• American Horror Story Backtracks on Mass Shooting…But Not Really

    by  • October 12, 2017 • Television, Violence • 13 Comments

    AHSCult shooting

    Another tragedy…another shrug from Hollywood. 

    This past Tuesday, basic cable network FX’s show American Horror Story: Cult, was set to feature a scene in which a mass shooting occurs. After the horrific real-life shooting in Las Vegas, series creator Ryan Murphy (who was also responsible for FX’s Nip/Tuck) had the episode re-edited so that most of the gun violence occurs off-screen. But this action raises more questions than it answers.

    Asked about his actions during a New Yorker Festival (as detailed by The Hollywood Reporter),  Murphy said, “I believe that now is probably not the week to have something explosive or incendiary in the culture, because someone who was affected might watch that and it could trigger something or make them feel upset.”

    But if graphic violence in media is “explosive or incendiary” and “could trigger something or make [people] feel upset,” it will continue to have these effects a week, or a month, or years after a violent act like the Las Vegas shooting occurs. Certainly, shooting victims and their families might be “triggered” and “feel upset” even decades after they are involved in such a tragedy.  So why is it ever appropriate to show this kind of graphic violence at all?

    Ryan Murphy has an answer for that, too: Murphy claims he was making “an obvious anti-gun warning about society.”

    We’ve been here before. A Hollywood “creative” produces a scene of graphic violence. Then a real-life act of violence occurs; the creator fears a backlash from the public (or, more likely, from his show’s sponsors, as advertisers are notoriously skittish about controvery); and the episode containing the violence is edited slightly, or re-scheduled for a later date.

    But the core problem remains. The entertainment product still contains graphic violence. Rather than stop making entertainment with graphic violence, Hollywood’s creators inevitably get on a soapbox and disingenuously claim to be “warning society” or “starting a conversation” about violence.  (Well, except for Quentin Tarantino. His response to the school shooting at Newtown was, “There’s violence in the world. Tragedies happen. Give me a break.”)

    The most blatant previous example of this was Kurt Sutter, creator/producer of FX’s program glorifying murderous biker gangs, Sons of Anarchy. Less than a year after the horrific school massacre in Newtown, Sons of Anarchy featured a graphic school shooting – performed by an 11-year-old boy. So disturbing was the scene that the superintendent of schools in Newtown warned parents at his school about the episode before it aired.

    (Oh, and within the show, what was the “heroic” biker gang’s answer to the problem of school violence? Murder the little boy’s mother.)

    Bad as Sons of Anarchy’s depiction of violence was, Sutter’s response was even worse. When the PTC called Sutter out on his exploitation of a tragedy and willingness to depict graphic violence, Sutter responded with a flood of profanity, then said that by showing this scene, he was trying to “start a conversation” about violence in America.

    This is the favorite claim of allegedly “enlightened” Hollywood types, anytime they are confronted about their proclivity for promoting graphic violence. But this cynical lie rings totally false.

    Neither Kurt Sutter, nor Ryan Murphy, nor any of the Hollywood types who profit off programs showing graphic violence, ever takes any concrete actions to actually “start a conversation” or “warn society.” None of them ever organizes a series of town hall meetings on the subject of violence, or even acknowledges the contribution Hollywood makes to the culture of violence gripping America. None of them ever admits, “Yes, my show does make violence look glamorous and exciting.” And under no circumstances do they ever stop showing graphic violence. They just delay it a week or so – and then go merrily on their way, amping up the violence and finding even more ways to “creatively” indulge in depravity and gore.

    This was the case with American Horror Story. Ryan Murphy said he was re-editing the show to omit the violent shooting…but he didn’t really. While the shooting massacre was edited to be less graphic when shown on cable, the original, unedited episode, with all the gore intact, is available on video-on-demand and streaming platforms, where it can continue to make money for FX – and “trigger something or make [people] feel upset” — for years to come.



    Christopher Gildemeister is the PTC’s Head of Research Operations. He began as an Entertainment Analyst at the PTC in 2005. From 2007-2016, he was Senior Writer/Editor, responsible for communicating the PTC’s message to the public through newsletters, columns, and the PTC Watchdog blog. Dr. Gildemeister holds a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America.

