Image Source: FX Networks
American Horror Story: Cult is taking viewers back in time this season to meet several real-life cult leaders. All of them will be played by Evan Peters, who is currently offering up a creepy performance as the chaos-seeking Kai. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Peters revealed that he will be playing Charles Manson, David Koresh, Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, and Andy Warhol over the course of the season. If you're thinking one of those people is not like the others, then you are not alone. Because, come on, was Andy Warhol really a cult leader? The famed pop art master was many things, including a '60s icon, but he certainly didn't have a violent cult like Manson, or a following built around doomsday propaganda like Jones. What Warhol did have was a cult of personality, the Factory, and a group of Superstars.
Warhol began his career doing illustrations for advertisements and album covers. He was among the first people to use silk screens, which ultimately helped him mass produce his art. In the '60s, he began exhibiting his pop art, including his paintings of Campbell's Soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles, and money. Warhol turned consumerism into art, and in turn gained a number of followers who were just as artistically inclined as he was. These luminaries gathered in what became known as the Factory, a New York City studio known for its vibrant creative scene. It was there that Warhol dubbed his closest friends Warhol's Superstars.
Image Source: Getty / Hulton Deutsch
Being part of the Factory scene was like being invited to sit at the coolest kid's table in school. The people Warhol surrounded himself with were brilliant artists, playwrights, musicians, filmmakers, and sexual revolutionaries. But their New York City haven wasn't simply a commune of creativity: it was also a literal factory. Warhol's Superstars worked with him to mass produce his art — something that was largely unheard of at the time — and maximize his profits.
Cult leaders are generally thought of as charismatic people with a knack for persuasion, who convince those who are vulnerable to follow them for selfish or violent reasons. That's not Warhol, but he did have an energy that seemed to attract people to him. One of those people was radical feminist Valerie Solanas. Lena Dunham will be taking on the role of Solanas in AHS: Cult.
Solanas was on the fringe of the Factory scene, just outside of Warhol's inner circle. She starred in Warhol's 1968 film I, a Man, but she wasn't one of the artist's Superstars. Her claim to fame was a separatist feminist tract called the "S.C.U.M. Manifesto," which called for the elimination of all men. In June of '68, Solanas shot Warhol in the Factory leaving him with injuries that would plague him for the rest of his life. According to the New York Daily News article from that fateful day, when asked why she shot Warhol, Solanas said, "He had too much control over my life." The truth was more complicated — Warhol refused to produce her play, which he found obscene, and Solanas was later diagnosed with schizophrenia.
AHS: Cult takes inspiration from Warhol's Superstars and Solanas's assertion that the artist had too much control over her life into a narrative that presents Warhol's bohemian paradise as a different kind of cult — one built on creativity, not violence, even as it maintained an exclusive inner circle orbiting around a charismatic leader. Warhol wasn't a cult leader in the traditional sense, but he did have a following and a female foil, much like this season's two main characters, Kai and Ally. That makes his and Solanas's inclusion in AHS: Cult all the more fitting.