I am a casual fan of The Walking Dead. I can take it or leave it most Sundays, preferring the real world drama and wonderful characterizations of The Good Wife. But, my boys watch it so, in an effort have a shared entertainment experience, I sat through two hours of a depressing vision of what humanity looks like when the world ends. I’ve got news for you: the worst part isn’t the zombies. Turn that frown upside down I’ve never seen a more downtrodden bunch of people in my life. Okay, sure. They’re surrounded by zombies and it is a struggle to survive. But, these people never smile. Ever. Where are the moments of grace? Of hope? Of touch football or sandlot baseball? Where is the wise-ass character who finds the gallows humor in it all? They are so busy surviving, they’ve forgotten how to live. When there is nothing to live for but starvation, disease and fighting zombies, why even bother?
If I survive an apocalypse, I can tell you right now: I’m having sex “Fighting gives you a terrible cockstand.” Jamie Fraser, Outlander
You wouldn’t believe the search results Google returned when I tried to find the clinical name for Jamie Fraser’s post-battle boner. A friend suggested I call it “post traumatic sex syndrome” which is a nice, technical term, but I think I like post-battle boner. Is being horny after fighting/killing/surviving a fictional construct? Maybe, lord knows it is used enough to show manly strength. Just look to the end of Breaking Bad’s pilot episode. Skyler’s “Is that you?” line gave a pretty big indication to Walt’s virility after killing two drug dealers and barely escaping death himself. (Spoiler alert.)
So, assuming the post-battle boner is a fictional construct (which I don’t believe), why aren’t the people in The Walking Dead having sex? Besides the fact they’ve all forgotten how to have fun. Are they too afraid of bringing children into the world? Maybe, but procreation is human nature. After seeing death and despair on a daily basis, I would think finding a human connection would be the key to retaining your sanity, to reminding yourself there is something in the world worth living for. That the characters seem to eschew something so basic, so primal, especially when their lives have been reduced to the primal urge to survive, undermines what little reality a show about zombies has been able to illustrate. If the world ends, people aren’t going to stop having sex. They’re probably going to have more sex, if for no other reason than to remind them they are alive. But, the characters on The Walking Dead seem to go out of their way to eschew sex, or ignore its existence altogether. The apocalypse have turned them all into eunuchs. Even the couple who gets busy on a regular basis have turned gloomy, staring at each other as if it is the last time they will ever see each other instead of embracing the happiness they’ve found. I cannot think of a more depressing existence than one completely lacking in a physical or emotional connection.
Can someone please go on a run for clothes? I guess in lieu of being realistic when it comes to natural sexual urges, the powers in charge of The Walking Dead have decided to illustrate their dedication to reality with greasy hair and dirty, threadbare clothes. Gross hair and horrible hairstyles are a bugbear of mine, no matter the tv show or movie, but I can at least understand why The Walking Dead survivors have greasy, long hair. I don’t like it, but I get it. The clothes thing? That’s just stupid. Think of all the Wal-Marts in south Georgia, full of clothes. Clean clothes. Colorful clothes. Clothes without holes. Clothes without sweat stains. Considering the low number of human survivors, clothes is the one thing that they should have in abundance. So, why do they wear the same thing over and over? And, why do they always choose neutral colors? All the better to hide the zombie gore on, maybe? A visual trick of the costume designer to show that Things Are Bad? Newsflash: we get it. Rick did change his shirt this year but guess what? It’s frayed and full of holes. If I were a survivor and went on the run for medicine with Rick and Carol, after raiding the medicine cabinets and bedside tables, I would have raided the closet. Changed my bra and underwear. Used a toothbrush. Stolen toiletries. In fact, just writing about how nasty these people are makes me want to take a shower.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat But, apparently, there’s only three ways to kill a zombie: a bullet to the head, a knife or ax to the head, or chopping off the head. Some viewers argue there isn’t enough zombie time in TWD. I say there is too much. I’m tired of seeing zombies killed. Why? Because it’s boring. Old. Trite. Been there done that. I’ve been so desensitized to it I’m not even grossed out anymore.
Isn’t it time they strive for more? I suppose the destruction of the CDC at the end of season one was supposed to end the idea these people would ever have the hope or the agency to solve the problem of the zombie apocalypse and put the focus solely on survival. But, taking that possibility off the table has measurably weakened the show. It has made it one note. There is no hope in their survival, no chance to change things, to bring on a better life. I suppose that’s good as a formula for a long-term, money-making drama for AMC. But, it has turned The Walking Dead into the zombie apocalypse version of a police procedural. The writers, directors and show runners have a formula for every episode - there is a problem, a run outside the prison is made, zombies are killed, objective achieved, return to the prison. New characters are inevitably eaten by zombies. Main characters survive. Rick feels guilty because apparently his inflated sense of self-importance and responsibility will be the last things to die on The Walking Dead. Then, it all happens again next week.
Art imitates life. For the past half-decade or more, entertainment has reflected the social and economic upheaval of the recession and the ideological division rotting at the center of our society. From the white man’s entitlement of Walter White, to the end of the world doomsday of The Walking Dead, to the idea a superhero - a clear stand-in for God - will swoop in and save the day, we have been told over and over again that we have no agency. That our future is out of our hands. That there is no hope, this is just the way it is. Is it any wonder we believe it?
But, even during the Depression, when movie theaters were filled with gangster movies and over the top melodramas, with bread lines and fat cat businessmen taking advantage of the poor, there was a slice of entertainment hell-bent on making us forget our troubles, helping people who had little money and hope to escape for 90 minutes in a world where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced gracefully, where Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, Myrna Loy and William Powell and James Stewart and Jean Arthur exchanged witty, rapid fire dialogue and fell in love. Sometimes, these movies had bigger points to make, but oftentimes their point was to make people feel better about the world they lived in. To make them believe there was a better future on the horizon. And, you know what? There was. It took a while to get there, and we will always vacillate between good and bad times. But, I fear as a nation, we’ve lost our belief that good times are around the corner.
The entertainment industry is in a unique position of influence. They can merely reflect the times or they can nudge us to a better tomorrow. I'm tired of being told all is lost. That there is no hope. And, if someone says "It is what it is" one more time, I'm going to pull out my sword and go all Michonne on their defeatist ass. It’s time the entertainment industry gives their characters something to live for, and its viewers someone to root for.