The Walking Dead: Why Do We Love the Zombie Apocalypse? – Wisecrack Edition
What can our obsession with apocalypse teach us? We explore how shows like The Walking Dead can be viewed as a new spin on utopia. Has the idea of rebuilding in the ashes of the world replaced our dreams of flying cars and jetpacks? Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on Why Do We Love the Zombie Apocalypse?
Written & Narrated by: Alec Opperman
Directed by: Robert Tiemstra
Edited by: Ryan Hailey (http://www.ryanhaileydotcom.com/)
Assistant Editor: Andrew Nishimura
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Jacob Salamon
The Walking Dead: Why Do We Love the Zombie Apocalypse? – Wisecrack Edition
Hey Wisecrack, Jared here. I wanna introduce you guys to one of the star writers here at Wisecrack – Alec. He’s worked on some of my favorite episodes, like the Philosophies of Rick and Morty, South Park season 19, and Deadpool. Today we’re asking a question that’s near and dear to my heart: why is the apocalypse so awesome? Whether I’m watching the pandemonium unfold in The Walking Dead, or even making dumb zombie-preparedness plans with my friends- FYI, mine is looting Korean BBQ with Woody until the undead come –
I, and probably you, can’t get enough of the end of the world. Thankfully, Alec has a theory of WHY we can’t get enough. So, because he’s our resident Walking Dead expert, I’m going to pass it off to him.
Thanks, Jared. I did a bunch of reading on this and believe it or not, this obsession is kind of new. I don’t mean the idea of the apocalypse is new. You’ve got films like Omega Man, Night of the Living Dead and people have been rambling about the end of days since they figured out how to write. But apocalypse is certainly having a moment in popular media, and I’m going to argue that it has a lot to do with what we all secretly believe about our current world. Welcome to this Wisecrack edition on The Walking Dead and Apocalyptic fiction.
But first, I want to thank the team over at Next Games and The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land for sponsoring this video. They saw the original Philosophy of the Walking Dead and Philosophy of Negan videos, and they asked if we had more smart stuff to say about zombies. I’m going to suggest that, despite ostensibly being about the hellscape that the world will become when civilization collapses, most apocalyptic fiction is really just repackaged utopia. Stay with me – I’ll get there in a bit. In apocalyptic fiction – we get two scenarios: surviving, and rebuilding. Survival fiction includes Dawn of the Dead, in which our survivors hunker down in a mall; 28 Days Later, where our protagonist seek sanctuary from a virus and This is The End, where our celebrity protagonists have to avoid being swallowed up by hellfire. But we also have “rebuilding” as a component of apocalyptic fiction. The Walking Dead starts with “survival” and kind of veers off to rebuilding : Rick Grimes wakes up well after the world has collapsed and has to fend off Walkers as he searches for his wife and son. But as the show progresses the surviving zombies part becomes kind of easy: if anything it becomes a chore.
Killing off walkers becomes no more significant than say, remembering to get your brake pads checked. So, the later seasons focus on piecing society back together, and fighting off fellow humans that threaten this new society. We get to question the merits of democracy as the gang rebuilds in the prison, the importance of public health policy, the joys of gardening and the subtle art of diplomacy. As the show progresses, it becomes less a battle against flesh-fueled monsters, and more a battle for the very soul of humanity. In his forthcoming book “The Playstation Dreamworld,” philosopher Alfie Bown argues that The Walking Dead and other apocalyptic fiction provide a “sustained escapism from our own reality.” But unlike other forms of escape, like drugs or fidget spinners,, doomsday fantasies offer a unique glimpse into what we think of our own society. For instance, the fact that apocalypse is so popular instead of, say, utopian science fiction, is telling. The 1940s, 50s and 60s were the “golden age of science fiction,” and despite the fact that we could have been annihilated by nuclear war at any second, shows like the Jetsons or Star Trek imagined a future with flying cars, robot maids, teleporters, and space travel. Humanity would pull out of its petty nonsense, and focus on the real problems it faces: like inventing an on-demand all-you-can-eat buffet in space.
And that’s because, to paraphrase Bown, it’s far easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of our current economic reality. If The Walking Dead has had such enduring success, perhaps it’s because it taps into why people fantasize about the end of the days. Before we get there though… One theory: We feel impotent in the world: working jobs we hate, participating in a political system that seems broken, and binging on avocado toast to forget that we’ll never own a home. The Walking Dead provides a reset, in two important ways: by presenting a world where people are in control of their destinies, and offering us “pastoral serenity” once you brush away the hordes of undead, of course. Let’s start with personal agency, or control over one’s life.
