Pronouncing The Walking Dead Dead

The Walking Dead.

tombstone-151525_960_720.png

I stopped watching after this season’s second episode. I haven’t seen it since. The narrative tone, the authorial position, have all changed drastically. These story lines weren’t allegories masquerading as horror, with ultimate sympathies for the human race. Instead, the viewer became subjugated to a taunting, teasing author whose narrative, like Lucille, became a weapon. Shooting Negan’s violence with the camera standing in for the viewer spoke volumes.

It seems that characters like Rick, and Glenn, or Carol and Maggie, no longer carry the voice of a struggling humanity, but that they are now the devices upon which the new authorial voice, Negan, speaks and acts against the audience. Sure, art and fiction are supposed to be catharsis, but for us.

maxresdefaultIn season six we were teased about Glenn’s fate, to many critics’ and viewer’s chagrin, only to have him survive, almost inexplicably. Glenn was almost transformed into a Mary Sue. Then, of course, only to have him brutally murdered in the next season’s premiere exactly how he dies in the book.

Such plotting didn’t serve the story, it didn’t fit any thematic purpose. In fact, there was none. Of course, senseless randomness and tragic chaos occurs in everyday life. However, TWD set itself apart by using tragedy and violence to make sense of the chaos thematically. Meaningless death had meaning for the viewer: bravery, humility, tragedy, honor, justice. This season’s premiere of TWD, however, had degenerated into the sadistic slasher genre, more closely resembling Friday the 13th sequels and B-films like The Tourist Trap: inexplicable violence committed by an uncomplicated villain against characters who were merely stand-ins for the viewer, quite literally in some takes.

The Governor was complicated; Garth was complicated. They were horrendous villains, but villains with story and theme. The first was the tragedy of one man’s struggle to maintain an illusion of a civilized life whose time had come to an end, and the sacrifices he was willing to extract from others to keep that illusion alive. Garth, the second, was the cautionary tale of what can happen to the human soul when it has been so brutalized that all humanity is destroyed.

Negan of the season premiere is simply sadism and greed. There are people like that, and no doubt our increasingly contentious and greedy culture gives rise to more of them than in better times. TWD,  however, didn’t explore this. The writers and producers leveraged Negan’s villainy at its most superficial level for the sake of violence, gore and the cheap facsimile of suspense that wasn’t too suspenseful, once we knew who’d been killed.

But hey, Fear the Walking Dead may have just become a real story.

2105 Badass Winners

I realized that this year, I also needed to invest some time in the positive.

It’s been a rough year for me personally, one in which I learned as much about myself, as I did about the world around me and the people close to me. I was surprised (and proud) of the first. The last two? Not so much in some corners, but way pleased in others.

This year, rather than emulate whatever happened to be around me, I decided to learn from those I admired. I drop-kicked the “but they’re Them, way over there, who am I to emulate them mentality” and decided to learn from my heroes.

Not all these people are from 2015. Some are from 2014. But hey, you don’t tell the Police of the Annual Lists and I won’t either. It will be our dirty little secret.


 

10. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

10378949_10152610405709916_8685229031044711164_n

Her take on the Hobby Lobby case was enough for me. But as I googled her – mostly for jpegs, I confess – I learned about her, and was amazed. The Time.com photo alone gets her into my menagerie for fishnet gloves.

See also the New York Times online article.

 

9. The Writers and Producers of The Walking Dead.

No, I will not subject my readers to more fangasms in the off-season. I’m correcting a mistake, really. I should have written about this years ago, and I didn’t. Scott, Gale, Robert and Greg, forgive me.

Hollywood women cry out for better roles for women, and grown-up women. According to Hollywood, nothing interesting happens to you after thirty. Interesting things only happen to your husband or kids. The Guardian cites recognition that television does a better job than film.  Then there are the calls for better roles, more interesting roles, for women over … say … twenty-five.

TWD falls into that category for better roles for women, and takes it up a notch. (Battlestar Gallactica demands inclusion here, too.)

Carol Pelletier starts out in the series as a mousy middle-aged, battered wife and mother. That’s where she starts. Baby, that’s not where she ends. (Check out this yourtango.com article). The character has now earned a following in the fan universe that roots for her leadership.

