Confessions of a ‘Walking Dead’ naysayer

Zombies are stupid.

I know they’re a metaphor representing our animal selves and externalizing fears of primitive man. Their cultural resurgence is a manifestation of anxiety regarding civilization’s trajectory to a wasteland world populated by a zombified public.

I understand the genre’s underlying symbolism, but that understanding can only allow so much suspended disbelief. As TV Tropes highlights, zombies’ “preferred choice of food and reproductive medium is also their greatest predator,” a fully-functioning predator with higher-level thinking skills.

Zombies are stupid by definition — mindless, falling apart, incapable of clever intellectual warfare. They don’t challenge us so much as they gross us out.

In 2010, when the pop cultural zombie virus spread further and “The Walking Dead” epidemic began, I was quite the naysayer.

Last week, I begrudgingly gave it another go.

Now I will literally put my fingers in my ears and loudly chant “la la la” to drown out any discussion of spoilers past the second episode of season two. If anything happens to Glenn or Daryl: Well, let’s just say AMC goes on my list.

Of course, zombies are still incompetent. 

“The Walking Dead,” however, thrives not just on the metaphor but on a larger prevailing theme found in “Lost,” “The Hunger Games” and “The Dark Knight.” It’s an exploration in survivalist morality with all the accompanying grey areas.

From Jack’s “live together, die alone” mantra to Katniss and Peeta’s identity struggles within the arena, we like “dog eat dog” set-ups — but only with the eventual championing of self-sacrifice and an adherence to external morality.

In all these situations, man’s instinct for survival is made subordinate to a moral code beyond himself.

What finally suspended my disbelief wasn’t a stunningly logical explanation for zombies’ existence (good luck finding one) but the show’s thematic intersection with other works.

This is the advantage of our current TV viewing opportunities. Someone who missed a phenomenon initially can not only catch up with services like Netflix, Hulu and DVR but also reap the additional benefits of seeing stories play out as full narratives, not just as episodic tales.

Having ditched TV programming for Roku and never regretted it, my recent recanting of “Walking Dead” nay-saying is merely one example of new media formats further enabling our cultural phenomenons to be as much discussion opportunities as they are product consumption.

I was able to watch a show two years late, and not only join the conversation but also connect the show with its thematic counterparts, regardless of genre or medium.

Instead of turning a story into an exclusive activity for those who pay for certain channels or arrange their time around a viewing schedule, our more individualized experiences with shows allow for inclusiveness and debate.

Like the transition from print to digital and the rise of social media, changes in TV viewing allow for more flexibility in our media interaction. And it’s that flexibility that further allows us to make broader connections with other works, ideas and social trends.

We’re doing away with day-after water cooler talk regarding the shared experience of watching a program first-run, but in the end, we’re also creating richer, more flexible conversations about narrative and overarching worldviews.

Zombies are still stupid. But “The Walking Dead” conversation — and the corresponding conversation about TV’s evolution is far from it.

Consider me a naysayer no more.

 

Reach the columnist at Esther.Drown@asu.edu or follow her at @EMDrown

 

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