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Female Archetypes of American Horror Story November 28, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Televixen @ 11:41 pm

American Horror Story is a TV show that pushes a lot of boundaries, but when it comes to women is it reinforcing archetypes or breaking new ground? Interestingly enough, the show, which debuted in early October on FX, ranked highest of all FX series premieres in women ages 18-49.  So, what are those archetypes and why does this program appeal to women?

The horror genre isn’t exactly the first place you’d look to find multi-layered roles for ladies, but AHS is turning that notion on its head. After all, you don’t get the star power of Jessica Lange if all you’re doing is victimizing women. Let’s take a look inside AHS’ “murder house” and pinpoint some of the female characters who make up its foundation.

The Scorned Woman– Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) has been through it all, miscarriages, a cheating husband and a home invasion. Yet, at the heart of it all she is a survivor and is determined to move on with her life. Yes, there are plenty of tears and even some gross-out moments with Mrs. Harmon, but she is more than just a weeping housewife. She defends what’s hers, has fantasies outside her marriage and stands up for what’s right.

The Cougar-Jessica Lange plays next-door neighbor Constance who is equal-parts charming and abusive. She prefers the company of younger men and has a nasty habit of putting down others to make herself feel better. She is a cougar, but she also plays the archetypal “boss” character. Her story deals with the loss of children, disabilities and loneliness.

The Innocent– Constance’s playful daughter Addie (Jamie Brewer) who has Down Syndrome. She is obsessed with the murder house and constantly sneaks in. Her innocence makes her one of the shows lighter, more endearing characters. She just wants to be a “pretty girl” but her struggles are heard loud and clear when her mother & society reminds her that she is not.

The Fatalist-Violet Harmon (Taissa Farmiga) is a goth-girl outsider in the making. She suffers from depression and cuts herself regularly. Her boyfriend Tate is a misunderstood young man from the wrong side of the tracks with violent delusions (and sometimes actions). She feels lost amongst her parents constant drama and can’t relate to others at school. She deals with bullying, suicide attempts and drug overdoses.

The Mistress-Kate Mara plays Hayden, the college student who had an affair with Mr. Harmon. She wants to be loved, but her love is not returned the way she would like. On the surface, her character seems like a plot device, but she really digs deep with issues of abortion, rejection and abuse. She plays an active role in making Vivien’s life miserable. The two share a handful of interesting verbal spats.

The Domestic-Francis Conroy plays Moira the cleaning lady who comes with the house. She cooks, she cleans, she gives advice when asked. Her cloudy eye and unflinching servitude to the Harmons make her seem like just another creepy old lady. However, we discover she is a rape survivor and is becoming a loyal confidant to Mrs. Harmon. She is definitely not afraid to get her hands, mouth or whatever dirty in the line of duty. 

The Femme Fatale- Moira (Alexandra Breckenridge) appears in two forms. For the women, she is the before-mentioned matronly housekeeper with a cloudy eye. For the men, she is a young, sexed up pinup girl in a French maid’s outfit complete with garters. She uses her sexuality to gain favor and information from the men who cross the murder house threshold. This incarnation of Moira is less defendable, but is still not a throw-away character.

The Nurturer– Nora (Lily Rabe) is the loyal wife of Charles Montgomery, the doctor who first owned the murder house in the 1920s. She aided him in illegal abortions in the house’s basement. She starts as a strong demanding wife and mistress of the house, but when her own baby is kidnapped we see an interesting change in Nora. When she meets her “Frankenbaby” it is a enough to push her over the edge to do the unthinkable, but first she nurses it. Nora brings us some creepy moments, but like the other female characters there is an underlying tragedy motivating her. Despite her chequered past, she appears to have some redeeming characteristics, especially when it concerns the Harmons and their unborn child.

It would be very easy to dismiss this over-the-top shock fest, but that would be shortsighted. Underneath the gore and gimp masks, AHS is actually treading new ground for women. The show has created rich characters that employ teenage to older actresses.

In horror, we’ve seen the feisty machete-wielding heroine who fights for her life, but how often do we get to see what’s going on inside her head? Jane Espenson said at San Diego Comic Con that the secret to writing great female characters is to make them flawed. The one thing you can definitely say about the women of AHS is they are inherently damaged. Perhaps the true horror of AHS are the things women deal with in everyday life. Maybe this resonates with audiences more than the actual horror elements. What other show is currently covering teen shootings, miscarriages, abortion, hormones, infidelity, rape, death of children and bullying? The show has pulled a switcheroo on audiences by using provocative language and frightening imagery to tell emotional female-focused stories. Of course, no one is complaining about Dylan McDermott’s naked ass that comes with it.


Identity Crisis November 20, 2011

Filed under: Life — Televixen @ 2:10 am

Every few years I have an identity crisis. I’m having one right now. I don’t know if I really enjoy the entertainment business anymore. Now, don’t worry, I’m not quitting acting, but I certainly feel a need to hone my other abilities.

It’s funny, I acted a lot in high school, but then focused on journalism in college. I worked as an editor on the university newspaper and eventually  graduated with a journalism degree. I worked for a little while in the editorial world, first, interning at a magazine while in school. Once I graduated, I worked as a freelance writer and then eventually got a staff position on a publication. I did this, freelanced and had another (unrelated) part-time job. So naturally I burned out.

I stepped away from the editorial world for a good number of years when I realized I might be able to make a living as an actor. This was easier said than done, but I put forth a lot of time, effort, money and went through a bunch of agents in the process. I even moved 2,000 miles from my hometown to pursue acting in Hollywood. Like the hoards of people coming out here chasing a dream, it’s very easy to get discouraged with all the bullshit networking and hurdle jumping. I’m not a natural schmoozer. I feel very uncomfortable talking myself up or getting close to people in hopes of a job. Maybe it’s the Midwest in me, but I’m humble and sincere. I don’t make friends to see what they can do for me.

This year and half in Los Angeles has been one with lots of ups and downs. I guess what I didn’t realize was how little acting I’d be doing and how much other work for my career I’d be doing. It’s not easy, but I’m not complaining. I just find myself feeling very unfulfilled by the whole rat race out here. At times this industry is cold and empty. I feel the emptiness more and more these days. In Chicago, I had my own theatre company where I experienced a camaraderie like no other. I miss being a part of something special. Mostly, I miss creating.

I find myself seeking solace in the printed word. As we all shift towards technology, I retreat with books and blogs. The printed word seems so tangible now. Hollywood success seems so fleeting if you are even lucky enough to harness it at all.

I forgot how much pride I felt when I saw my byline in a magazine or newspaper. I forgot all about the excitement of sharing a freshly printed copy of the paper with my parents. It’s nice to know I have these skills to fall back on and the time to devote to writing again. For starters, I’ll be writing for a female-focused website about movies, TV and pop culture. The site officially launches next month, but I’m already working on my first piece. It inspired me to jump back into the freelance pool. It feels good knowing I can already swim there.

I’m surprised I got the writing bug again, but I’m happy it caught me. Let’s see where this leads. What’s the point of life without crazy adventures? Stay tuned…