The writers have given her independent storylines in which she has engaged in heroism, villainism, violence, strategy, compassion and stealth. Her arc and these episodes devoted to her have employed all the elements normally given to men.

While I am in the camp that needs the writers to fess up and have her and Daryl get at “it” already, I appreciate that they have not diluted her character by putting her in the “romantic interest” position.

Other phenomenal characters: Maggie, a southern woman who is not a “belle,” but a tribute to the southern women in my own family tree. (Kudos to Lauren Cohan for getting the accent right.) Michonne, a fierce woman of color who is not diluted as “girlfriend,” and who is smart, sexy and strong. Rosita, a Latina character that does not take a side in some false dichotomy of sexy OR smart. Deanna: a great character of age. Most typical producers or writers would have cast a thirty-something. Tara Chambler, a lesbian that is not presented in stereotypical terms of “butch” or “femmy.”

So, the feminism of TWD is on the list.

 

8. Dolce & Gabbana

Yeah, like I can afford that stuff.

I tweeted a few weeks ago about their decision to form a line of fashions for Muslim women. Cynics can argue that this was a crass economic decision. I’m sure it was motivated by growing market share and an opportunity to enter into a new sphere. But the clear economic advantage of creating goods for a group has not always won the day. Think Plus-size fashions that aren’t black mumus.

So, someone was thinking inclusion, respect, and perhaps, in this age of rampant reactionary racism against arabs and anti-Muslim sentiment, fueled by a mangy old man with too much money and not enough brains …

Oops, I strayed into the Zombie Bait List again. My bad.

2FD77A6C00000578-0-image-a-74_1452083182876

What was I saying? Oh, in this ideological climate, the decision to create this collection is itself an ideological statement, make no mistake.

 

7. Muslims

Yep. Your garden variety Muslim, your faithful, obedient, disciplined follower of Islam made the list. Why? Because right now the whole world is dumping a whole ton of undeserved bullshit their way, and Muslims are no more to blame for ISIL or Al Qaeda than Christians are to blame for the Branch Davidians.

I see Muslim women in the store, the mall, the gas station and I want to say “I am so sorry for some of the jackasses running around who claim to be members of my faith/color/class. Please forgive us.”

I want to talk about how much I admire the courage, commitment and discipline it takes to wear a hijab or an abaya. I want to talk about how little I know about their faith, but what little I know tells me that their faith demands far more daily discipline and commitment than I put into mine.

And they do all this while they are reviled by a political candidate, misunderstood by the media, and as I have seen with my own eyes, feared by their communities.

Instead, I just say “hello,” or “nice day,” hoping that somehow they’ll know everything else is tucked away surreptitiously into that little salutation.

These people get up the next morning, put one foot in front of the other and do what they gotta do and keep their faith – publicly.

That alone makes you a badass.

 

6. Pope Francis

It rankles the hell out of my devout in-laws when I call their Pope “Frankie.”

I love this guy. Truly, I love this guy. I believe he is the one who will put Christ’s message back into Christian religion. I love his take on poverty, I love that he chose not to live like a King as Pope (not living in the Papal Apartments), but like a servant of Christ. I love his courage to defy old ideaologies and be a real LEADER of the people into the message of love and justice. I love his love for people.

And I firmly believe that behind the scenes, sure as God made little green apples, some of the old Establishment in the Church is not too happy about him. Others probably blocked him.

I would make this man my famous tortilla soup. I don’t even do that for my husband (and I do hear about it).

I’m just gonna say it with jpegs.

whatever popeman   download (9)pope-francis-awesome-7

 

5. Hillary Clinton

Okay, who among my reader(s) is surprised here?

The surprise is that she’s not on the list for her politics, but for her effect on me as a role model.

No matter what anyone has thrown at this woman, and Trump has managed to create some pretty big balls of shit to throw her way, she has remained poised, calm, deliberate and focused. While everyone in the GOP is snarling and biting with rhetoric (not just Trump, but Christie, too).

Where the rest of the players have confused bravado with confidence, Clinton has displayed the true confidence of being level-headed in the shit-storm – something I had to learn the hard way to do.

