Posted by: Mark Nielsen | October 25, 2016

The Walking Dead: New Creation Myth for Our Times

From Mark, a once-and-future tv professional, plus a former English teacher…darrel

Some thoughts about The Walking Dead:

While I’m frustrated by it, nevertheless I respect it because it’s the ONLY popular “place” in North America that’s well-positioned to take on (though usually just indirectly) thorny philosophic, theological and political subjects.

I’m talking here about subjects like :

1) just war theory ;

2) vigilantism and rugged individualism (the concealed-carry personal “arms race”);

3) what does it mean to be human? (Survival and self-interest at all costs, or cooperation/culture/rule-of-law);

4) are we more “animal” than we’d like to admit;

5) do we prefer strong leaders, or kind/careful leaders,

6) what is just punishment?, and is true rehabilitation (change of one’s character) even possible?

7) sexual and relational ethics, i.e. what’s love (or lust, or power) got to do with all the above (romantic love, familial, friendship, self-respect etc)…

Basically, the “what would YOU do?” questions arise naturally, because it’s sort of a modern Creation parable: how would we rebuild human civilization if it all fell apart?

Star Trek (especially Next Gen) used to do that. So did Law and Order’s “ripped from the headlines” courtroom scenes. But the gore factor with TWD is what presents problems for many people. TV special effects people –and bloodlusty regular Joes/Janes –like creating/seeing new ways to kill/die. I don’t. But I take the bad with the good.

Saving Private Ryan, Alien and other good material is almost as bloody, but slightly restrained by comparison. Meanwhile horror movies (and comics, which is what TWD started out as) took off their “good taste” training wheels way back in the Sixties.

So don’t hate TWD for being good at what they do: retelling Frankenstein and Genesis and Shakespeare and The Godfather in high style, and otherwise scaring the s#%t out of its audience. Yes it’s manipulative, …but Dickens wrote scary cliffhangers like Great Expectations and published them serially over 200 years ago. And Oedipus gouged his own eyes out onstage long before that.

People like scary stories, and for better or worse they like them bloody. Cuz the REAL monsters– like corporate profiteers who rape the land, or aspiring political dictators, or some Saudi religious goon who DOES ACTUALLY cuts people’s heads off –those monsters are out of our reach, but they do still scare us. We need an outlet to deal with those fears.

TWD: It’s not an abusive relationship any more than Jerry Springer or the CBS News or neighborhood gossip. Everyone is fascinated by train wrecks, …it’s how you approach them (with reckless abandon or cautious skepticism) that makes it healthy or unhealthy.

When fake (and potentially real) stories about Killer Clowns and ISIS atrocities (and perhaps Navy Seal “atrocities”) are vying for our attention, a little fiction about zombies and marauding clans are simply how some people choose to cope. It isn’t the best strategy, but it does give a sense of power to the powerless, a sense of family/community to those who maybe have none (not unlike soap operas once did), and it offers something trivial to talk with strangers about when we can’t talk about our actual problems in this life.


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