A prevailing theme in the Walking Dead is that the apocalypse, is a fresh start for its survivors. Carol was the victim of an abusive relationship at the start of the series, but now she’s a murdering machine who answers to no one. Daryl and Merle were the poor refuse of a society that wanted nothing to do with them – they were disposable. Growing up poor with abusive parents doesn’t do you any good in today’s world. But after the apocalypse, these tragic events translate into survival skills that now mark Daryl as a leader, an essential part of society. Negan was a used car salesman, and can now use his manipulative talents for something a little more ambitious than selling extended warranties.
If we love these stories it’s because deep down, it’s easier for many of us to imagine being reborn in the ashes of the world than say, getting affordable health insurance. Not that we’d actually fare better, if you’re like me and spend most of your day watching YouTube videos, let’s be honest, we’re going to die first.
Don’t believe me? Case in point: I’ve spent dozens of hours playing The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land. Here I am building a new settlement, going on a scavenging run, and raiding some schmuck’s outpost. I keep beating Todd at the weekly challenges, and it really gives me the illusion that I’ve got some control in my life. Playing with characters like Daryl and Glenn reminds me of the badasses I’ll never be anything like, and hey, they’re even releasing The Governor and Merle, so I can pretend to be a villain too. And if you’re sadistic, you can unlock Negan, but I’ll tell you more about that, and the game,later. Anyway, I digress.
While people like Carol and Daryl have finally found control of their existence in the new world, The Walking Dead also sells us the fantasy of having control over our political existence. Regardless of your political affiliation, it’s easy to feel out of control in 21st century America: long gone are the days of meaningful political engagement with your community. now we have 24 hour news cycles, lobbyists, and partisan politics. And, unlike former generations that saw unfathomable shifts in our global reality like the rise and fall of fascism, the civil rights movement, or the end of the Cold War, today’s youth has seen a somewhat stagnant political reality, with a few exceptions. And while the politics of Rick’s survivors aren’t always ideal, at least the characters have a tangible impact.
In Alexandria, Rick can use persuasion and sometimes a little bit of violence to get his way. The leader of hilltop may be a coward, but at least he’s a guy you can go and talk to. The survivors even dabble with direct democracy. In other words, individuals still are afforded power in their political climate, a sentiment foreign to many people today. And economically, the Walking Dead offers us this same fantasy. There’s a sort of “pastoral serenity” offered to us first on Hershel’s farm, and later in the prison and Alexandria. We forget our alienated modern lives of constant distraction,, and enter a nostalgia for a quiet community where one can work the land, put in an honest day’s work, and reap the benefits of their labor. Unless you live under Negan’s feudalistic economy – but hey, that’s why he’s the bad guy. So, to get back to the Jetsons and our loss of utopia- well, it’s not really gone. Bown notes: “The problem we are faced with is not so much a lack of utopia, because this is really what dystopic dreams are: the enjoyment of a chance to re-start in a more simplified world thinly veiled by the apparent horror of dystopic collapse.”
And it’s not just The Walking Dead. Between Bear Grylls, Naked and Afraid, and Survivor, the “shock” of living a simpler existence provides the same kind of escape as space travel did 50 years ago. So what do you think? Is our love of Walking Dead a resignation to the hopelessness of it all? Or do we just love seeing zombies get stabbed in the brain?
Speaking of stabbing zombies in the brain, let’s check out some more of The Walking Dead No Man’s Land.
Here’s my camp, you can see how much time I’ve been putting in meticulously organizing it. You can upgrade buildings to get more resources, and level up your equipment, armor and people.
I’ve been dumping all of my experience into Daryl because he can mow down rows of walkers. Now I’m going to put him on my team for this story mission
So it looks like I have to get into these supplies and get out. So clear those guys out. Ah, it looks like I have to protect Abraham while he opens it. This is my favorite part. Now time to get out without dying. And, safe at last. I got some experience for completing the mission, and they made a pretty fun game of opening boxes for some random rewards.
They also just released these new highlight missions. Let’s play one. It looks like you get to relive Rick and company securing the prison. I have to block these entrances where walkers keep spawning. And, you know, make sure they don’t murder me in the process. So I’ve got to get that dumpster blocking it, then this. fence. And now over here. And…that’s a ton of walkers in my way I guess this is home sweet home now?
So thanks again to Next Games for sponsoring this video and be sure to check out The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land on the App Store or Google Play. Download it using the link in the description below before June 28th and you can unlock Negan for free! They’re also doing a special event called Midsummer Mayhem where if we all collectively kill 1 billion walkers everyone gets a Golden Lucille. And, you can play with us. Join Wisecrack’s “Hyperion Guild” with me – I’m SlavojZizek, and Todd is Farkin Basteege, which I’m told is a botched reference to some movie. There’s 17 slots left in the guild, so hurry on up. Don’t forget to subscribe and ring that bell! Thanks for watching, Wisecrack.