The Walking Dead Does Ethics Right

I mentioned The Walking Dead in a recent post.  I suppose some generic comments are in order.

I skipped out TWD as a cultural phenom just like I do all such phenoms.  The list of yuuuge shows I have not watched is enormous and I’m reasonably proud of that.  The Sopranos.  Breaking Bad.  Mad Men.  Those are just the recent ones.  I still haven’t seen Forest Gump.  You get the idea.

Partially I’m a grump and partially I just don’t watch much TV.  But my wife watches shows, and the TV is over my shoulder as I sit at the computer, so I pick some things up by osmosis.  And recently she got into TWD.  I have to say…sometimes I put the keyboard aside to sit down and watch with attention.  And that’s about as high a praise as I give.

TWD is simultaneously frustrating and excellent; dud and home run.

As a zombie show, The Walking Dead drives me insane.  I’m in Season 5 now, and I’m still waiting for someone to invent the spear.  Almost every zombie-based conflict in the show would be solved with spears.  Or combine harvesters.  If you’ve been watching zombie movies and/or have seen smart send-ups like Zombieland, TWD is torture.  Tree houses, people!

There are major world-building problems as well.  The vast majority of people in the U.S. are now dead and Dead…so why are supplies so hard to come by?  Hoarding by enclaves won’t cover it.  Do you know how many sporting goods stores there are with guns and bows?  How many thousands of tons of dry and canned goods there are in the country right now?

There are other issues, but let me strafe them so I can get on to the next part: I’m not sold on the ineptitude of the U.S. military in stopping the crisis.  If the Dead are so physically compromised that a boot can crush their skulls in a single stomp, why don’t they all just fall apart?  If there are a lot of enclaves, why doesn’t anyone ever notice smoke from campfires?  Where are all the birds and bugs?  Where are the millions of Americans who know all the zombie tricks from a life wasted on VHS and DVDs?  If you can clear 20 zombies from a prison yard and then run back behind a gated fence, why not do that 20 times until the prison is cleared completely instead of “making a run for it” or “locking them behind a fence” for villains to screw around with later?

Ok, enough with the negative.  You know what TWD is?  On heck of a show about real ethics.

One reason I just can’t watch cool TV, or any TV, is that it is overflowing with putrid, juvenile, fake ethics.  Everything is purely emotive, team-based ethics that indoctrinates children into a world that isn’t good or evil or even really stupid, just empty.

In TWD, there are actual moral quandries and real drama emerges from characters trying to solve them.  TWD is a show about humans trying to figure out civilization after it’s gone.  This show talks serious sense about crime and punishment, the nature of forgiveness, the death penalty, how we raise children.  Mere paint-by-numbers competence on these matters would win my vote, but I would go so far as to say that TWD is occasionally illuminating.

There are any number of competing moral theories bouncing around, and a lot of it comes back to tribal ethics, but I never quite feel preached at–and I have a hair trigger when it comes to turning my back on preachy shows.  TWD’s characters act out an interesting mix of moral perspectives that goes unresolved.

I think it strikes a chord with me because it feels like the show creators actually get the ancient world.  That’s what TWD is for me: a neo-ancient world, a pre-Charlemagne Europe, a pre-Augustan Rome, a world where the “solutions” to problems we take for granted in 2016 simply aren’t available or don’t work.  I think of Rick as a kind of Theodosius, half-warlord/half-statesman.

This is a good show.  I would let my son watch this if it weren’t so graphic (many of my much too young students watch it).  It makes me consider checking out the source material…but if they don’t have spears there either, I’m out.

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2 thoughts on “The Walking Dead Does Ethics Right

  1. I’d heard that the comic goes a bit farther than what can be shown on AMC… but then I’ve never read it so I don’t know for sure.
    You’re right about the show being a mixed bag. I’ve grown fond of a number of characters and enjoy watching them solve problems and waste zeds, but every so often there’s some annoying emotional, over-dramatic crisis that gets someone killed or makes a bad situation worse. Often times I’m left wishing there was some humor – nothing slapstick, but *something* – because the show can take itself too seriously, something laughable given the logical problems of a “zombie apocalypse.”

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    1. Sometimes the “out of the frying pan, into the fire” stories are driven by something believable–a “yeah, people would screw that up” kind of thing. But other times it’s just pointless and doesn’t seem to proceed from a real human weakness. A lot of Andrea-centered stuff felt that way, and I understand there’s a fair bit of internet animosity toward her among the faithful. Ironically given my theme, when the show tries to go into individual motivations and the interior dimension of characters, it stumbles more. They are better off on their common good stuff. 🙂

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