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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Who you callin' a zombie? AMC's The Walking Dead Join the Tea Party

Zombies are not exactly the darlings of serialized television. While the recent years have seen a great deal of excellent (and not so excellent) zombie movies, weekly TV has mostly steered clear of the subject. It’s easy to see why: unsexy, dull and slow, devoid of motivation and unable to deliver snappy one-liners, zombies might just be the most two-dimensional villain a show can have.

So why, then, do I find AMC’s new weekly drama The Walking Dead - a wall-to-wall zombiefest the likes of which serial television has never seen - so damn irresistible?

The North American political discourse has a rich history of dehumanizing the enemy. Whether it’s Communists hiding under our beds or immigrants coming to steal our jobs, the easy answer holds undeniable attraction: if our enemies are mindless hordes, then we are blameless - we’d done nothing to earn their hatred, they simply want to kill us for our freedoms (or our brains). The two-dimensional villain is the villain of America’s Tea Party movement; the villain of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh; and, closer to home, the villain that sent Toronto voters running scared to the polls to elect Rob Ford. And the zombie is about as dehumanized as an enemy can get.

If the two-dimensional zombie villain reflects our reluctance to examine our shortcomings, then The Walking Dead is an answer of sorts to Battlestar Galactica in America’s post-9/11 cultural polemic: where BSG tried, however successfully, to examine what makes an enemy, The Walking Dead turns fear of self-examination into a point of pride by focusing on an enemy that’s beyond examination. Our hero, the archetypal good cop Rick Grimes, played to great effect by Andrew Lincoln, simply wakes up in his hospital bed to find the world around him infested with zombies. The first episode gives no hint of questioning how the world got to be this way - and our bewildered but decidedly uncurious hero doesn’t seem to care. All he has to do is hang on to his all-American identity, signaled by his Georgia twang and his uniform, to which he clings long after the apocalypse has rendered it irrelevant.

And yet, here I am, one episode in and already hopelessly addicted. If The Walking Dead is, in fact, the Tea Party’s Battlestar Galactica, then it might just be the most entertaining piece of horror fiction the right wing has produced since Glenn Beck. But no matter how much I try to congratulate myself on being open-minded enough to enjoy the product of an ideology that I find abhorrent, or tell myself that I welcome the show’s insight into enemy mindset, I fear the real reason is much less flattering.

For I have my own hordes. Beyond the self-congratulatory attempts at understanding those who play the role of villain in my world, the desire for a simple answer is always there, gnawing at the edges of my consciousness. Each individual Tea Bagger, Rob Ford supporter, homophobe and xenophobe bases their ideology on hopes and fears that carry absolute validity in their individual life. Next to this quagmire of human psychology, the simplicity of zombies is worryingly comforting.

And there it is: the real reason I am hooked on The Walking Dead. I see right through the show’s attempt to dehumanize the villains of its world: the hordes of mindless zombies who are coming for our freedoms, jobs and brains, are people just like me. But so is Deputy Grimes. In the end, he’s not so different from a disenchanted hippie like myself, bewildered at the hordes that just keep coming and so, so tired of asking why.


Urban Milkmaid said...

Love this!

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