Pop Culture Intervention

This Is Why We Shouldn't Censor TV Shows Featuring Gun Violence After Real-Life Tragedies

"American Horror Story: Cult" should continue to air an episode featuring a mass shooting next week.

The next episode of American Horror Story: Cult, titled "Mid-Western Assassin" and set to air on October 10, reportedly features a mass shooting at a political rally. This, as many are pointing out, will hit your TV just nine days after the Las Vegas mass shooting at a Jason Aldean concert that left 59 dead and more than 500 people injured. Many are speculating whether or not the episode will be edited or delayed in the wake of last weekend's tragic events but I, to be completely honest, believe it should remain on the schedule and left unedited.


Sites such as The Wrap and Perez Hilton are asking "Too Soon?" and polling readers about their thoughts on what FX, as well as creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, should do. The former notes that everyone is remaining mum on the episode's events — which will open and close the episode with a lone shooter targeting random people in a crowd before police intervene — while the latter shows that three-fourths of readers who weighed in on the issue are A-OK with it airing.

I don't think it's appropriate that we, as a society, see these types of violence in media so soon in the aftermath of tragedy — in this case, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. But, since little is being done to prevent these sorts of things from happening again — be it with stricter gun laws, banning semi-automatic guns, or getting rid of guns altogether — why should we be so shy to watch violence on TV and turn our heads in the real world?

If there is harm in watching moments like this unfurl in media, is the same harm not more detrimental in real life? I understand that violence — be it in movies, on TV, or in video games — can be triggering to those who have experienced similar situations in their lives (maybe even for those who have not) or inspire people to carry out similar situations. Is fictionalized violence really more controversial than the reality of what can happen?

Earlier this week, just three days after the Las Vegas mass shooting, BuzzFeed published a story in which it speaks to the people behind some TV shows — from All in the Family to Degrassi, just to name a few — about why they chose to tackle gun violence. The common thread, it seems, was the desire to take on the Second Amendment as well as to try and change the minds of those were pro-gun to see the kind of harm that can come from these weapons. With this kind of hope, it's hard to say that these creative minds were using the violence for frivolous and purely entertaining purposes when, in fact, they were using them as a vehicle to comment on a larger societal issue. It is entirely likely that the upcoming Cult episode will follow suit and have a point to including the controversial moments.

TV shows being edited or delayed because they feature taboo or untimely topics is nothing new. In terms of gun violence, perhaps one of the most popular points to mention is a season 3 episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer titled "Earshot." This episode was scheduled to air just one week after 1999's Columbine High School massacre but, because it featured a student loading a rifle for what was perceived to be a mass shooting but ended up being suicide, it was held until later that year prior to the season 4 premiere.

While the future of next week's Cult episode is still up in the air, Deadline reports that Netflix pulled promo for its upcoming Marvel TV series The Punisher from New York Comic Con. While the streaming service is playing it safe, this wouldn't be the only time the American Horror Story franchise has tackled gun violence. A storyline from season 1 showed Evan Peters' character committing a mass shooting similar to that of Columbine. It's important to note, though, that plot from the Murder House season didn't air on the heels of a real-life tragedy. The Cult episode, of course, finished production long before the Las Vegas mass shooting as the series wrapped at the end of September. This, it seems, is just pure coincidence once more.

Until we can prove that we will act to ensure mass shootings like that which happened in Las Vegas last weekend — as well as at Pulse nightclub in 2016, Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, and so many other times — will not happen again, we cannot hold the artform of TV to the same (if not harsher) standards. If watching gun violence in media is so hard, imagine how tough it is to see it happen time and time again in the real world. Censoring TV shows like this is just another way to shy away from talking about the issue and having those tough conversations that can lead to true change.

Cover image via Frank Ockenfels / FX Networks


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