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  • Writer's pictureIlana Davis

American Horror Story: The Reality of the Las Vegas Shooting

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Following the Las Vegas shooting on Oct. 1, the producers of the FX show “American Horror Story” (or AHS) replaced what would have been a violent depiction of a mass shooting with a much tamer depiction.

But regardless of the events in Las Vegas, AHS should have aired the original episode because it incites a fear in Americans that closely reflects reality. The purpose of AHS’s current season is to portray the US and its people in a fragile state, and the unedited opening would have further exemplified such an argument.

American Horror Story’s seventh season, titled ‘Cult’, has focused on the aftermath of the 2016 election. It has relied on common fears such as holes and clowns, and more complex fears related to the current politically and socially divided climate. The show addresses prominent issues of immigration, the political divide, and most recently, gun control.

Days after the deadly Las Vegas shooting occurred, FXNetworks released a statement that they would air an edited opening for the episode. The statement, which was initially put on twitter, received extensive media coverage and backlash.

Producer and creator of the show, Ryan Murphy  commented on the matter, “I made the decision that I’m going to have all of that violence be shown for the most part off camera.”

Murphy did admit that, while he didn’t have to change it, he wanted to for sensitivity reasons. But now is not the time to tip-toe around the issue of gun control and mass shootings. It is the time to address it head on.

This is a real fear for people in the country right now, making it a topic that should be addressed directly. Since Sandy Hook, the U.S. has seen 1500 mass shootings, with at least 1,700 deaths and over 6,000 injuries.

But instead of showing a depiction what is quickly becoming a rising epidemic in American society, the show decided to shelter the audience. Actual footage from the Las Vegas shooting has been shown countless times all over TV news and the internet. Why does a fictional TV show feel the need to protect viewers from things they have already seen?

The episode was initially chosen to be filmed following countless other shooting incidents that occurred in the past few years. Instead of wondering whether or not it is too soon to air a scene so close to a tragedy that took place, there should be more of an effort to stop another tragedy from happening in the first place.

It is understandable why supporters of the edited version hold the position they do. Murphy and the other producers could have postponed the episode out of respect. The episode could have included a PSA announcement in the beginning or could have put more focus on the victims of the fictitious shooting.   

Only about 45 seconds of content were cut from the episode, which could still be found through online streaming. The original opening saw multiple individuals get visibly shot and killed, whereas gunshots can only be heard in the aired version. Despite this, the episode still had its fair share of violence and firearm use.    

Melanie McFarland wrote in Salon that “gun violence is so integrated into American pop culture that every headline-making mass shooting is accompanied by delayed film release or pulled TV episodes.” With violence so embedded in American media, it is time to address the issue firmly, without holding back.

When comparing the two versions of the episode, Ben Travers pointed out that the American flag took over the screen for a few brief seconds. The United States takes lead for number of rampage shootings in the world. In this sense, American Horror Story could be equating the gunshot with our flag, the symbol for our nation.

Ultimately the decision lies with the producers and the network. But depicting a mass shooting with a real one so fresh in the minds of the viewers makes the situation so much more distressing.

If this season of AHS has taught us anything, it is that reality is a frightening thing. The reality of a mass shooting is a harsh one, and viewers of the show–and Americans in general–need to be made aware of it.

*A MediaFileDC post from October 2017

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