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November 4th, 2010

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02:26 pm - The Walking Dead
When I was writing about The Road, and Cormac McCarthy in general, I said that I thought his despairing vision was linked to an ancient conceptual system. Perhaps it might have originated in the Bronze Age, but who knows. It represents life and spirit as male characteristics, and the female is matter: attractive, sinful, weak and dangerous. The transmission of light is from father to son, with the mother as the vulnerable material link in the chain of spirit.

It's a vision which is conservative, puritan, misogynist, and associated with the modern monotheistic religions. I think it is more pervasive in America than in Europe (that's my impression anyway). It expresses itself (usually) through control of women and flesh and sexuality, together with fear of them.

My argument was that the universal death of The Road was bound up with McCarthy's patriarchal vision. That is, the vision itself is nihilistic. A thoughtful artistic man who embraces this philosophy is plunged into a world of horror and apocalypse, whether McCarthy, Milton or John of Patmos. I'm not rejecting works that express this vision - I love Paradise Lost - I'm just saying, they represent one way of looking at the world, which is bound up with horror of the flesh.

I had to watch The Walking Dead because it is AMC's new flagship show. In case you didn't know, it is about a zombie outbreak. Andrew Lincoln wakes up in a hospital like Cillian Murphy in 28 days later, and discovers that everyone is dead, and some are shambling about biting people. I started to watch it last night, while H was out, and I had to stop because it was too frightening. I finished it just now. It's very well made and I will be watching the whole season.

The reason I go on about the 'nihilistic patriarchal vision' of the father-son bond and the deadly female flesh is that the first episode seems to embody (ha) the vision quite strongly. It's just possible that this is a big subversive set-up, and the whole thing is going to veer off in another direction in episode 2. I don't think so though.

ETA Anyway, I hope this review is clear. I think this looks to be a very well-made series, with high values, good acting, and confident tone. It's good to see a strong new SF/horror series which takes its premise seriously and has relatively well developed emotions and characterisation. I just think the vision is a particular one, expressed quite strongly. I suppose an interesting question is whether zombie films and shows must portray life in this rigid male-only anti-flesh way. I don't think they necessarily have to.

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


Date:November 4th, 2010 04:07 pm (UTC)
That was pretty much my reaction to the pilot: very well made, very scary (the scene in the stairwell is terrifying), but are they doing something deliberate with the gender stuff, or are they really that steeped in a vision of men as doers and women as objects to be acted upon? Time will tell, though I have to say that what I've heard of the comics is not promising.

I've come to the conclusion that there are some shows that I'd be happier if they just didn't write female characters. Justified, which actually asks some interesting questions about masculinity and its performance, is juts terrible with its female characters, and Human Target would be pure popcorn fun if there wasn't a terribly written damsel in distress in almost every single episode. At this point I think I'd prefer the absence of women to yet more evidence that talented writers just can't wrap their heads around writing women well.
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Date:November 4th, 2010 04:31 pm (UTC)
Yes, the fact that they began with a conversation 'women are like this, men are like that, amirite?' might mean the whole thing is a massive set-up. Probably not.

I found the framing of the wife's challenge to the deputy's authority particularly annoying. The whole thing was set up as 'pushy unsympathetic broad', though her suggestion, to put up roadside markers warning people away from the danger zone, was sensible I thought. And then he's like 'I'm only telling you what to do because I care about you.' Oh, right.
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Date:November 4th, 2010 05:09 pm (UTC)
I've come to the conclusion that there are some shows that I'd be happier if they just didn't write female characters

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Date:November 4th, 2010 06:08 pm (UTC)
The Tea Party is one that comes to mind.
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Date:November 4th, 2010 09:05 pm (UTC)
It's extremely difficult to deduce anything about Bronze Age religion. There's lots of speculation, but most of it is pure guesswork.

There's a solid book by Hutton that lists the factual data and reminds one of the many contradictory interpretations that can be got from the same evidence.
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Date:November 4th, 2010 10:01 pm (UTC)
Yes. I was thinking more of the middle eastern bronze age, I think European traditions are more mixed, more of a melting pot of different influences. But in a sense it doesn't matter where or when it came from, the notion of a purely masculine lineage.

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