When asked in one news interview about Trump, she laughed light-heartedly. When that bonehead moderator started the debates before she’d returned (clearly from the bathroom), she made a little joke. She never get flustered. She never crumbles.

I’ve learned from her: how to handle my opponents, that if I’m doing the right thing I will have opponents, not to believe the B.S./P.R. my opponents throw around about me. I’ve learned that being tough means being calm, going to the back room, pulling your team together, and planning your next move.

I’ve learned that being smart and being tough are nothing to be ashamed of.

I think she has superpowers. I think the real scandal will be when we all find out she was in a scientific accident as a child and it gave her super psychological strength, because when it comes to composure, she’s Wonder Woman, SuperGirl and Carol Pelletier all wrapped into one.

Screen-Shot-2015-04-10-at-3.24.15-PM
iagreetosee.com

Day-um. I wanna be like that when I grow up.

 

4. German  Chancellor Angela Merkel

All it took was one thing. Even though I knew vaguely of her involvement in the Greek financial crisis, this woman was on my periphery until just one thing got her on this list.

Even after she was Time’s 2015 Person of the Year.

One thing caught my attention.

She welcomed the refugees. Merkel is quoted in the New York Times:

I am convinced that, handled properly, today’s great task, presented by the influx and the integration of so many people, is an opportunity for tomorrow

Merkel’s generosity has been so immense, that, according to Roger Cohen:

The United States would have had to admit about 4 million refugees this year to take in a similar proportion of its population. It has fallen more than 3.9 million short of that mark.

 

3. Malala Yousafzai

She is the young girl in Pakistan who spoke up about education for girls.

So the Taliban shot her. In the face. On her school bus.

What did she do?
She spoke up again. Louder. Fiercer. At the UN.

Speaking up is hard when you’ve been punished for pursuing what you have a right to, be it education or motherhood. You get punished.

A thousand experts will tell you not to speak up, as I’m sure many did with Malala. Friends and family will run when the fit hits the shan. In her case, I’d completely understand: for God’s sakes, she’d been shot. In the head. But it seems her family stood by her.

And stood she did. She didn’t back down. She never will. Check out her story in-depth at BBC online.

 

2. President Barack Obama

Gun Control. He manned up. He has taken on all this bullshit about gun control. I hope he uses that executive order and milks it for all it’s worth on this one.

Sometimes, you have to govern for the best interests of the many, not just the wishes of the many.

In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, President Obama addressed opponents’ fear that they will have to register their firearms. As an aside, are these the same people clapping and cheering when Trump wants to register Muslims? Just a thought.

I suspect the NRA is fueling all these ridiculous, absurd, emotionally-driven fears about gun control.

161221_600
from unkown source; see cartoon for copyright

Do you want some kid to drive a car down the road without being tested and cleared as being safe to do so? No.

gun - evil quote

So let’s make sure that whoever owns a gun is cleared as being safe to do so, and keep the guns out of people who would pull the trigger for evil purposes. It’s called a background check.

One question to opponents: are you worried you won’t pass?

Jeesh.

 

 

 

1. France.

All of France. The whole country.

This year, France taught us what a true badass is. They suffered horrendous terrorist attacks, and what was their immediate response?

Politicize the tragedy into a ridiculous argument about the second amendment?
Seize the moment as an opportunity to transform latent rage and fear into racism?

No.

First, they responded appropriately and definitively. They let the terrorists know they were strong, they were not to be trifled with. Their responsive attack was swift, certain and clear. It was necessary to send a message on behalf of all targets of violence over this globe.

Sometimes, there just have to be consequences.

Then, they opened their hearts and their homes to the displaced.

 

French online planned interfaith gatherings, in the face of a ban on gatherings. From the Huffington Post:

By Sunday, 3,000 people had pledged to attend a multi-faith “Rally with Muslims of France for Peace and National Unity,” scheduled for the end of the week near Paris’ Grand Mosque. Another 6,000 said they were interested in going.

I swear I read that there was an online effort to open homes and hearths to people who were stranded in Paris because of the attacks.

Mercy and Strength all in the face of random, brutal attacks.

France taught us everything.

