From IT to Poltergeist, clowns have been a symbol of terror in pop culture for years. Now, Ryan Murphy and his crew are taking that notion to the nth degree in the upcoming American Horror Story: Cult. The new season trailer gives clowns a much darker and deeper meaning, using them as a metaphor for a cult, specifically, the "cult" of President Trump and his following. From the trailer released on Tuesday, AHS: Cult's political commentary is blatant.
Set on election night, Sarah Paulson's protagonist screams in agony upon learning of the election results, while Evan Peters' ambiguously psychopathic character relishes in joy, dry humping the TV screen. The former's coulrophobia, fear of clowns, gets worse after the election, as real-life clowns among her become a living nightmare.
Murphy is known for using campy elements and over-the-top visuals to pay homage to the horror genre and comment on current society; but the use of clowns in Cult possibly refers to a very serious phenomenon history has seen for centuries.
The trailer spotlights the idea of cult-like organizations using fear to drive the masses and induce their members. Cult may be utilizing that explanation for Trump's victory, but this notion is nothing new. As explained by Psychology Today, "Cults deliberately induce powerful emotions like fear." This reasoning has been provided to help shed light on destructive and inhuman behavior from countless groups like Al Qua-eda, the Taliban, even Nazi Germany. Clearly, Murphy is saying Americans voted for Trump out of fear.
The trailer has voice over from Peters' character saying, "If you get people scared enough, it will set the world on fire." Then, there are shots of people getting tortured and faced with their worst fears. Billie Lourd's character, who's working with Peters' character (seemingly for the cult), says she despises nothing more than children, and is later seen giving the protagonist's son a Twisty the Clown doll.
Fans have known the horrifying Freak Show character would make his return in Season 7 for some time, but what they're now learning is that Twisty won't be the only clown. The trailer alone introduces four additional new clowns besides Twisty: one creeping up to a doorstep, one inside a house seen through the window, one popping up upside down, and one emerging from an ice cream truck.
The clowns are everywhere, and their presence in the suburban Michigan town is unavoidable, thus, spreading the fear. The opening credits also reflect that notion. With patriotic-like drums playing in the background, the credits display the clowns destructing society through death and gas leaks.
Further, when fans visit the AHS: Cult website, they're welcomed by Billie Lourd's character, who says:
"Frightened of the world outside? Don't be... If you lie, I'll know. If you're frightened, I know. You're going to give me your fear... it's going to make us both stronger."
Her cryptic sentiment backs the idea that fear is what brainwashes people, further fueling the cult — a tactic arguably used by Trump. For weeks, the AHS Instagram account has posted photos and video snippets of all different kinds of clowns and clowns meeting in cult-like settings.
It's still early and more answers will be provided once the season premieres September 5. But AHS isn't known for its happy endings, and if Paulson's character ultimately winds up joining the cult out of constant fear, it wouldn't be surprising. In fact, this type of ending would be even more poignant and effective for Murphy to get his point across.