    13 Responses to American Horror Story Backtracks on Mass Shooting…But Not Really

    1. BASF
      October 17, 2017 at 7:00 pm

      If you’re going to complain about fictional shows on television, why not go after television news as well? If television news outlets need to tell us about what happened in Las Vegas, fine. But they should not show the murderer’s face or his name to the entire country. Publicizing the names and faces of mass murderers encourages mass murder just as much as American Horror Story, if not more.

      Also, the news media should stop wasting time covering the efforts of law enforcement to figure out why he did it, since the shooter committed suicide before the LVPD could get to him. Just accept the fact that we’ll probably never know why. What the news media should be spending more time on is the heroic actions of those who came to the rescue of the wounded, the strategies of law enforcement officers in response to active shooter situations when they happen, and the efforts of doctors, nurses, lab technicians, radiologists, phlebotomists, paramedics, and all the other hospital staff members who treated the hundreds of people injured.

      Television news outlets could follow these suggestions and have absolutely nothing to lose, unlike American Horror Story.

      • Christopher Gildemeister
        October 18, 2017 at 10:03 am

        Hi BASF,

        You make many good points. Responding to your first: we don’t go after TV news, because the PTC is explicitly about entertainment programming. But you’re right that news should also be held to account.

        Thanks for your comment.

    2. David and Luetta Fox
      October 15, 2017 at 6:36 pm

      TV programming is horrible, making it almost impossible to find anything decent and uplifting to watch. There is so much violence, crude and lewd language, that is not helping families in any way. The old cowboy movies and game shows were much better than what we have today. We need good, moral shows that help America, rather than continue to tear it down.

    3. Shinji
      October 14, 2017 at 12:26 pm

      FX continues to push things further and further. Back when American Crime Story came out, they said that uncensored F-bombs had to be justified by the story. This new American Horror Story season has used the word more than 15 times in one episode, sometimes up to three times in the same minute. People are getting nails through their heads, we’ve seen a child’s guinea pig explode in a microwave…if FX wants to play like a premium channel, they should be moved to the premium channels.

    4. Brenda Gallaway
      October 13, 2017 at 2:35 pm

      The media says & does anything to bring in money! It’s all about the money! People do not matter but sponsors & pushing media agenda is all that matters if it brings in the money!!!!!!

    5. Stephen Goodrick
      October 13, 2017 at 9:40 am

      It has always seemed obvious to me that, in the words of Alexander Pope, “vice is a monster of so frightful mien, as to be hated needs but to be seen, but seen to oft, familiar with her face, at first we endure, then pity, then embrace”

    6. Neil Winegar
      October 13, 2017 at 6:02 am

      I wish I had time to write more, but let me just express how much i agree with this article. it is a complete farce that the producers of graphic gore/violence in the media are trying to “help reduce” violence. In my view, these shows are absolutely, without a doubt, contributing to an increase in violence. I would even go so far as to say these shows are likely the sole cause of the increased depravity in crimes and the decrease in sensitivity to them. Let’s stop pretending… these shows are intended to glorify crime, murder and evil. The “bad guy” is now the “good guy”. It is a very disturbing change in our culture. The only way to change this is to reach people’s hearts and souls with the hope and love of Christ, which would lead to less dysfunction in our families and to healing of our land. But all according to God’s will.

      God Bless,

    7. ALS
      October 12, 2017 at 7:49 pm

      You’re focusing all of your attention on Hollywood and completely ignoring the person who pulled the trigger. The evil psychopath who killed all those people in Las Vegas is not a pawn, a robot, or a monkey. There is no excuse for cold-blooded murder.

      Have you ever heard of Elizabeth Bathory? She was a countess who murdered 650 servant girls so she could bathe in their blood and preserve her youth. That’s over ten times the number of people who were killed in Las Vegas on October 2, 2017. And that was in the 1600s, when there was no Internet, no television, no radio, no photography, no audio recording, and no electricity.

      Hollywood is never going to give in to your demands. And even if they did right now, I highly doubt it would make the larger world a better place. Life is not an episode of Sesame Street, and it never will be. Ignoring problems does not make them magically disappear.

