Some hateful stereotypes never die in Hollywood. The cover of the September 7 edition of Entertainment Weekly featured the 63-year-old actress Jessica Lange, smirking in a nun’s black habit, holding a big, punishing cane in her hands. Lange is returning for a second season on the FX series American Horror Story, but this time with an entirely new plot and characters.
Nuns are now a thing of horror. “Jessica Lange returns, this time as a terrifying nun,” promised the magazine’s cover. They eagerly hyped a new storyline that’s “a macabre mashup of nuns, Nazis, aliens, a serial killer named Bloody Face, and the lead singer of Maroon 5.” Set in Massachusetts in 1964, this nun dominates the inmates of a mental asylum named Briarcliff.
The mastermind of this spectacle is Ryan Murphy, the fallen Irish Catholic homosexual (surprise) who began with the FX sleazefest Nip/Tuck and then scored big with Glee on Fox. Think of a horror show, and naturally, Murphy thinks of....nuns?
“I’m just writing what I would like to see. I’m scared of aliens and I’m scared of Nazis and I’m scared of nuns. So it’s the perfect stew of horror and fear.”
Murphy told Entertainment Weekly he “wants Catholic groups just waiting to be outraged by his show to know” that “We show people who are really devoted to Catholicism and believe in its powers. For the most part, the religious people in the show are making an attempt to do their best in a very difficult world.”
Baloney. It is patently untrue. That, of course, has never stopped Murphy.
The same article promised “viewers will meet Lange’s Sister Jude, a scarily stern woman of faith (and fan of corporal punishment) who’s running the show at Briarcliff while grappling with some very un-nunlike personal demons.”
Lange told the Los Angeles Times "If I were playing a straitlaced nun, start to finish, I can’t say that would interest me too much. What’s great are the extremes. To go from where she was and where she’s getting to, that’s what’s going to be interesting."
A summary of the characters spread across the Internet by Murphy’s team also explains that “Lange now takes on Sister Jude, a nun who's more sadistic than saintly.” Monsignor O’Hara will be the subject of the nun’s sexual desires: “Sister Jude's superior finds himself on the receiving end of the nun's affections (and fantasies), but he's not entirely innocent. Not unlike the red lingerie under Jude's habit, there are dark intentions under Monsignor O'Hara's grace and piety. This year, he'll be subject to Sister Jude's brutal punishment (read: shackles, canes).”
Entertainment Weekly quoted Lange that Sister Jude has “a lot of bad history and secrets that would threaten her if it came out.” The magazine added this character “used to be a girl named Judy who drank and slept her way around Massachusetts.” Actor Joseph Fiennes, who plays Monsignor O’Hara, suggests “clearly she’s attracted to the monsignor for his grace and religiousness...and the monsignor might play with that, manipulate that.”
The magazine also reported “Sister Jude serves as the Nurse Ratched to Briarcliff’s troubled inmates.” That’s a reference to the villain of the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the vicious, dictatorial ruler of a mental asylum.
Does this sound to anyone with brainwaves like a Catholic nun and priest attempting to “do their best” to be faithful to God and his church?
Murphy’s producing partner, Brad Falchuk, confessed his ignorance to Entertainment Weekly. “I’m a Jew. I don’t know enough nuns. I saw Sister Act and it freaked me out.” But Adam Levine, that aforementioned pop singer in the cast, explained: “What’s great about the fact that it’s on FX is that you can go too far. You can do really unorthodox, crazy things that people are going to talk about.”
It’s easy to see the game that Murphy is playing here. He wants to “go too far” and build a big buzz – but he also wants to claim his religious characters really try to “do their best.” He wants critics to be outraged enough to draw publicity...but not so outraged that they get the show canceled. He wants enough outrage to maintain his place as the toast of sybaritic Tinseltown. American Horror Story was touted by FX in its first season as the year's top-rated new cable series, and the Emmy tastemakers honored it with a whopping 17 Emmy nominations.
Once again, that “conservative” tycoon Rupert Murdoch is amoral enough to provide the Fox and FX platform for shows that have painted pornographers and perverted plastic surgeons as rebellious heroes, and now will portray nuns as creepy villains. Murdoch must laugh all the way to the bank as his entertainment properties shred everything that’s uplifting and decent in our popular culture.