Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Walking Dead--Maybe it's Time For me to Stop Watching

This blog post commits no real spoilers concerning The Walking Dead season 7 opener. I'll say it's brutal but not necessarily highly realistic, without divulging anything more specific than some general comments on story events which are widely-known and some other comments about head injuries. And I mention that the featured bad guy is surprisingly charismatic and charming. I won't even bother to say his name.

That this bad guy kills should be known by everyone even vaguely familiar with the show and all its advertised hype. That he does so with a special baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire should also be known. Also that the killing is brutal should be known, perhaps the most violent actions shown on "regular" television in the USA--all that has been the talk of the Internet of late.

I suppose realism would be the justification for showing as much gore as the episode does. However, what was shown actually wasn't highly realistic. It could be argued that reality is significantly worse and there's a point to that. For example, the scalp is notorious for bleeding heavily. On one particular occasion, hitting my head on the ground hard on my 3rd jump at US Army airborne school, with a helmet not quite fitting right, the jerking helmet net gave me cut on the top of my scalp not one inch long. And that little cut bled quite a bit, so much so that another soldier said I looked like an extra from Braveheart, my face wholly covered in red--and I barely felt any pain. Of course not all scalp cuts are equally that bloody. But what happened to me wasn't highly unusual. Scalp injuries, in general, bleed. A lot.

So strict realism would require a lot more blood at first than what was actually shown. Really it would. And then a bit later, a lot more white and gray matter (I'll abstain from more details on that topic at the moment).

"So what?" Somebody might reply. "Are you complaining it wasn't brutal ENOUGH?" No. That wasn't my intent at all. But at least in my mind, strict medical realism would have provided some kind of cover, some kind of excuse to get so messy.

What is the point in showing gore and blood which isn't actually real? To just be disgusting? Just to horrify the audience or provoke an emotional reaction from them? I mean, isn't that what slasher horror films are famous for, whether they are realistic or not?

Or perhaps the show's producers would have gone further into realism but censors would not let them...I don't know about that.

I do know I was a fan of this show since season 1. At times things about it concerned me...such as the fact that the most morally upright characters were killed off, on multiple occasions--with surprising regularity, actually. But I did not let myself be too bothered by that particular detail.

The show had the virtue, in my view, of showing that evil really IS evil. It did not pretend that people are basically good, though killing off good characters may imply that evil behavior is a functional necessity in hard times--which is not something I would agree with. And at times the show has gotten close to saying people are essentially good, (only forced to be bad by circumstances), with at least one character (Carol) losing the ability to kill for no particular reason. Yes, I find it more compelling to show that a human who walks the path of extreme brutality will never really be the same again. And that any repentance a person who has crossed that line may experience is an unusual event, not what humans normally do in the worst of circumstances. In fact, changing one's ways away from evil, a.k.a. repentance, is usually an experience linked to deep religious conviction in the real world. The character Carol does not show any profound convictions about the value of life that I observed in the story, religious or otherwise. She simply suddenly found it hard to continue killing. As if her innate human goodness suddenly came surging forward after a long time of doing wrong. Which is not something I find true to what human nature actually is.

Carol's change of character and a few other events lead me to a more honest evaluation of how TWD represents morality. Which would be to say the show has muddied the waters between good and evil at least a bit. Termnians were evil but something had to happen to make them that way, something awful, something beyond the need to survive and a world in which rules of good behavior are no longer enforced (which are more than enough for the worst of human nature to surge forward in my view). Gay characters have been shown exclusively in a positive light, as if being gay is a guarantee of innate inner goodness and invulnerability to temptations to do evil, which it isn't. While religion (of any kind) has only informed the lives of far fewer characters than you'd expect in the setting, the US South, i.e. THE BIBLE BELT. And not in all cases when it has been portrayed has it been shown to be good--which isn't unrealistic, but in fact gay people are portrayed better on the show than religious people. And last I checked we are all human and capable of abandoning the behavior civilization works hard to put into each one of us.

