This will be about the TV series, The Walking Dead, which everybody is watching right now. I am one of the millions of people watching it,
fascinated like everybody else by apocalyptic world visions.
The fascination I have (and I suppose it’s shared across the board) is something called a “morbid fascination”:
You want to see a world in which almost everybody has died, a world in which huge numbers of people have died, and then we have another world and let’s see what happens.
Of course, we don’t identify with the dead people, we want to identify ourselves with the survivors and we want to see what they are going to do, because for the rest we know what they (=the zombies, the walking dead) will do.
We know exactly what the dead are supposed to do:
They just walk around, aimlessly, just trying to grab whatever living animal they can get their hands on and eat it and that’s it.
They just keep on walking around until someone shoots them in the head or they hit themselves on the head or something like that.
Now, can we identify with both these 2 types:
- the people who are still recognisably human &
- those who are dead?
Do we feel (in some abstract way) that this is what we are right now (i.e., walking dead, shuffling to and fro)?
This question (Who do we identify with?) has been incorporated in a movie before (The Matrix) and then we had to decide whether
- we are the “battery people” or
- the people who have been “unplugged” and who know Reality.
The similarity stops short, because the people plugged in the matrix lived in a simulation, whereas for the walking dead there is only an aimless wandering about with just ONE basic instinct (can we call it the survival instinct?), and nothing else.
There is nothing recognisable human, or even animal in these things.
Of course, the premise of the series is not scientifically sound and it’s silly (and quite sad) that people think that it could happen to our world and prepare for this (e.g., zombie-proof shelters).
No, it could never happen to our world, but, in a way, it has already happened in our world.
We somehow feel that we have become empty vessels shuffling around…
Millions of people who are watching and are casting themselves as this or that survivor: Of course we want to imagine ourselves as the people who have to make hard choices and find ways to work together and so on. However,
at a deeper level, we may feel that in this world in which we happen to live in, we move around more or less like the walking dead, until some accident happens and that ends it.
I think that is one way we can account for the morbid fascination with this TV series (in particular) and the end-of-the-world genre (in general).
Who would you like to be? Naturally, at the first blush you jump to answer “I want to be one of the survivors”. But do you really want to make all those difficult choices:
- some people choose to become cannibals,
- some other people have to kill other living people.
Would you like to have this freedom?
If you choose “Yes, I want to be the hero, I want to be the person who has to make some hard choices, I want to be the person who is working in nearly impossible conditions”, then the immediate question is “Towards what goal?” And the only answer is (still) “Towards survival”.
This is when we are called upon to state what is the elementary difference between the walking dead and the living people.
Is it just that
- the living people have to fear other living people (as well), whereas
- the walking dead don’t have to fear other walking dead?
That’s the scary question.
The living people have to fear the walking dead and the feeling could be reciprocated since the walking dead have to fear (if it were possible for them to have any feelings) living people. You could say that the biggest enemy for the walking dead in this world (depicted in the TV series) is living people:
Living people will shoot you in the head, they’ll pummel your head in, they’ll shoot you with arrows or whatever.
Living people are the biggest danger for the walking dead.
But if you turn the tables and you look at the living people, what is the biggest danger for them? The walking dead are a big danger, of course, but they’re not such a big danger:
You just have to stay away from them, throw a stone and make a noise in a place far from you, or you could seek refuge by climbing a tree…
Anyway, the point is that the walking dead are pretty mindless… we cannot even call them “beings”… mindless machines. Very easy to predict. The main danger they present is in the numbers.
On the other hand, the living humans that we have to fear in this world (in the TV series) are other living people like us.
Of course we want to work together with other living people and the more we can work with other living people, the better our chances of survival. We want to believe that and it makes life more liveable, but
the essential imbalance that
- the walking dead don’t have to fear their own, whereas
- we (=living people) have to fear our own
makes it a very difficult choice for us living in the normal world, where we’re just viewers, identifying ourselves with this or that character.
It seems that it may feel easier (=it requires less work, less thinking on our part, and less difficult and less tragic choices) to become the walking dead, because in this case our options are very clear:
There are no options, just keep on shuffling around…
By contrast, for the living people there are many decisions to make, and the most momentous and most wrenching decision is
“Do we trust the others or do we fear the others?
Do we work with the others or do we shut ourselves in from the others?”
In this way that we cast ourselves from this world into the world of The Walking Dead, we see that we are very uncomfortable in this world, yet we want to be the heroes, we want to be the survivors who make the hard choices. (I assume)
It’s a very good metaphor, not for how things really are, but for how things may be thought of already. There is no danger of this world becoming zombified in the manner depicted here, there will be no virus which will do that. However, there may be a more subtle virus (let’s call it a meme) which says that
“We may come to a point where we consider everybody else as potential enemies”.
There’s a deep-seated desire that we identify the great majority of these “potential enemies” as the walking dead, for which you have no qualms about putting them down (or simply ignoring). It’s an easy choice in that situation.
Yet, from time to time, when we come upon another human being, like us, and we want to trust them and we want to work together with them, at that point we’re faced with this very difficult decision:
- Do we trust? Do we love? or
- Do we fear? Do we hate?
And in this, we are no different.