The biggest threat to American society is the white male teenager. Most recently, white teenage boys have been spotlighted in news media for raping classmates, taking advantage of women who are unable to consent at parties, as well as for shooting up schools. This hyper-violent and hyper-sexual behavior exhibited by a small percentage of white male teens has transferred over to the way that this group has lately been depicted on TV. Masculine white male teenage TV characters have evolved from their squeaky clean “quarterback”/”older brother” images a la “Leave It To Beaver” and into monsters. No character better exemplifies this shift in tropes than Tate Langdon (Evan Peters) from the first season of American Horror Story.
Tate Langdon is a seventeen-year-old boy who is interested in Kurt Cobain, books about birds, and his girlfriend, Violet (Taissa Farmiga). He set his mother’s boyfriend on fire, murdered fifteen students at his high school, raped his girlfriend’s mother, killed a gay couple, and attempted to murder a boy who had moved into his home. Tate straddles the line between boy next door and monster. (Mainly bleeding more into monster territory more often than not.) His aggressive sexual behavior towards women and his aggressive violent behavior towards men mimic the new masculinity that has been portrayed by the American news media.
The way that Tate is written, he rapes and kills to dominate. Tate feels powerless when a new family moves into his house, he feels powerless at school, and he feels powerless at home. Just as it is in real life, rape is about power and men wanting to conquer their victims. Boys are taught from their fathers and their peers, that real men do not take no as an answer. Although men have always been the dominating sex in American culture, it is a shifting dynamic due to the efforts of fourth wave feminists. Men feel the need to assert their masculinity to stay in control, and if something is unable to be conquered or controlled, violence becomes the answer. When Tate is thrown out of Ben’s office, he runs down the stairs banging his hands along the bannister. When he realizes that his mother’s boyfriend has killed his brother, he sets his mother’s boyfriend on fire, and when he feels that his whole world has collapsed, he goes on a school-shooting spree.
School shootings are portrayed in the media as an act of aggression only perpetrated by teen boys. Although the American public has rarely heard of them, there have been female school shooters. However, they are not referenced in popular culture because a gun is a male object – a phallic symbol, if you will – used famously by men to kill prey, threaten enemies, and eliminate threats. American Horror Story only has two other instances of gun use in its first season: once when Constance (Jessica Lange) shot her maid, Moira (Alexandra Brekenridge), with a more lady-like handgun, and when Ben shot Vivian when they were ghosts. In the series, the use of the gun is distinctly meant to be associated with Tate.
Tate’s whiteness is important to factor into his character just as it is important to factor in to the Columbine school shooting. Most notably, Tate’s school shooting plot line was inspired by Columbine and parallels the shooting spree down to the long coat and military style pants that all three shooters wore. People watching the show feel sympathy for Tate’s character because he is the “troubled, loner white boy.”
The Columbine shooters were often described as troubled loners, and in the documentary “Bowling For Columbine”, people expressed that they wished that they could have reached out to the shooters before they snapped. The fault of the shooting is placed on the outside influences instead of on the boys themselves because of their white skin. The reactions to the character and to Columbine would be different had the shooters not been white. Our American culture still equates whiteness with safety. If a young white male does something terrible, it is because there is something affecting him at home, pressure at school, physical abuse by someone close, etc. The American public still sees these skin colors as dangerous.
Tate’s whiteness also allows for him to still be the central heartthrob of the show because the social codes that viewers have adapted and use to view skin color, age, and gender allow them to excuse the murders he committed and focus on his (albeit abusive) romance with Violet, his boyish charm and handsome face.
In his relationship with Violet, Tate has all the power. For men, there is this common fear that if a man is not in control of his girlfriend or wife, he is “whipped,” or rather, his wife is controlling him instead of potentially the two of them having consensual powers over the relationship. Tate forces Violet to stay with him and ditch school before forcing Violet to stay with him after he takes her dead body and places it under the house, so that her ghost is trapped with him forever. Like any abusive partner, he creates this world for her where she is isolated from everything except for him; he is the only person she can turn to for help when she learns the truth about the paranormal things happening in the house.
This relationship is problematic because teens watching the show are unaware of Violet having no real freedom from Tate. He is able to watch Violet all day and monitor who she talks to and if she leaves her house. His ability to manipulate her is portrayed as a positive masculine trait. He’s caring and looking out for her. His “I love you”s are a weapon. Love is a weapon teen boys to pressure their partners into consent. The teen dream is to be so in love that nothing else around the couple matters.
Hyper-sexual and hyper-aggressive, a male teen can be monstrous to the rest of the world. American Horror Story takes Tate’s character and makes a Frankenstein of events committed by teenage boys. No longer are they seen as protective or as heroes. This is what society has made the teen boy out to be.