a move like this in an already delightfully ridiculous show?

The problem is that Ryan Murphy uses “isms” not so much for character or plot development (The narrative doesn’t need Lange to call a patient with microcephaly a “pin head,” as it doesn’t need Anne Frank to out the background of the asylum’s resident doctor.). Murphy has no message to deliver that I can see. He does is all for no greater good that demonstrating American Horror Story’s clever edginess, to turn us on “by the brashness of it all.” He does it to provoke…or maybe for the lulz.

I am not convinced that this kind of manipulation is more worthwhile than an asinine Reddit subthread. It is certainly no more enjoyable for me.

Look, there are ugly people in the world. Of course there will be characters and story lines in art that reflect that ugliness. But racism and antisemitism and homophobia are not jokes–least of all to the people still subjected to them. The subjects, at least, ought to be handled with thought and care, not levied for crass attention-grabbing.

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  • Movie Buff

    This is a fictional horror show. It takes place in the 1960s. Worse things were said in the actual 1960s than what we’re seeing on the show. I think this author’s approach, calling Murphy a troll is a bit extreme. Many of the offhand comments and stereotypical fare presented are exactly the way people in this world actually think today. So, it’s not really that inflammatory—just references used to further authenticate the horror. And yes, I thoroughly enjoy the program.

    • Nic

      I really wonder about the thought processes of a LOT of the writers on this site. They seem to read situations in such an odd way…the article about a person who the author said wanted to be white is one recent example.
      So they’ll take a real topic and use a very bad example and flawed logic to develop their essay. The titles of the stories only seem to match the actual articles about half of the time.
      This is like saying that Mad Men is trolling us. Or Sons of Anarchy. A show set in the 60’s is very accurate to show casual and everyday racism. And racism is real in 2012 so showing people who are racist, homophobic, and xenophobic is very realistic.
      Have any of the authors/editors here seem the kinds of tweet, facebook, and other social media comments about our President? How can you claim this showrunner just want to use slurs when we have people who boldly use them with their REAL names about the leader of the free world?
      I think the authors who write for this site are really young and just don’t have the perspective or knowledge of the past in a way that even makes sense.
      Ryan Murphy was being realistic in how they showed the interracial couple being harassed and in danger, and it is a fact that the DSM did treat homosexuality as a mental disorder and the way that the writer was easily committed, the fact that another female was committed for being promiscuous, are all sad reminders of a not so distant past.
      Next time you want to accuse someone of racism, why not pick an actual racist instead of a writer who is showing you what the world was really like.
      And really, if you are too lazy to do your homework on these things, you are really doomed to see a lot of them repeat themselves.
      Also, as you more or less touched on, these people are BAD people, and their badness is being played up precisely through their use of this language. We are rooting for certain characters to get their comeuppance precisely b/c they are not only evil but racist, anti-Semitic, and hypocritical.

    • IzDaWiz

      Dude. The show is set in the present.

    • Primetime85

      Uh, AHS: Asylum is primarily set in the 60s. So far, from ’64 to ’68. Only when we catch up with present day-Bloody Face and the couple in the ‘now’ abandoned asylum, is it present day. The only slurs we hear in the show, take place in the 60s.

  • Treece

    As a person who watches the show, I think Murphy is just using the language and reflecting the beliefs of many straight, white, “average” people during that time. It is hard for some people to accept that people with Down’s were called Mongoloid and that people call just about all Hispanics Mexicans. Or that people don’t agree with homosexuality or that people used to treat the mentally ill inhumanely. But these are truths. He puts it right in front of the viewers face so we (Americans, particularly white) can’t go around hiding our imperfections and trying to forget our ugly, not so distant past. Yes, it’s provocative. Yes it’s uncomfortable, but it happened. In a way, I do think that he is trying to make a but of a political statement and using American Horror Story as his “soapbox”. And I think that he will continue to push the envelope in this way with the series. Maybe the real “American Horror” is in so many of the -isms that we try to hide so often. We don’t want people to forget our struggle but when it’s brought to the fore front in a series or a movie, we get offended. I say let it be. I don’t think he’s crossed the proverbial “line” yet, so we’ll just see how this goes.

  • Fredo

    I see this is quite old, but I had to comment…

    I believe the only one trolling here, that is, insulting and provoking to get attention, is you.

    Because it’s more than obvious for anyone with brains that even if some characters in the series are homophobic or racist, it doesn’t mean the message is. Actually, the message is more like all the way around, with Lana and Kit being one lesbian and the other married to a black woman, and both main characters and the good gal and guy.

    I’m gay, and I’ve never felt insulted by these series. I’ve felt insulted by Will and Grace or other full-of-gay-cliche shows, but I love this series and the way they treat homosexuality.

  • I have sat in horror with every episode of American Horror Story, and not only for the scare elements. There is literally every kind of “ism” here and none of the racism, sexism, ableism, etc. adds any substance to the show. I do wonder if the purpose of that is to say that this is a representation of middle class white America since the show is, after all, “American” Horror Story. Either way, it is all senseless and I have had enough.

    • Fredo

      Sure, it’s obvious that’s what we all want: politically correct characters in a horror show. Specially when the story takes place in the early 60s, when there was NO racism, NO homophobia and NO sexism, right?

      Maybe you think “horror” only means scary monsters and ghosts, but I find all that historically real personal horror to be a lot more frightening…