American Horror Story, the Ryan Murphy-created anthology horror series running since 2011 on FX, wrapped up its seventh season on Tuesday this week. Tagged Cult, the show’s storyline heavily drew from the events of the American 2016 elections, which Donald Trump devastatingly won, and what’s like living in Trump’s America. Cult is a blunt, bold, viscerally effective micro examination of the macro issues that America has been grappling with, from white supremacy to race and to the hegemonic patriarchal system that favours men. Episode 6, in fact, had a fictional mass shooting, inadvertently throwing a nod to America’s gun violence epidemic and had to be recut in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting in October. Beyond this season’s acute, political backdrop, even right before the first episode aired, I wasn’t too sure if I would like Cult, given that I had stopped watching the series since season 4 (Freak Show). Quite surprisingly, Cult didn’t only turn out to be good television, it also became a soaring, credible, entertaining archetype of Trump television.
Familiar cast – Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters – rendered brilliant performances in Ryan Murphy’s chaotically collapsing Trumpian world. There’s also Adina Porter, who plays Beverly Hope, a black reporter with a penchant for reporting on-the-scene, viciously chilling broadcast news. Through her brand of valid, morbid journalism, Kai Anderson (Evan Peters) sees her true usefulness and potential in the scope of his political aspirations. Unfairly treated at her job as a black woman and, on the agreement of equal power, she’s recruited into his Kai’s cult, a coterie of fear-peddling killers masked up as clowns. Their activities, mostly nocturnal, plays grandly into Kai’s scheme of city-contained fearmongering. He soon becomes an overnight political celebrity as his message grips the city, a localized success lionized by an army of followers. He then neglects Beverly, demoting her to the affairs of the kitchen while his campaign speeds on and catches a glamorous fire. Even though it was plain that Beverly deserved better, I told myself that Beverly’s treatment wasn’t unfamiliar. Men have been treating women like shit for centuries, and when Beverly vehemently asks Kai about the deal of equal power, Kai deflects the question and centers himself instead.
Watching Cult and the episode on shockingly lethal feminism where a gang of women serially kill men in order to dismantle patriarchy (which I found a little distasteful), I began to see how the show’s depiction of the power imbalance between men and women was a facsimile of real life. The reason gender equality still hasn’t been achieved, especially in a country like Nigeria, is because patriarchy still flourishes. And, of course, because Nigerian celebrities don’t know any better. Earlier last month, Tiwa Savage’s interview with celebrity radio presenter Toolz inexorably plunged into controversy on social media. Her comments about a man being the head of the house could not have been more ego-burnishing for Nigerian men, so much so that they came to defend her. Even some women took sides with her because how dare these bloody feminists challenge their safe, cyclical, conventional ideas of female subservience and submissiveness to the patriarchy?
While I was in search of articles that resonated with my sentiments against Savage’s comments, a friend of mine directed me to this intelligent Medium piece written by Dr. Ola Brown. I read it more than once because it had such rare, illuminating wisdom, which is why I’m recommending it to anyone who is yet to read it. Equal power, like the one Kai never gave Beverly in Cult, means patriarchy has to be dismantled for equality to be established. It begins when we raise our boys and girls equally, blurring out gender as they apply themselves to domestic chores. It begins when we acknowledge the girl child beyond biology and see her as a total, complex person. It begins when we instill in boys that women are not to be seen as chattel or property or objects, so that when they grow up to be men, women would no longer have to deal with monsters like Harvey Weinstein or Terry Richardson or the male superior at their workplace who sexually harasses them. It begins when the Nigerian Senate retrieves the Gender Equality Bill from the dustbin and passes it into law.
In Cult’s season finale (spoilers, sorry), Beverly puts a bullet in Kai’s head in a lovely twist of events. It was quick, brutal, and deliciously poetic. But it doesn’t in any way signal the end of patriarchy, real or fictitious, and in the words of Bebe Babbitt, a character played by the beloved Frances Conroy who has dropped appearances in the AHS Universe, “We are sitting on the biggest bomb the universe has ever seen,” she says to Kai as his anger management counsellor, “The bomb is female rage.”