December 7, 2011
Ghostly Lowdown on American Horror Storyby Deonna Kelli Sayed
American Horror Story is currently the top-rated Wednesday night cable TV show in the 10 pm time slot. FX has landed ratings gold with this creepy scripted drama featuring award-winning actors and creative plot lines that includes ghosts in full body rubber S&M suits.
How can anyone pass up that type of haunting?
The show details a family as they leave behind bad memories of Boston for an opulent Victorian L.A. home with a macabre history that includes (but is not limited to) a doctor who cut up and reassembled his toddler son and a subsequent string of violent, untimely deaths. The home is locally known as "The Murder House" - and for good reason.
It seems no occupant gets out alive, for the most part.
The cast includes a bunch of dead people who do not appear as dead people. They walk among the living in three-dimensional Technicolor. The ghostly residents plot, plan, interfere, and intervene in the lives of the home's occupants. This house has "power" that seeps into the blood of anyone who dares to enter the door. (However, the writers have yet to reveal just how the house obtained its power.)
The ensemble includes the Harmon family (husband, wife, and teenage daughter), actress Jessica Lange as a murderous neighbor and former house owner, her dead son, the Harmon's ghostly maid, Daddy Harmon's recently murdered mistress, and a variety of other dead people who roam the grounds.
This is one show where dying results in more on-camera time.
Paranormal Pop Culture
The supernatural is always great fodder for popular culture (and the blog, Paranormal Pop culture, is a great place to read about this). In my book, Paranormal Obsession, I delve into how ghost hunting reality shows are impacting American society as well as the avocation of paranormal research. You better believe that shows like American Horror Story will also find their way into our collective language and, ultimately, into local case claims encountered by paranormal groups.
I watch American Horror Story with particular interest specifically because I am a paranormal investigator. Ghost hunting reality TV shows provide the approachable, how-to process neatly packaged in a one-hour time slot. American Horror Story offers a progressive plot that captures viewers week-to week while exploring many philosophical components of ghosts and spirits discussed by paranormal investigators. The show also banks on commonly cliched fears of the supernatural.
Some of the main characters are the dead who are trapped in the home and can appear fully fleshed to the living. These spirits can physically attack and even impregnate.
Paranormal Philosophy of American Horror Story
Let me illustrate a few philosophical issues of interest to paranormal investigators (warning: spoiler alert!):
The show provides a fictional yet interesting perspective regarding spirit world rules. Ghosts can see one other and counsel, help, and plot against the living. These very issues are contested among paranormal investigators. Some ghost hunters feel spirits are benign and external to us. Others believe that we are vulnerable to physical and psychical attacks from the unseen, or subject to spirit attachments. The show explores these concepts in a variety of creative ways.
The show also fleshes out self-awareness among the dead. Some ghostly characters do not realize that they are dead or they are specifically looking for retribution for their violent death. Again, these same themes come up in discussion among paranormal investigators.
Many investigators feel hauntings are caused by trapped or lost souls. Some spectral residents of the home are trapped on-site until their remains are unearthed and actively seek to find ways for the living to discover their bones so that they may be free to leave the home.
However, souls can leave one day a year - on Halloween - but are obliged to return to the "lawn" upon sun up.
A new character, a medium, was recently introduced as a way to move the plot along by communicating with the departed. This character reveals to the teenage Harmon girl that she has mediumship abilities. This teenage Harmon girl is also in a consensual sexual relationship with a ghost - who is also having sex with the girl's mother.
Talk about a paranormal soap opera!
The on-site ghosts are experienced differently depending on who sees them. Example: the maid appears as an elderly, wise woman to women yet men see her as a young seductress. Parapsychologists suggest that we individually experience sentient energies in different ways. Some may see, some may smell, or some may just "sense a presence." Of course, American Horror Story takes a very dramatic, Hollywood spin on the matter, but it illustrates the point that we may pick up on spectral energies in varying manners and provides an entertaining, highly sexed example of how that occurs.
Between Hollywood and Real Paranormal Research
American Horror Story is a dramatized TV show that uniquely blends cliched Hollywood concepts of ghosts with some very contemporary philosophies circulating in the paranormal community. The show provides an intriguing interpretation of how ghosts and spirits may operate. Yet, American Horror Story also promotes the idea that sentient energies are quite maniacal and can physically harm the living.
Paranormal investigators will enjoy American Horror Story but need to be aware of how the show may impact the way people experience and report case claims.
I'm willing to bet it won't be long before some paranormal group receives a claim involving a full-bodied apparition in a leather suit.
This brings a whole new meaning to "shadow people."
Deonna Kelli Sayed is Ghostvillage.com editor and the author of Paranormal Obsession: America's Fascination with Ghosts, Hauntings, Spooks and Spirits and (forthcoming) So You Want To Hunt Ghosts? (Llewellyn). She also drinks coffee and writes some non-paranormal related stuff.