By the way, wouldn't a realistic portrayal of a zombie apocalypse in Georgia show a lot of people suddenly developing a deep interest in their Christian roots? A lot of people praying? Which would have nothing to do with promoting faith in any way, it would simply be realistic for the area. Right? But that's not what TWD has done.

So I am afraid I need to abandon what I used to claim. That the show is realistically showing people as they actually act under very bad circumstances (note, I never claimed the zombies themselves were realistic).

No, it isn't doing that. The show is treating us to a carefully scripted view of what is right and wrong, one I don't think is actually correct. And there is more that's false in the story than its moral issues--to give just one example, have you ever noticed how the grunge of the zombie apocalypse manages to keep everyone's hair still looking good? I can't recall a single case of messed up "hat hair" in the show...not among the main characters anyway...even though they at times wear hats. Not that hair is vitally important--but it is just another way that TWD fails any careful test for realism.

What The Walking Dead has produced is in fact the equivalent of the 10 dollar Rolex for sale on a street somewhere. At first glance it looks good--in fact, looking good it what it delivers more than anything else. But its inner workings are defective. It isn't real. It's a fake, albeit one that acts as if it's something more than an imitation.

"OK, this show is a fantasy," someone will say. "We all knew this or should have. What's the big deal?"

To perhaps push my previous analogy a bit far, that to me is like saying, "Hey, if you see a Rolex for sale for 10 bucks, you should have known it was fake the whole time. Buy one if you like or not, but you have no right to complain about it."

Yeah. Sort of. Yes, I should have known better. But no, I don't have to continue to like a show I thought of as realistic in some aspects, but which has wandered away from the realism which mattered to me. I do have some grounds to complain.

And there's the issue with the series 7 opener that showed the designated bad guy as charming and charismatic. Sure, it is actually realistic to show a charismatic villain, because there have been plenty of those in world history. Perhaps I should be applauding the realism. But what I fear is true instead ("fear" is the right word instead of "believe" or "think," because I'm not 100% sure), is that this change is in no way driven by a sense of what is real. Instead, it came from the writers of the show hoping the charismatic leader would rivet viewers to the screen. As would the guessing over the brutal actions that leader would take prior to them happening and the flood of raw emotion for most viewers as the episode's on-screen splatter took place.

In other words, it isn't realism driving this new villain but a desire to bring in a larger audience. "Well, duh," will say the you-should-have-known-better people. True, it isn't shocking or shouldn't be that a show will do anything to bring in more viewers. It isn't surprising that previous gruesomeness in the show has not proven to be enough, that like spectators of gladiatorial matches in ancient Rome, the fans of TWD expect things to get worse, not on a continual basis mind you, but in fits and starts.

So that leaves me with a tough personal question--do I really want to consider myself a fan of that? Of a show that has only gotten more brutal over time and which shows no signs of stopping? 

I used to say that the increased brutality was for realism's sake--and that particular perceived realism was the main thing I LIKED about the show, actually. But it ISN'T for realism. It's for ratings...and it seems to be having the effect of rewarding the desire in people to see more and more violence. To seek out the novelty of something that is worse than the last time, creating a cycle of the series continually growing worse. Even though the show's portrayal of violence isn't altogether real, the way it is going I fear will wind up desensitizing its viewers to the genuine article, to real violence.

You know, I very much believe in freedom of individual choice in most matters. I also believe that moral choices matter--and the things we watch help shape who we really are deep inside. That as individuals, people ought to be vigilant about what they do and do not chose to watch. And I also believe that maybe I have had enough of The Walking Dead's escalating cycle of violence.

A reader of this post may not concur with anything I said in the paragraph above or with not enough to be in fundamental agreement with me. Fine. I don't dispute your right to an opinion of your own. By all means, make the right moral choice for yourself.

But as far as my choice goes, I believe it's time for me to stop watching The Walking Dead.


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