      Have you ever personally lived in a bad neighborhood? If you had, you would find that a lot of what you cite as evidence of laziness or lack of talent in television shows (sex, violence, bad language, etc.) is cold, hard, indisputable reality to them. Trying to make TV shows for them that send a positive message but take place in the wholesome worlds you adore will cause people to disregard the positive messages in the show. The wholesome worlds will not coincide with their reality, and they’ll say, “That might work great in the childish fantasy world they live in, but it won’t work in the world I live in.”

      If I’m wrong, please respond ASAP. Have a nice day.

      • Christopher Gildemeister
        October 13, 2017 at 11:36 am

        Hello ALS,

        Evil has always existed. Murder has always existed. There have been, there are, and there always will be people who commit evil acts and murder others.

        Yet it does not follow that, because evil exists, entertainment should glorify it, make it look sexy and cool, or even normalize it. Racism and child molestation has always existed, too; but if some network aired a program with a pedophile Klan member as the hero, I doubt you’d shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh well, so what? Who cares? Getting rid of one TV show won’t make any difference.”

        The point is, what is presented in entertainment INFLUENCES individual people, and society as a whole. At the PTC, we often hear the straw-man argument, “I watched a violent show, and I’m not a murderer!” But simply watching it — especially over and over again — does have an effect; it makes such violence seem like “no big deal,” which can contribute to violent actions by those who are more to commit them.

        In fact, I have lived in a bad neighborhood. I find it interesting that you assume that anyone who does so would automatically reject positive TV series as “unrealistic,” while believing that those with mass-murdering psychopaths are “cold, hard, indisputable reality.” One could just as easily argue that those from good neighborhoods think the overly violent shows are totally unrealistic. But in fact what happens is, entertainment that emphasizes and promotes evil influences everyone (Google “mean world syndrome” to see what I’m talking about).

        You claim that more positive media would not “make the larger world a better place,” and that “TV shows that send a positive message will cause people to disregard the positive messages in the show.” You claim this, but you cannot prove your assertion. Unfortunately, we probably never will know…so long as Hollywood continues to glamorize and glorify evil.

        Thank you for your comment.

        • Andrew Chase
          October 16, 2017 at 10:14 am

          So what TV shows did the Romans watch? Or the Goths? The Huns? The Vandals? The Vikings? The Crusaders? The Mongols? The Inquisition? Vlad the Impaler? The Spanish Conquistadores? The early American settlers? The French Revolutionaries? The Russian Bolsheviks? The Nazis?

          Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway(and before anyone mentions Anders Brevik, that was their 1st mass killing since WWII), Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, etc, all watch the same movies and TV shows that we do, listen to the same music that we do, and play the same video games that we do. In fact, most of our video games come from Japan. Furthermore, these countries are far more secular than we are. Yet their per capita violence and homicide rates are only a fraction of ours.

          • Christopher Gildemeister
            October 18, 2017 at 10:11 am

            Hi Andrew,

            see my response to ALS above. The fact that murder has always existed throughout history is not an excuse for glorifying it in entertainment today. Moreover, most people would say that the Roman Colosseum, with live public executions for entertainment, make a pretty good comparison to TV shows today…and have been equally reviled for their effect on Roman society, namely, desensitizing the crowds and making them eager for ever-greater violence.

            To your second point…maybe it’s precisely BECAUSE the countries you name have a legacy of thousands of years’ worth of things like the Romans, Goths, Huns, Vandals, Vikings, Monguls, and French and Russian revolutions and the Nazis, that they have less violence now. They’ve had thousands of years for the lessons to sink in. We’re a newer culture, much closer to our violent frontier past. Regardless, one thing is sure: a steady diet of “American Horror Story” and “Sons of Anarchy” isn’t exactly helping our culture avoid violence.

            Thanks for your comment.

    8. PGR
      October 12, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      “None of them ever organizes a series of town hall meetings on the subject of violence…”

      If they did, would you have showed up? Would anyone have showed up? I would rather hear about the topic from somebody who lives in the real world (such as a police officer, minister, paramedic or psychologist) than somebody from Hollywood.

      • Christopher Gildemeister
        October 13, 2017 at 11:12 am

        Hi PGR,

        If a big-shot Hollywood producer actually cared enough to set up such a town-hall meeting, presumably, with their money and prestige, they could afford to invite the kinds of experts you’re talking about to participate in the session. They still might not alleviate the problem; but at least their statement that they were “starting a conversation” wouldn’t be a blatant lie.

        Thanks for your comment.

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