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American Horror Story Fans Are Unionizing

Photo: FX Networks/YouTube

American Horror Story’s legacy begins, and ends, with its fanbase. Initially premiering in 2011 on FX, the show was the first of its kind, a self-contained horror series with new plots cycling out every season. When it premiered, Walking Dead was the only other hyped horror-related show on television, and with little competition in the genre, AHS certainly excelled. FX president John Landgraf told the Chicago Tribune that early seasons were groundbreaking and trendsetting, while critics agreed that American Horror Story was one of a kind with standout acting, costumes, and set design.

The inventive idea, which attracted a rotating ensemble every season of big names like Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, and Sarah Paulson, brought in over 7 million viewers an episode at its peak, with Coven and Freak Show being the most lucrative according to Deadline. In part, the fresh plot, familiar faces, and interwoven stories was what peaked viewers interest.

However, it was a vocal and rabid social-media presence that kept the franchise afloat.

After a decade of building a loyal and organized fanbase, spanning cities, countries, and continents, and dedicated to all things AHS, that same fanbase is boycotting the series. On July 25, the AHS Zone Twitter account announced it would go dark until Murphy released more information on this upcoming season. In the tweet, the leaders of the accounts spoke for the AHS community, outlining the frustration they feel trying to attract a wider audience to a show they love without help from Murphy. Pointing to lack of confirmation from the network on anything related to premiere date, casting confirmation, or title announcement, AHS Zone formed something of a union with other fan accounts, including The AHS Zone, AHS Daily, AHS Source, Horror Story News, and AHS News Feed, to band together to call for a social-media blackout refusing to promote the show until further notice. Mirroring Murphy’s own silence, the accounts claim they will no longer post starting August 1.

The strike defies what is typical of protests in Hollywood, namely, public outcry over the end of programs such as with Sense8 or The OA. Instead, the fanbase is moving to push producers to give more to a beloved series that amassed a large following over ten years. People are utilizing the #AHS11 hashtag on Twitter space to discuss concerns while others refuse to back the black out for the time being, amping the ante on both sides to discuss whether the protest is effective or foolish. Fan strikes are not unheard of — they happen all the time in history similar to one currently taking place over Black Panther — but the AHS strike is unique in sheer magnitude of fan accounts. Unlike other industry protests, which typically happen due to writers’ strikes (and backed by a real union) or show’s ending, the AHS strike is communicating terms of demands regarding marketing.

The internet is tired of scraping together fan edits, piecing together news stories, and posting old shows, all for free, while higher up’s fail to market the show outside of a kiosk toting phone backgrounds.

Early Tumblr users did the leg work for connecting American Horror Story fans with one another. Murder House, season one of the series and arguably the strongest, thrived off low-grade gifs of Evan Peter’s in Skull makeup while Asylum, season two, had lesbians screaming over Lana Winters. FX did a number on marketing, promoting the series through more progressive, insane ways, including wiping their entire social media feed save for a few clips of static ahead of season eight Apocalypse, but nothing could beat the sheer magnitude of the AHS internet. Bringing together conspiracy theorists, fan fiction fanatics, and gif creators from every walk of life, it has long been the backbone keeping American Horror Story together.

This isn’t the first time Murphy has upset fans before. From spreading general confusion in the community over spinoffs to posting polls asking for audience participation with no follow-up, Murphy’s engagement with AHS fans ranges from disengaged to thinly veiled contempt. With Murphy’s most recent American Horror Stories episode turning beloved Murder House on its head, fans of the forum wonder if his artfully placed devices were more mockery than anything else. The growing turmoil between fanbase and producer that has seemingly been on the back burner for years has finally seemed to boil over.

It’s illustrated in the reception to season ten, the disappointing Double Feature, the premiere of which was delayed a full year due to the pandemic, and fans felt more needed to be done this season in terms of production outside of relying on American Horror Story’s name to generate excitement. Double Feature’s creative decision to split the series in two felt like an abrupt ending with no payoff, a toss away to focus on other projects. Producers’ decision to dabble with format, similar to their choice with documentary style in season six of Roanoke or their decision to commentate on real-life events during a tumultuous time with season seven Cult, failed to impress critics and viewers alike. Whether it was due to Double Feature’s abrupt shift from Red Tide to Death Valley, leaving no real conclusion to either story, or whether it was a weaker cast relegating Sarah Paulson’s roles to a side character, the audience believes they deserve more.

Specifically, more American Horror Story from Murphy — not more from the growing Murphy-verse which now includes Feud, American Horror Stories, American Crime Story, American Love Story, American Sports Story, and that Jeffrey Dahmer series.

Despite being renewed for three more seasons in 2020, there has been little news on when, exactly, American Horror Story season eleven is set to return. Not only are fans being kept in the dust, but celebrities are too, with  Angelica Ross wondering where they stand with the continuation of the series. Appearing on Scott McGlyn’s Celebrity Skin Talk Instagram Live, Ross admits “they don’t know anything about season eleven and are not in it, to their knowledge” reflecting sentiment widespread in the AHS community. Confusion is happening on both ground and executive level and this, mixed with Murphy outright blocking accounts inquiring more information on what’s to come, point to deliberate actions to keep viewers in the dark. Murphy and FX Networks did not respond to Vulture’s request for comment.

Giving viewers just enough Easter eggs to piece together a through-line, Murphy has wisely managed to generate interest by keeping audiences guessing, and in a state of limbo. Fans hungrily chase after the nostalgia of American Horror Story hoping to recreate the feeling that came from when it first aired on FX while Murphy capitalizes on enthusiasm nourishing conversation with enough subtext to keep people on their toes. Though the show has managed to reach a wider audience than others, it has become more of a spectacle relying on flashy celebrities and chaotic plotlines left up to its fanbase to tie together. Peeling back the grandeur of illusion, viewers are growing tired of old gimmicks, seeing past the smoke and mirror Murphy has managed to keep up for over a decade.

Now, it’s a question of whether Murphy cares enough about  the show that launched an empire to say anything at all.

As the machine runs low on steam, viewers wonder how much of the work they’ll have to shoulder in terms of keeping the series alive. With so much discord in the community, it’s a question of how long American Horror Story will survive on the love and dedication of the fanbase alone, especially as they demand more from those in power. One thing’s for certain, with the premiere of season 11 looming overhead, FX will have to step up its game bringing something to the table that leaves internet forums talking for a long time.

American Horror Story Fans Are Unionizing