Consuming Horror on American Horror Story: Freak Show

Curator's Note

As horror fans, our job is to consume. Appropriate consumption, for us, is to watch others scream, bleed, and die. But appropriate consumption means something very different within horror narratives. From eating brains to drinking blood to ingesting poison, drugs, or human flesh, horror often exploits the act of consumption as a site of terror. On American Horror Story: Cult, several key scenes revolve around the imminent threat of death present in food itself. Kai Anderson tells his army of angry white men about the Jonestown Massacre and demands they prove their loyalty by literally drinking the Kool-Aid. Ally Mayfair-Richards poisons Ivy’s wine to extract revenge on the woman who betrayed her. To consume within AHS: Cult is always a potentially deadly act, just as it is equally threatening to potentially be consumed by Murphy’s Hunger-esque vampires in AHS: Hotel.

But American Horror Story: Freak Show offers a different provocation on the act of consumption and its relationship to horror through its mealtime scenes. If the horror of consumption is about the sanctity of bodily boundaries and the threat to life, the diner scene in Freak Show suggests that sites of consumption reinforce these boundaries by making a horror show of boundary transgression. The presence of working freaks in the Jupiter, Florida diner make visible not only the boundaries between ability and disability, but public and private. The freaks are a public commodity, meant to be consumed within the context of the show, and to see them participating in the act of consumption disrupts this conceit. The diner patrons are horrified; they do not understand the freaks as a public that has equal access to consumption, nor are they assumed to be a part of the public. When Paul removes the leftover food from the plate of a patron who’s left the diner, he mistakes private property for public property, shattering the boundary altogether resulting in the freaks’ removal from the public space of the diner altogether. Here, the threat of consumption cuts two ways: (1) for a freak to be seen as a consumer to threaten the norms under which capitalism operates and (2) to deny freaks public participation as consumers is a threat to life, reversing the typical function of consumption as a site of horror.

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