Film and TV

American Horror Story: Freak Show: The Soft R-Rating Problem

To give the show credit, American Horror Story gets away with things on FX that probably would have gotten them hauled in front of a congressional hearing 15 years ago. The show pushes the envelope like a psychotic mail carrier, and for that I am always grateful.

Yet this week was one of the few times when I severely lamented the restrictions that being on basic cable places on some of the opportunities. I really think that this was one of the few times when they couldn't break the rules and as a result, it left something on the table.

Without going too deeply into spoilers, there was a scene with Sarah Paulson that absolutely required full frontal nudity. I mean, extremely make-up FX-heavy full frontal nudity to account for her unique character on the show, but this isn't about seeing Sarah Paulson's breasts or genitals. What it was about was a strange set of people opening up regarding their own bodies that are perceived as deformed, wrong and to be feared. It was about the need for human physical contact, the exchange of naked intimacy with another.

There's a certain type of meathead that thinks any nudity in a movie or show is just to sell tickets and ratings based on how much we want to see a famous person's knockers. That's a thing, sure, but artistically, nudity is about vulnerability, passion, love and other concepts. You need to see everything as a way to feel naked as the characters do.

I love that the people behind American Horror Story have been so keen to explore physical passion with atypical people. As far as I know, it hasn't really been done since Monkey Shines, and it takes a lot of nuts to try it out. It's just a shame that some of the tools in the box have to be dismissed to keep things okay for the cable audience.

It's like a love scene where the woman keeps her bra on and the sheets are strangely L-shaped. It takes you out of the moment of belief, insisting on a modesty and a reserve that would not be present in that scene. What Sarah Paulson did as Bette and Dot this week deserves an Emmy for each head, but no matter how much of her considerable skill she used, it came up less than it could have been.

Because apparently seeing the front of her conjoined body would be a step too far...on this show.

Hey, know what they didn't skimp on? Murder. Lots of murder this week as Dandy apparently cements himself as the big bad. I feel bad for Finn Wittrock. He's playing the part to the hilt, but no matter how many people Dandy manages to kill, no matter how grotesque the atrocities he creates, there's just no fear to be had from him.

It's the wrong time for him, honestly. As a supremely spoiled, ultra-rich whine-baby, it's easy to hate him, oh sure. But you can't fear him. It's too big. There's not an American alive today who would be shocked at some billionaire being caught hunting people for sport, or even shocked that the billionaire would get away with it. Being afraid of Dandy is like being afraid of hurricanes; prudent, sure, but you just buy canned food and plywood. You don't flee screaming and cower in the dark.

I find it odd that we can watch five women float in a literal pool of blood, that we can see heads sewn on corpses and used for puppets, and cops casually killing people for money, and that's all jake, man. But a conjoined woman's tits in a sweet moment of romance and an emotional leap of faith?

Well, that won't do. Think of the children.

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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner