Tate Langdon: The Romantic White Male Monster

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.
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11 thoughts on “Tate Langdon: The Romantic White Male Monster

  1. This is an interesting take on this character on one of my favorite shows. A couple of interesting points:

    There have not, in fact, been many school shootings, much less mass shootings, perpetrated by women. In fact, only one since 1982.
    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map

    This has a lot to say about masculinity and violence, and raises a lot of questions about why this is: are men socialized to be more violent? Is it something inherent in women that makes it less likely they will act so violently? Not sure if we will ever know for sure.

    Regarding the Columbine shooting: originally, news outlets assumed that the two shooters were troubled loners getting revenge on their classmates for being bullied and cast as outsiders, but that was not the case and in fact, Eric Harris was fairly well-liked and considered charismatic. Dave Cullen’s book does an excellent job of compiling the information and telling the story:
    http://www.amazon.com/Columbine-Dave-Cullen/dp/0446546925

    American Horror Story has an interesting way of story-telling. They include both horror and camp elements, which makes more of a contrast when you see the troublesome characterization of a character like Tate. Some people may take away from it that Tate is the romantic hero, some may take away that Tate was the ultimate monster and not forgive him. Of course, you can’t control what everyone will be taking away from it- just like you can’t control people who are idolizing Jordan Belfort’s actions in Wolf of Wall Street.

  2. currently watching ahs murder house and these are some of the things that have annoyed me so much since i started, so i am glad that i wasn’t the only one to see these things and find it problematic. it’s really ironic how fandom worships tate langdon but let’s the fact that he is creepy, abusive killer slide.

  3. You’re forgetting that Nora also used a gun in her murder suicide, and a gun was used to make Chad and Patrick’s death look like suicide, and Ben was going to use a gun to kill himself. Also, Vivian used a gun when she shot Ben in the leg.

  4. I will have to disagree with you because you’re forgetting that Violet killed herself earlier but it didn’t get revealed until episode 10 of the show. So Tate being able to overpower herself is not true because she couldn’t even leave the house in the first place since her soul was bond to the house.

  5. I think this is really insteresting, and a topic I’ve thought about myself a lot. I definitely agree with everything you’ve said, but I must add that all of the portrayal of Tate as a psychopathic, abusive partner was intentional. I don’t believe the intent of the creators was ever for Tate to be idolized or romanticized, but rather for him to be a commentary on the romanticization of depression, violence, and everything else mentioned here. I think the reason that he has come across as some sort of twisted dream boy is due to the fandom, and due to the audience being younger than I think the creators expected them to be. The show was initially aimed at older teens or young adults, but was ultimately viewed by girls as young as 12 or 13, who saw Tate as this loving protector, not noticing the signs of abuse an older person might.

  6. Excellent post! It really gave me a clear explanation as to why I have a conflicted opinion towards Tate. It also explains why on the news you get those people who would say “oh not my son!” It’s not black and white (sorry no pun intended) and those people see what Violet saw in Tate. Which in a way is scary. It’s scary to know that the bad guy isn’t cookie cutter evil. He’s manipulative, cunning and (in some ways) human. When you look at it this way, Tate really highlights what the media tells us everyday what the “American Horror Story” looks like. Furthermore, he’s a twisted depiction of what the “classic tv bad boy” would be like (i.e. Damon Salvator (vamp diaries), Spike (Buffy), Jess (Gilmore girls), Hook (once upon a time)). Unlike these guys, Tate doesn’t get a redemption arc, there is no hope of salvation and very little changes about him.

  7. Hm. I’m not sure but this sounds like the analysis of an SJW.
    I for one found the character intriguing. The human mind fascinates me and I’ve always been interested in psychology. Since we know that Tate’s father was killed when he was 6, I am fairly certain his behavior has nothing to do with his father teaching him masculinity and dominance. He was neglected and mentally abused by his selfish, achoholic mother.
    He says in the beginning of the series that in his murder fantasies he kills people he likes and feels no remorse because he believes he is taking them to a better place.
    I believe that he truly feels this way, at least I believe that is what went through his mind when shooting his schoolmates.
    When killing the gay couple, this too had a meaning to him other than domination. The ghost of Nora became a mother figure to him, as a child we see him saying, “I wish you were my mother”
    He develops an attatchment to her, and wants to see her happy. He had planned to help her steal the gay couple’s baby, but they had been fighting so he decides it’s time for someone else to move in and kills them.
    The way in which he killed them can certainly be attributed to his desire for dominance, however, and may hint as to his violent feelings toward his father who he thinks abandoned them.
    Now, raping Vivian I believe was a two sided thing as well. This happened after Dr. Harmon threatened him. So Now he feels a love and hate toward the Dr. In a way I believe he idolizes Dr Harmon and wants to be like him. But the threat also makes him feel somewhat helpless.
    Raping his wife while she believes it is her husband fulfills both of those desires in him, to feel dominant and in control, and to be like Dr. Harmon, whom he begins to see as a father figure, “I wish you were my father, things would have turned out differently”
    My conclusion is that Tate’s voilent nature has nothing to do with him being a white male, and everything to do with the neglect and abuse pushed on him as a child, he is just as much a victim as anyone else in the show. Mental sickness is never the fault of the one affected by it, and is completely out of their control. I’d say the true villain of Murder House is Constance Langdon.

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