(Un)Dead Together: Hospitality, Hauntology and the ‘Happily Ever After’ in American Horror Story

Michael-Fox, Bethan (2023). (Un)Dead Together: Hospitality, Hauntology and the ‘Happily Ever After’ in American Horror Story. In: Hand, Richard and O'Thomas, Mark eds. American Horror Story and Cult Television: Narratives, Histories and Discourses. Anthem Series on Television Studies. London: Anthem Press, pp. 129–142.

Abstract

Death is a staple of American Horror Story, as are themes of mortality, loss and mourning. Death is so much present in the series that Keetley (2013, 90), examining the first season, writes that it ‘incarnates the death drive’. She argues that for this reason it is one of ‘the most unrelentingly pessimistic cultural texts of the contemporary moment’ (Keetley 2013, 90). Yet at times a more hopeful reading might also be made of this remarkably popular show. As character Mallory informs audiences (season eight, episode eight, 35:45), ‘nothing ever truly dies’. This is certainly the case in the imagined world of American Horror Story, where death almost never equates with absence, and the dead return in myriad forms. In this chapter, the first season, Murder House (2011), and fifth season, Hotel (2015), are examined in terms of their treatment of the (un)dead, exploring the ways in which the series can be understood to negotiate the complexities of what it would mean to extend hospitality ‘without reserve’ (Derrida 2005, 6), to choose to live with the (un)dead, and to join them. In particular for mothers who have suffered the traumatic loss of their children in life, American Horror Story blurs the dystopian and the romantic by offering an eternity of mother/child bonding. Murder House and Hotel both imagine lives where instead of giving up your dead, you get to die (and live) alongside them.

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