The House that Rick built: “Four Walls and a Roof”

This is this week’s post on the most recent episode of The Walking Dead.

One thing I want to say about my reviews, present, past a future:
I don’t want any reader to think that I propose violence or savagery to right wrongs or address evil or social problems. Any interpretation along that lines is absurd, and a complete falsification of my essays.

I see TWD as a fable, an allegory, and the essays I write about it are in that vein. For me Scott Gimple is a modern-day, albeit somewhat tortured, Aesop.


Am I psychic? Or a master of stating the obvious?

As I had hoped for in my last TWD posting, so it became and Bob had a little surprise for Gareth and his group. The ironies here abound.

Before diving in, the topic of cannibalism took on an interesting dimension for me in watching last Sunday’s episode that I wanted to explore.

The last two episodes, actually two parts of one story arc, take place in and around a church. Religion, confession, forgiveness, damnation, redemption, justice and even communion are explored.

There’s a lot of confession at the altar: Gabriel confesses to Rick, Gabriel later confesses to Rick. Rick here is the confessor, the priest. He dispenses forgiveness (earlier with Tara), cautious mercy (Rick’s warning to Gabriel about protecting his “family”), or excommunication for Gareth.

Then there’s communion.

Communion. At one point Rick thanks Father Gabriel for sharing the “communion wine” with the group. Gabriel reminds Rick “it ain’t holy until it’s blessed.”

Communion. According to the doctrine of transubstantiation, communion is:

the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood.[i]

Father Gabriel’s church is an Episcopal church. A literal look at the episode leads to the question: does the Episcopal church follow this doctrine? Well, as a former Episcopalian, I’ll tell it to you straight: I don’t know. I looked it up, and I still don’t know.  What I did find, interesting enough, is the idea that:

for those who receive the form or sign without faith, or for those who are wicked, Christ is not present spiritually, and they consume only the physical signs of this holy presence, which further adds to their wickedness[ii]

This is where we find Gareth.  Just as Father Gabriel’s church is a perversion of the idea of Christianity where people are to be saved from an eternal death, Gareth’s practice is a depraved perversion of communion.

Because Gareth can’t engage in holy communion, so what he consumes only adds to his wickedness. When he hears a baby crying in a church, he is so committed to evil that the sound doesn’t call to his humanity, it’s a siren call to his brutality.

In “Four Walls and a Roof,” we find Bob filling an almost Christ-like position. He is tied to a stake, persecuted. On his deathbed, he reiterates his optimistic faith to Rick who holds Judith. It is in the baby’s existence Bob urges Rick to believe in change for the world. He lays dying, saying his good-byes to his friends, under a carving of The Last Supper, when Christ says good-bye to his.

I could write from now until The Walking Dead is something we tell our grandkids about and still not get to the bottom of all the theology and religion that gets presented, examined and turned inside out – as does the idea of communion – and still not get to the bottom of it.

In the sanctuary of the church, five bible verses are listed. For non-church goers, this is unusual. The board is usually used to display maybe a reading or two, then the hymn numbers from the hymnal. So, seeing this unusual use, I found the following passages based on the board:

Romans 6:4
For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.

Luke 24:5
In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?

(This is interesting. In the previous episode, Abraham says in his invitation to DC that “the dead shall die and the world shall return to the living.”)

Ezekial 37:7
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.

Matthew 27:52
and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.

Revelations 9:6
During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.

So, this is where it becomes tricky as to whether the writer was simply having a bit of Biblical fun for readers with too much time on a Sunday night, or if he was pointing to a deeper theme or meaning. A good debate could take decades. I will say that I when I read the Ezekiel and Matthew passages, I imagined Gabriel huddled behind his desk, reading those very texts as he couldn’t help but hear outside:

“the dead came for them. … entire families calling my name as they were torn apart begging me for mercy.” Well, dude, you could have done something about that.

I try to look for a nice, neat moral at the end of the fable when watching TWD, but in this episode I don’t think there is one. I think there is just a lot of exploration and smaller messages of hope, be it Glenn’s peace-making, Tyrese’s urging Sasha to always chose the path of love over anger, our realization that his prevailing characteristic is not an aversion to violence, but a commitment to compassion, as he violently saves Bob from “turning,” and sends Bob to a final peace.

