Today is drizmall and the passers-by are much less than munificent. During such dullish moments I tend to daydream, and today I’m dreaming about zombies. I’m not dreaming about The Zombies, the 60’s English rock band (“She’s Not There”) who is still out and about on the festival circuits. No, today I am daydreaming about THE WALKING DEAD, which happens to have zombies, and which is the most popular television series amongst my teaching colleagues, and apparently 15.7 million others in the Western world.
THE WALKING DEAD -- I am not a fan.
But I like zombies, at least zombie movies! I liked 28 Days Later (2002), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Fido (2006), Zombieland (2009), World War Z (2013), and Warm Bodies (2013).
But alas, these are zombie movies, not zombie television.
What’s the difference? Well, firstly, a movie is a 90 minute nuanced and detailed, crisp adventure. A movie is quickly in and out, lasting only as long as the bag of buttered popcorn munched in concert with bag of cherry nibs; whereas, a television series can last multiple episodes over multiple seasons, over uncountable bottles of beer and innumerable bowls of chips.
A movie has not a lot of time for character development; therefore, each and every scene must be painstakingly rehearsed and acted with precision. A television series, rather, has loads of time for an actor to actually shape a character, slowly but surely in the viewer’s mind’s eye, and thus the reason for my criticism.
Because of the comparatively unlimited time factor that television can provide, some episodes do seem boring, even demanding trance-like attention pattern. I do believe this to be in the very nature of television design, and that is to sell products. To me, all television shows are soap operas, and true to the original intention, are produced only to sell products. (In early television it was mainly soap, and therefore the soap opera designate).
Not unlike my favorite zombie movies, The WALKING DEAD proffers a post-apocalyptic group of denizens battling in the aftermath, a dystopian world of flesh-eating zombies. The WALKING DEAD is a story about survival, a story about hordes of animated dead with a relentless urge to consume the living human flesh of an at-first acephalous rattled remnant.
Ah the zombies … They walk and they bite, they walk and they bite. This is the motif of THE WALKING DEAD. Or so it may seem.
Think about it. Just who are the walking dead? Just because they walk and they bite, one could easily assume that the walking dead, indeed, is referring to the zombies. But since this is a television series, and as such there is lots of time to develop other motifs, especially in character behavior, the walking dead could then refer to a plodding and accursed secular remnant.
To most of The WALKING DEAD fans, I know, empirically, that this is the case. Oftentimes I’ve been reminded by certain walking dead-head colleagues that THE WALKING DEAD is about the interpersonal relationships of the survivors in their alterity, and not at all about the zombies. Methinks to myself every time I hear this … DUH. (Not so strangely, this is precisely the case in most zombie movies, save for Fido and Warm Bodies.)
I must mention there are a couple of motifs that I’d quite enjoy in THE WALKING DEAD (if I could force myself into the dead-head fanfare) as expressed in the adventure metaphors of heading-off-into-the-sunset and the stranger-comes-to-town. Such themes move me, as they are usually accompanied with an alpha-male and a physically desirable love-interest. In movies, these lusty relationships are oftentimes torrid and fleeting; whereas, on television because of the unlimited time constraint, they are damp in the beginning, and blistering near the end.
THE WALKING DEAD. I do believe the title refers somewhat to the zombies, and I believe, too, it refers somewhat to the troupe of survivors. But … I really believe the walking dead refers mainly to the viewers.
I shall explain.
Our world right now is the richest and least violent it has ever been, though to many of us it does not seem so. (Watching ISIS rampage through the Middle East executing savage and indiscriminate violence; and watching on the television news Jihadist fighters quoting the Qur’an as they behead their hapless victims, does not make it seem so.)
However, anthropologists are documenting that people were nine times more likely to die violent deaths in the prehistoric period than now, even when factoring the world wars and genocides prevalent in the 20th Century. And in Europe the murder rate was thirty times higher in the 14th Century than it is today.
Hmmm … this is even when considering not traveling to places like San Pedro (Honduras), Acapulco (Mexico), Karachi (Pakistan), and Baghdad (Iraq).
Hmmm … this is even when not wanting to come vis-à-vis with members of ISIS, Boko Haram, the Taliban, or Al-Qaeda.
How safe are we? How fragile are our planetary peace agreements?
WE … DON’T… KNOW.
And because we don’t know we can help satisfy our curiosity by watching THE WALKING DEAD and other shows of this ilk. THE WALKING DEAD is a not-so-imaginary adventure, reminding us about the horrible things that are happening elsewhere in our world right now, adumbrating that without a moment of notice these atrocities might just happen to us.
THE WALKING DEAD is an allusive reference to the zombies. THE WALKING DEAD is an allusive reference to the remnant. THE WALKING DEAD is an explicit reference to the viewers.
THE WALKING DEAD IS ABOUT US.
WE ... DON'T ... KNOW ... WHAT ... WE ... WOULD ... DO.
WE ... DON'T ... KNOW ... WHAT ... WE ... WOULD ... DO.
(THE WALKING DEAD has a STERLING THEME … but it is so so slow.)