It’s rare for a television show to give you one perfect quote that encapsulates the entire series. The last one I can think of hails from Breaking Bad’s premiere, when Walter White (Bryan Cranston) says, “You see, technically, chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change … It is growth, then decay, then transformation. It is fascinating, really.” That’s Breaking Bad in a nutshell.
American Horror Story: Cult gives the same impression of, “Oh, this is the entire season in one sentence,” during debut, “Election Night,” with just eleven words from burgeoning cult leader Kai Anderson (Evan Peters). Those words are, “There’s nothing more dangerous in this world than a humiliated man.” Despite all the murder, gore, screaming, and homicidal, publicly masturbating clowns of Cult, that line is what should truly strike fear into the hearts of viewers. Why? Because it’s so profoundly true.
In the world of Cult, nothing sets off the bloody, looming mess of the upcoming season quite like Kai’s humiliated rage. From the first moment we meet him, it’s clear he thinks the world is against him, and that’s why he’s latched onto “Poppa Bear Trump,” as Mr. Chang (Tim Kang), calls President 45. In fact, the second line we even hear Kai say is, “Fuck you, world,” with two pointed middle fingers shooting out next to his hip bones. Of course, the next thing we see Kai do is famously, and aggressively, thrust his crotch into a television screen, followed by a few flailing cries of “Freedom!” This is obviously the behavior of a young man who finally — finally! — believes he's about to get his long-awaited due.
If you don’t believe Kai’s implied feelings of longtime humiliation are the cause of Cult’s current and upcoming strife, look what happens the moment he feels he has any semblance of power. “We don’t need to protect the Jewish Community Center — we need to let them blow it up,” he yells during a local Michigan community board meeting, prattling on about how extreme fear will force citizens to give the government complete control of their lives. “And the chosen few who are not afraid of the seas, and the heights, and the beasts of the world will return at the head of the evolutionary table to shepherd the weak into the chosen promise land of truth and freedom!”
The board laughs at Kai’s tirade, and Mr. Chang explains why the future cult leader’s political outlook is horrific. Unsurprisingly, the motion Kai is railing against — to approve sheriffs’ overtime pay so they can protect the JCC — passes, leading the young man to prophesize about the dangers of humiliated men.
But, of course, the hazards of embarrassed men percolate on the horizon of Cult, and reality, simply due to the fact Donald Trump’s politics are a constant haunting force. Trump is the very definition of a humiliated man, and now he’s consistently on the brink of ruining thousands, if not millions, of strangers' lives as a salve for his bruised ego.
Many believe the reality TV host only decided to run for president as a way to “gain stature,” as the New York Times put it, after the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner. At the annual event, both emcee Seth Meyers and President Barack Obama laid into attendee (and developing “birther” racist conspiracy theorist) Trump, who was forced to listen to an entire ballroom of America’s leading political and cultural luminaries laugh at his expense. Only five years later, he boasted his way into the Oval Office. Even Meyers himself has recognized the part he inadvertently played in America's inevitable political future.
Now, the entire world is dealing with the fallout from Trump’s 2011 shaming. Since taking office, he’s rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, leaving nearly 1 million young immigrants at risk for deportation. He’s banning transgender servicepeople from the military, threatening thousands of American’s livelihoods, along with their families’ ability to have food on the table and a roof over their heads. And he’s stoking the hatred of white supremacists by blaming “both sides” for the racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, eventually criticizing the media more than literal Nazis. This makes sense, since the media lambasted Trump’s cowardly comments, while people like Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke thanked him for his statements. These are the actions of a person so desperate to wash away his humiliation, and appear like a big, strong, manly man, he’s willing to inflict mass chaos on the world around him.
While Cult is ultimately grappling with the horror created by its characters, the psychology of Trump hangs in the background, since it is the “politics” season, after all. Trump “appears” in the traditionally symbolism-filled season 7 title sequence, his likenesses popping up as a mask donned by a nude man. “The emperor has no clothes” metaphor should be lost on no one. Trump's win is the moral loss that tosses lead character Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson) into the throws of her darkest phobias.
Kai only attends his “Blow Up The JCC Center” community meeting because he feels emboldened by Trump. It’s the same reason he douses Ally and her wife Ivy Mayfair-Richards (Alison Pill) in latte, calls one of them a “bitch,” and later throws urine-filled condoms at Latinos. According to the president, women are mere walking grabbable pussies and Mexico isn’t “sending us their best,” — they’re sending “drugs” and “rapists.” With descriptions like this, what slavish follower wouldn’t think hurling coffee and urine at these scorned members of society is acceptable?
The fear of humiliated men lurks all over the real world and Cult alike. At least there are women like Ally ready to fight back the darkness, flinging bottles of rosé at the bad guys as they go.
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