A lot has been said about the slaughter of Gareth’s crumbs of a gang in the sanctuary of the church. Without a doubt it’s a bloodbath. However, both The Talking Dead panel and reviewer Hughes omit one important moral point Rick briefly makes.  If he lets Gareth go, it’s mercy on Gareth, but what innocent stranger is Rick dooming? There are no police, no laws, no prisons, no jails. How is one to balance the need to protect the world from Gareth and the desire to provide mercy? The safety and welfare of anyone unfortunate enough to “cross paths” with Gareth in the future rests squarely in Rick’s hands.

Rick listened to the group’s call to mercy in the previous episode: he just walked away and Bob paid a brutal, however ironic, price. Clearly, Gareth doesn’t know what to do with mercy when he gets it. Suggestions: walk away and do good to your fellow man. Pay it forward. Stay out of trouble. But sweetie, don’t hunt down and piss off your enemy with the red-handled machete who promised to kill you. He’s probably a big believer in “fool me once, shame on me,” etc.

Rick, however, learns and adapts:  sometimes, evil just needs to be eradicated or else it will come back to get you or someone else. Remember, he tried to reason with the Governor. That destroyed their very community and sent them back wandering through the wilderness again. Michonne, who spoke of her time before Andrea earlier, is reminding of this recurring theme in her life when she finds the children’s drawings at the church of a baby Moses with the caption “40 years of wandering.” Ultimately, though, they all are wandering through the wilderness.

When Rick’s gory solution to his moral dilemma is all over, Rick isn’t angry or triumphant or arrogant or despondent. He’s humbled: “Coulda been us.” There but for the grace of God go I.

Gabriel’s learned nothing on the other hand. “This is the Lord’s House,” he says facing the carnage with a sanctimonious sense of indignation. Really? So carnage of innocents outside the church is merely regrettable when the execution of depraved villains inside is blasphemous? Gabriel pretends to be guilt-ridden, but it’s a masochistic pretense, like Monks who flog themselves in the Abbey while ignoring the starving multitude outside.

“It’s just four walls and a roof,” Maggie explains.

After all, it’s what we do there and how we use that makes it God’s house or not.

A lot could be said about the savagery Rick resorts to. Would a good old-fashioned, Lonesome Dove style hanging with a sign that said “Cannibals” be more human? As the reviewer Jason Hughes of The Wrap[iii] points out, Maggie and Glenn are pretty awestruck at the violence – but are they appalled at the brutal killing, or the fact it was even necessary?

This is all fable: posing the question of what to do with evil in the world. Where is the line between mercy and the greater social good? I don’t want any reader to think that I propose violence or savagery to right wrongs or address evil. Dear G-d I can’t even squash a bug.

Unlike Rick and his group, we have a justice system, attorneys, jails, judges, police and an entire infrastructure, albeit a corroded one, to address evil. One small moral to the fable may be that we just don’t use it. And by use it, I mean become a part of it, a working component of that infrastructure of justice and protection. Gareth and Gabriel failed. Rick was once an ineffective system: indecisive, then a bit irrational, then a lot of things. That said, he’s learned and adapted; he’s pretty effective at addressing evil in the midst of goodness now.  It ain’t always pretty, but it’s a safer world because Rick is in it. Abraham acknowledges this with his note to Rick as they leave.

One last unrelated thought: why do Maggie and Glenn go with Abraham? Let’s face it, this is about story development. It’s the only way to keep us invested in the journey for Abraham and the group, since we (the audience) haven’t built a real relationship with those characters yet, nor have they been given a great deal of screen time for character development. Thematically, I think the best bet is that after witnessing the ugly truth of the world they live in, where Rick’s newfound brutality is necessary, they decide to join the search for a solution, for the hope of a better world.

I’m still predicting Eugene knows squat about a cure. Is the needlepoint he say a hint? “Stupidity is also a gift of God, but one mustn’t misuse it.”

 


 

[i] http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm

[ii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglican_eucharistic_theology

[iii] http://www.thewrap.com/the-walking-dead-gets-back-to-the-business-of-killing-and-dying/