Sunday, January 12, 2014

My Return to the Walking Dead

If the new year found me back on the road as a runner, it has also found me returned to the television to watch AMC's The Walking Dead. It's a show I began watching several years ago, while I was still a high school teacher, but one I've not kept up with as much as I'd have liked. I mean, the gods of television place before the viewer a seemingly un-winnable situation: one must, apparently, choose between zombies and Downton Abbey.

A few months back, I managed to catch up on Season 3. Last night, I started season 4. It does seem a somewhat macabre start to the new year: flesh-eating zombies laying siege to humans seeking refuge in an abandoned prison. After vampires, I think zombies are my favorite type of "monster." I think, however, that I like vampires because they're fantastic creatures. I like zombies, not because they're fantastic, but because they're just like us.

I believe I have observed this before, but the very nature of the zombie changed during the middle of the 20th century. Prior to World War II, zombification was an induced state rendering the victim a mindless drone. After World War II, after the atrocities of the Holocaust, the nature of the zombie changed. George Romero created a monster terrifying, not simply because of what it did, but because of how similar it was to us.

The zombie is, after all, a creature of ravenous hunger. It makes no discrimination as to who it devours: its appetite must be sated and its course and pathway is established solely by that hunger. And yet, those possessed of this hunger look just like us: they are us, our neighbors and friends. They can eat, and eat, and eat but they never find fulfillment. They are hunger made flesh...hunger for flesh made flesh.

I do not think it merely coincidental that world and national politics have been consumed with discussions of the economy. The economic meltdown, climaxing in 2008 but with roots extending much further back in history, pulled back the veil on a hunger that pit human against human. True, we're not eating the literal flesh of one another but we do see economic systems clearly stacked in the favor of those who have an unbridled hunger for capital.

If Downton Abbey transports us to another time and place, perhaps The Walking Dead draws us more deeply into our own time, our own place. The popularity of these shows may betray how many of us live somewhere between the Abbey and the Prison: desirous of being freed into a gilded era while feeling very much under threat from an enemy intent on devouring us in our entirety.

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