It's that time of year again! Time to crawl under your blanket and whimper, because American Horror Story is coming back. This week, creator Ryan Murphy revealed that season seven is titled American Horror Story: Cult. In addition to getting some exciting details on his Twitter account, we saw the first major teaser of the season, and there's a lot to go over. Ready for some in-depth analysis of everything you've seen so far? Because we sure are.
1. The Bees Connect to the Ideology of a Cult
In just the past week, Murphy has layered a bunch of bee symbolism into his Cult teasers. He posted an Instagram of a man covered in bees. The shortened teaser on AHS7.com shows a man releasing a swarm of bees from his mouth, and much of the full-length teaser features that six-sided hexagon, which obviously correlates to the six-sided honeycomb of a beehive. But what do bees have to do with cults? Well, if you trace back to historic uses of bees and bee-related imagery, you'll get some answers.
The concept of the beehive traces back to the Egyptians. Bees symbolized obedience in Egypt, because they are the only insect to have a "king" or "queen" among them. This creates a model of subservience, and it continued in history with the rise of the Freemasons. The Freemasons are perhaps one of the most mysterious organizations in the present day. The group was first established in medieval Europe as a guild for stonemasons but has continued as a society up through modern times. Nowadays, it's regarded as the world's oldest and largest fraternity. But there are many, many conspiracy theories about it.
Here are the facts: if you want to join, you must "demonstrate good character and belief in some sort of Supreme Being." The meetings happen primarily in lodges, and they are exclusive to men. And despite the fact that it's a publicly known organization, it's not without its secrets. When it comes to meeting, non-Masons and cameras are forbidden. At the center of these meeting rooms is an altar, and there are certain secret ceremonies that are often performed at meetings. This is where we circle back to bees. The Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and Its Kindred Sciences says bees have historically been viewed in the same way by Freemasons as they were by Egyptians. It's a symbol of industry and obedience.
As for the cultish associations? Due to the shroud of secrecy that seems to surround Freemasonry, there are plenty of conspiracy theories that link Freemasonry to cult-like behavior. I mean, a worldwide network of men that meet secretly in lodges, approach altars, and perform ceremonies sounds pretty suspicious. But of course, there are wilder theories about Illuminati connections and Satanism. So, there's the connective tissue from Ryan Murphy's bee imagery to the new Cult title.
2. The Clowns May Reference Something Truly Evil
Murphy's decision to include clowns again is a little more enigmatic, at least in the context of a cult. It's pretty easy to see why he did it from a horror standpoint. After all, clowns are a staple of modern horror. The most iconic clown monster is Pennywise from It, which has a remake hitting theaters in just over a month. Scary clowns have popped up elsewhere; there's the creepy doll in Poltergeist and the clowns in Rob Zombie's movies, House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects. In real life, John Wayne Gacy dressed up as a clown to lure in and murder young boys. There references go on and on, and AHS is not the exception. Twisty the Clown was the show's own nightmarish entry into clown culture, and he's coming back in AHS: Cult.
All horror aspects considered, clowns also have a sinister history attached to them. An in-depth exploration of the psychology behind scary clowns from the Smithsonian traces the origins of clowns to something more unsavory than good. According to David Kiser, the director of talent for Ringling Bros., clown comedy was first derived from a hedonistic appetite for food, sex, drink, and other manic behavior. "In one way, the clown has always been an impish spirit," Kiser said.
From an impish spirit, it's a short jump to a demon or the devil himself. It could be that Murphy is combining the horror canon of clowns with the darker origins of clown culture, and that's why we're seeing a cult of clowns in season seven. It makes sense to attach some sort of Satanic symbolism to clowns as well. The devil will never show his true face, much like a clown hides behind an unchanging painted smile.
3. The Rhetoric and Imagery Is More Political Than It Seems
"Do you ever feel alone?" the full-length teaser asks. "Does it seem like no one really understands you? Do some people just make you sick? Are you afraid? We can set you free. We will make you strong. We want you." When it comes to the 2016 election, many outlets reported after the fact that Donald Trump had rallied the "angry white man" to win the race. He sought to connect with those in the nation that felt like they were being ignored by the Democratic party. "There is a lot to fear in a Trump presidency," Time notes. "Economic chaos, entrenched bigotry and xenophobia, the demise of American international power. But there's just as much to fear in the American people and, especially, in the white America that elected Trump." The AHS teaser, which Murphy has confirmed will involved the 2016 election, seems to follow this same path. Do people make you sick? Are you afraid? We can fix it.
Then, of course, there's color imagery. Red and black are the predominant colors in each shot. But it's not until the shocks of blue that the political connections become more apparent. There's also the fact that these blue glimpses come from shots featuring a single woman: the woman with blue hair on the altar, and the other woman with blue hair and makeup in the crowd. In this setting, she could represent the progressive Democrats, and she is severely outnumbered. As Trump continues to attack women's rights and rallies his supporters against liberals, it's pretty easy to connect the dots.
American Horror Story: Cult premieres on Sept. 5.