As I sat down to watch the premiere of “American Horror Story: Apocalypse”, the last thing on my mind was economic inequality. But as the show went on, I found myself terrified for the wrong reasons. The show occurs during the nuclear apocalypse, which destroys everything save a few outposts owned by a mysterious organization, the Cooperative. These are the last vestiges of human civilization, and they reflect the very worst of humanity. Survivors are allowed to live in the outposts for one of three reasons: they paid for a spot, they were chosen to live because they are genetically ideal, or they work for the cooperative. This means that only the rich and a few genetically fortunate people survived.
This was the first thing that caught me off guard. The survival of the ruling or elite class is a common trope in dystopic and apocalyptic fiction; example of shows that include remnants of the elite in their survivors are “the 100” and “The Walking Dead”. Audiences of said fiction expect it, or at least are desensitized to it, so the use of this trope shouldn’t have been so jarring to me. But most stories that use this trope take place after the apocalypse; they focus more on a rebuilt society, using the end of the world as a convenient way to wipe the slate clean. But this story starts with the apocalypse, depicting the unfair and cruel reality of this trope. Ultimately, wealth determines who is deserving of life.
The outposts label survivors by class: purples are the elite, and grays are the workers. Purples spend their days lounging and socializing while grays serve them and work to keep the outpost running. What struck me about this was how class structure persisted even after its perceived source, wealth, had been obliterated. Class structure is so integral to our society that it persists even in post-apocalyptic America. Granted, this is fiction, but it’s based on a grain of truth that’s hard to swallow. That’s why it’s so terrifying. Socioeconomic class in America is not as debilitating of a label as say a caste is in India, but it is more divisive than we give it credit for. In order to assess economic inequality in America, we have to concede that even though our culture doesn’t explicitly call for social classes, a hierarchy exists.