Because “Glee” wasn’t culty enough
If you asked anyone, I am sure they would remember exactly how the night of the 2016 election went for them. In the case of the sixth season of American Horror Story, aptly titled Cult, reactions were heavily mixed. Kai Anderson applied blended Cheetos to his face and matched it with black eyeliner to celebrate, while his sister Winter sat in disbelief after dropping out of college to follow Hillary Clinton on her campaign trail. What follows that night is disturbing, especially in regards to how real it could become.
On the surface, American Horror Story: Cult is about Trump versus Clinton. Continuous watching will tell the viewer that this story is centered around how far someone will go to get what they want. As much as some audience members called this season a satire, a history of people like Jim Jones and Charles Manson using fear to manipulate whoever wants to listen does exist and cause damage. So, how far off is it really?
The season starts off with Donald Trump’s presidential win, inspiring Kai to run for local office. Chaos ensues as it becomes clear that Kai will stop at nothing to achieve the highest level of power. He knows he needs to start small in order to rule the world.
It is important to realize that without Trump’s win, it is likely that Kai would not have run for office at all. Trump’s tendency to speak offensively and without a filter gives Kai incentive to realize that he, too, can speak offensively and without a filter. Even further, he can now openly be racist and homophobic while also holding a position of power.
After Kai speaks at a town meeting and things do not go in his favor, the horror begins in a Michigan suburb. People are murdered in their homes and trucks begin spraying an unknown vapor through the neighborhood at night. Ally and her wife Ivy’s son are even tricked into believing his guinea pig was blown up in a microwave. All the while, Kai is rounding up a crew of willing and vulnerable followers with their own individual motives. They began to terrorize the town dressed as killer clowns, which was most likely a reference to 2016’s mysterious clown sightings that were occurring all over the world.
As the show goes on, the viewer realizes the catch: Kai speaks and acts differently depending on who he is recruiting next, telling them everything they want to hear. This tends to be how cult leaders build a following. They find a way to appeal to each person, counting on their vulnerability. This aspect of Kai is taken directly from Trump who, despite a history of racist remarks and controversies, has insisted that he is “the least racist person that you’ve ever encountered.” More recently, after Trump called COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” and “kung flu,” Asian Americans reported many targeted incidents that ranged from verbal abuse, property damage, and physical assault. The reason Trump insists he’s not racist in spite of these incidents coincides with Trump’s desire to maintain his presidential power, as he knows he can only do this if he has support from those who vote for him.
One of the cult members, Nicole Kidman-loving Meadow Wilton, joins the cult after being manipulated by Kai. The way he speaks and gives compliments surprises her, and after realizing he is the first person to act this way towards her, she falls in love with him. She becomes so obsessed with helping Kai achieve his goal that she is in a prime role in his plan, which ultimately gets her killed.
A successful clear cult leader at this point in the series, Kai never loves Meadow, who represents the stereotypical cult recruit. He does not care much for most of his recruits, in fact. He continuously makes them empty promises and recycles the same old compliments in order to play into each person’s insecurities. Meadow married her gay best friend Harrison after a pact they made in high school. Kai senses that she desires a man in her life who would be in love with her in return. As Meadow’s dedication increases to an unhealthy level, he pretends alongside her, making her believe he loves her just as much.
In the episode in which Meadow ends her life due to her dedication for Kai, the cult stages a shooting during Kai’s speech, with the sole and sick intent of increasing his popularity. This episode, titled “Mid-Western Assassin,” aired on October 10, 2017. Nine days earlier, a gunman opened fire on the Las Vegas Strip and killed 58 people while injuring 850. Following what is considered one of the deadliest shootings in recent U.S. history, producers decided to air a heavily-edited episode out of respect for the victims. The proximity between the episode and the Las Vegas shooting, however, remained eerily close, with the episode mirroring the almost unbelievable state of the country.
It is no secret that Donald Trump has made many vulgar and inappropriate comments about women in the past, and continues to do so today. One example of many is the following quote of his during ABC Primetime Live: “I have really given a lot of women great opportunity. Unfortunately, after they are a star, the fun is over for me.” Another example is from the New York Magazine when Trump said, “Women, you have to treat them like shit.” Between the comments made about his daughter Ivanka’s figure and the jokes about dating a 10-year-old girl in 10 years, there is no shortage of examples. Despite this, the “Women for Trump” group is alive and well, believing that “the women problem is a myth.” Even in the 2020 election, 55 percent of white women voted for Trump. In a similar manner, Meadow puts Kai on a pedestal and worships him until the moment she dies when, at the end of the day, her life is easily disposable to him. He could not care less about her.
The series calls back to many cult leaders throughout history, such as Jim Jones and Charles Manson. Radical feminist Valerie Solanas gets her own episode, which outlines her shooting of artist Any Warhol and the creation of her “SCUM Manifesto,” standing for the Society for Cutting up Men. In the series, the self-published manifesto is the start of Solanas’ own cult. The main idea of Solanas’ story in the episode is that she is both underestimated and undercredited. Her cult makes their own kills, which mainly center around men and others’ involvement with men but are claimed by the Zodiac killer, who is assumed to be a man. Even in real life, her name was constantly misspelled, both in the New York Times and on the police report recording her death. With many fictional additions, SCUM is introduced to the characters in the show and is even revealed to still be in existence in 2016.
It is now 2020. This past month, Joe Biden became the President-elect, setting up the departure of Trump in January. The present day is already mirroring the events of the season finale, in which cult survivor and feminist Ally Mayfair-Richards is rising to power in the Senate. Kai is dead, our heroine wins and all is well, right?
On the surface, American Horror Story: Cult outlines pre- and post-Trump. However, reaching the end and seeing cult survivor Ally make it into a position of power should make you think otherwise. Considered one of the more underwhelming endings of an AHS season, the last scene shows Ally putting on her red hood, alluding to her having joined Valerie Solanas’ cult. She looks in the mirror for a moment before the season ends. What makes this ending so unsettling are our own assumptions. We can only imagine that the soon-to-be “reigning cult” is one that is committed to killing men. What would have followed?
Cult is not about Trump versus Clinton, or Trump versus Biden. It is about those who dedicate themselves to people who promise to make things better for those like them. However, at least in the case of politicians, this is rarely the case. Even Winter from the series leaves college to give her support to Clinton, regardless of various reports stating that The Clinton Foundation paid women 38 percent less than men.
Incorporating real-life people like Charles Manson, Jim Jones and Valerie Solanas may seem over the top, but by how much?
Gigi Grady is a third year Journalism major who started rewatching The Glee Project after AHS. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Art by Art Editor Adam Dee.