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American Horror Story (and TV in general) has a 'sexy serial killer' problem

David Opie
Photo credit: Fox

From Digital Spy

American Horror Story didn't exactly shy away from "horror" in season nine. Stabbings, beheadings and honest-to-God ear-severing all played a big role this year, but perhaps the most disturbing moment of all was when Richard Ramirez licked Montana's blood-soaked feet.

There's no kink shaming here, but letting a serial killer lick someone else's blood off your twinkletoes is the definition of problematic, no?

American Horror Story has long had a problem with fetishising evil as something sexy and alluring, and this has always represented a key part of the show's appeal. Dandy Mott is hot, no question, and Evan Peters didn't become a sex symbol until Tate Langdon shot up a high school in season one. Hell, even Satan's offspring turned people on when Cody Fern played "TV's sexiest Antichrist" last year in Apocalypse.

We mean, facts are facts, America. Peters, Fern and plenty of other problematic men in the world of American Horror Story are objectively sexy. Michael Langdon's hair alone deserves a spot in the Louvre. There's no getting around that, no matter how many people he and the others maim or slaughter.

Photo credit: FX

PopBuzz even made a quiz asking the age-old question: Should you date Tate Langdon or Michael Langdon? If we're being honest with ourselves, then the best answer is just one big resounding no to them both, but at least they're only fictional characters.

In recent years, American Horror Story has begun to fetishise real-life monsters too, and yes, it turns out that Richard Ramirez did indeed enjoy licking toes in the real world as well. In fact, women's feet were his "favourite food," at least, if this questionnaire is anything to go by.

Still, that hasn't stopped people from lusting after The Night Stalker, and the fact he murdered and raped multiple women hasn't put fans off either.

Even before American Horror Story cut us down with Zach Villa's chiseled jawbones, the real Ramirez received plenty of love letters from fans while in jail, and people continue to show their appreciation for him beyond death as well.

"RICHARD RAMIREZ IS HOT" screams just one of many fan pages which worship at his feet, and these are populated by women who seemingly want him to worship their feet too. On this page alone, the hashtag "daddy" is used more than once, ignoring the fact that real fathers lost their daughters to this monster.

Photo credit: Fox

Objectifying and longing for fictional characters who are evil is problematic enough, but it's even worse to do so with men based on actual killers. Yes, there's no denying that Villa is indeed a snack, but he's also playing a 'character' who destroyed people's lives — and not that long ago either.

AHS: 1984 isn't the first time that American Horror Story has portrayed real-life murderers in this way. Back in season seven, Peters played multiple IRL cult leaders, including Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite. While the make-up was piled on for these two roles, the fan-favourite star also embodied Charles Manson in the disturbingly sexy flesh as well.

American Horror Story is hardly the only show that's guilty of this. There's actually a long and unfortunate tradition of casting attractive stars as "sexy Manson". Jeff Ward, Matt Smith, Gethin Anthony... each of them have imbued the 'Helter Skelter' monster with heartthrob status in recent years, and this is symptomatic of a wider issue in popular culture today.

On the one hand, it's important to acknowledge that toxic masculinity isn't always easy to spot. We don't live in a fairytale world where the horrors that lurk inside are necessarily reflected on the outside too. However, it's also pretty clear that the sheer volume of sexy serial killers on our screens has more to do with our collective thirst than an actual lesson in morality.

For every show like Unbelievable that examines the impact of male violence on women with respect and a desire to further the conversation, there's also a show like You that sensationalises the violence by demanding we sympathise or even lust after the killer. Why else cast Zac Efron as Ted Bundy or Jamie Dornan in The Fall?

As beloved as these performers might be, neither represents the pinnacle of acting. Instead, men like this are cast with an intent to lure us in, to make us root for both fictional and real-life serial killers in the role of underdog or anti-hero.

Photo credit: BBC/Fox

It's no coincidence that Jamie Dornan does shirtless pull-ups before murdering women in Belfast, just like it's no coincidence that Darren Criss wears next to nothing for most of American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace.

In an interview with The New York Times, You star Penn Badgley untangled exactly why we're so forgiving when it comes to these kind of men in particular: "If anyone other than a young white man were to behave like these characters behave, nobody’s having it."

Characters like his very own Joe literally get away with murder because attractive young white men enjoy a level of privilege that those outside of this demographic don't.

From a storytelling perspective, it's easy to see why then the likes of Evan Peters and Zachary Quinto are cast as prominent killers in American Horror Story — because we're more willing to sympathise and even identify with their motivations, regardless of how ghastly they might be.

To be fair though, American Horror Story doesn't always "sex up" its killers. Even while AHS:1984 fetishised The Night Stalker, it also broke away from the sexy-serial-killer trope by covering John Carroll Lynch's Mr Jingles in some particularly grisly makeup, encouraging us to identify with him despite this.

However, sympathising with fictional serial killers is already tricky territory before shows like American Horror Story sensationalise this even further with sex and nudity. And when you factor in real-life scenarios too, American Horror Story and TV as a whole should consider killing off this trope entirely out of respect to the victims who were killed in real life.

Still, with a never-ending line-up of young attractive men waiting in the wings, we can only assume that American Horror Story will continue this unfortunate trend in season ten and beyond, perhaps while bringing a sexy alien or two in as well. Nothing would surprise us at this point.

American Horror Story: 1984 airs on Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX in the US. You can watch season 9 on FOX and NOW TV in the UK. Catch up on series 1-8 on Netflix, with seasons 1-9 available to buy on Amazon Prime Video

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