As part of our Contemporary Media and the Gothic series, Holly Youell has done a character review of Tate Langdon, from the hit US show American Horror Story. Holly is first year English and Creative Writing student.
Things to look for in a potential boyfriend:
- Good sense of humour? Check
- Loyal? Check
- Loving? Check
- A history of murder and setting his stepdad on fire? …Wait.
It’s not a completely alien concept – at least not to the world of fiction anyway. So many novels, films and TV programmes centre round a sexy, smouldering character who despite having murder on their resume are an audience’s obsession – the Byronic Hero.
Byronic heroes are written to romanticise a disturbing creature that an audience would normally have a negative disposition to. It originated in the early 19th century and the heroes were typically reimagined versions of creatures with strong connections to the supernatural – a popular one being the sympathetic vampire (tvtropes.org). These characters are described by Stein in 2004 as being ‘rehumanised’ and are given a moral centre. Usually they have their own rules and create their own moral code that they live by – shunning the rules of society and more often than not having a murky past which hints at dark crimes. Over time twisted, psychotic humans were given this treatment as well as the supernatural creatures, which birthed many Byronic heroes including the arrival of Tate Langdon. Masses of fans watching the FX hit series “American Horror Story” fell in love with Tate Langdon, portrayed by Evan Peters. At first it was probably Peters’ good looks which charmed audiences but as the series progresses it’s revealed that there’s something very wrong with Tate. Not that this matters to an audience though. Tate is still loved even when details of his dark actions come to light. Years later the shine has worn off for some people and they find themselves questioning the obsession a large chunk of the audience has with this somehow lovable murderer, wondering just how they were tricked into liking this character.
Tate’s initial introduction is when he is in Ben Harmon’s office at a counselling session, where he describes the dreams he has of killing students at his school. He says he kills people he likes, claiming that he’s taking them from the ‘filthy god damn world’ to somewhere ‘cleaner and kinder’. His cynicism is a popular trait among Byronic heroes and is due to a troubled past. Though he’s expressing mature fantasies of a disturbing nature he’s framed as an innocent boy. Tate is brash and funny, making jokes out of his life with an infectious smile. He has the inquisitiveness of a child, requesting Ben tells him more about the other patients in a tone that suggests patient confidentiality isn’t a thing he’s considered – just as a child wouldn’t. He also says ‘I like stories’, which is a simplistic sentence and is said in the way you’d expect an infant to. It then becomes acceptable for Tate to be a character to root for as his sick fantasies can be excused by his childlike demeanour and charm.
Tate’s redeeming qualities are shown as quickly as possible to ensure the audience bonds with him before his exact nature is revealed. In the first meeting with Tate his story is immediately interlinked with Violet’s to help with his likability. He comments on her self-harm in a way that suggests he’s familiar with this kind of pain himself, demonstrating vulnerability and giving him the potential to become a figure for Violet to empathise with. Violet has already been shown to be bullied at school even though it was only her first day. Three of the bullies attacked her and though she was outnumbered she fought back. Because of this, Violet is liked by the audience as those kind of courageous qualities are admired in a person. When Violet, an outsider, finds herself another kindred spirit in the form of Tate, a path is made for a romantic pairing. The tale of the love between two outsiders in society isn’t out of the ordinary but still resonates with the audience as something to be rooted for, thus beginning a Romeo and Juliet emulation. With audience sympathies behind it, these feelings can be attached to Tate even when he’s not being active in his Romeo role, allowing his behaviour to be overlooked. The idea of Tate being a saviour to other characters favoured by the audience came about in episode two, where he saves Violet and Vivienne from the home invasion. Out of seemingly nowhere Tate arrives and proceeds to take control of the situation, using his wit and keeping cool to overcome the invaders. It doesn’t matter that he ended up killing these people in place of calling the authorities, what the audience remembers is that Tate was Violet’s hero.
Yes, Tate is lovable when you view him without his crimes in mind but the issue certain viewers are bringing up is that who cares about the fact he looks after his girlfriend and is good-looking when he’s such a horrendous person? The answer is in Tate’s microcosm. When it comes to societal norms and conventions Tate goes by his own set, which is why some of his crimes can be more multi-dimensional than they first appear, therefore confusing the audience’s feelings towards him. Tate’s upbringing was less than pleasant and helped to shape his view of the world. Born as one of four children, Tate was the only one without a disability. His mother, Constance, considered her other children with contempt, keeping some of them locked away while constantly ridiculing others. Constance had a history of killing people that were not perfect or didn’t act as she wished, such as her cheating husband and her maid. Being expected to be perfect for a woman who murdered those who were not was a great struggle for Tate (CharacterCorpse, 2013). Tate’s father was absent throughout his childhood and he described his father as ‘running away a lot’ which contributed to his psychological upheaval.
As a result of all of this, Tate’s view on the world was warped but his actions were not without motive. The seemingly senseless school shooting was actually Tate thinking he was doing a good thing by helping the students get out of the ‘filthy god damn world’ he especially was acquainted with. He did honestly believe he was doing a service and at the time of the shooting he was high on drugs. A lot of the time Tate thought while doing something atrocious, he was simultaneously helping somebody. Tate found out that Larry, one of Constance’s lovers, murdered one of his disfigured siblings so he retaliated by setting Larry on fire as a punishment. While it’s clear Tate lives by the ‘eye for an eye’ motto his response was as normal for him as somebody who would call the police in that situation. Tate raping Vivienne was his deluded way of trying to provide hysterically broody Nora Montgomery, one of the ghosts, with a baby. Though it was an inexcusable act, Tate did honestly believe that he was helping Nora which is ultimately what Tate’s motivations come down to.
Don’t get me wrong, the crimes are not excusable (and I definitely won’t be hoping my future boyfriend shoots up a school because he thinks he’s doing a service) but in Tate’s interpretation of action and consequence his actions were the appropriate way to deal with things. Upon a deeper look into Tate’s life the superficial claim of ‘he’s a murderer, you shouldn’t like him’ can be dissected to show that actually, there was reasoning behind his actions and the very construction of the Tate character meant the audience were intended to like him – at least at first. In real life however, desiring to be with somebody with clear mental issues, mood swings and violent outbursts is the last thing on anybody’s list
CharacterCorpse. (2013). American Horror Story Murder House: A Perspective on Tate Langdon. Available: http://charactercorpse.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/american-horror-story-murder-house-a-perspective-on-tate-langdon/. Last accessed 18th Nov 2014.
Stein, A (2004). The Byronic Hero in Film, Fiction, and Television. USA: Southern Illinois University. pp2.
TVTropes. (Year Unknown). Byronic Hero. Available: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ByronicHero. Last accessed 18th Nov 2014.