Now that we have until February to wonder what will happen next in Season 3, I found myself having some interesting conversations online about the show. One friend posted to Facebook that she tried watching the show and saw most of the first season, but could not get behind what she thought was a glorification of rape and violence against women. Certainly an understandable view, although I think she had only heard there was a rape scene (the one where the Governor forces Maggie to strip) and decided not to continue watching. I wrote this response and in thinking about it realized this kind of sums up how I view this show and why I think it has a socially redeeming message:”That is the point: it’s not about zombies. This show is a metaphoric exploration of social collapse. The REAL monsters, as you point out, are not the zombies: it is the humans, made desperate by fear and illogical by desire for power. The institutions that try to protect us from assault, theft, rape, murder, these will be eroded and women can and WILL become chattel under such conditions. But the show also demonstrates how women can be strong, ruthless, and as fierce as (if not fiercer and braver than) men.
The ultimate message seems to be one of personal identity and how it must reinvent itself once the niceties of social structures fall away. Who are we human beings? What are we to the world? What are we to each other? We ARE the Walking Dead…we are all infected: if “infection” means that we all hold the potential for the worst of human behavior inside us, and we know that we do. What we choose to DO with this knowledge, and how we decide to use the time that is left to us, is up to us and how we interact with each other.”
I think the show makes its points about social collapse subtly at times…while at others it hits us over the head like a hammer (good way of killing a walker, by the way). The notion that women will most likely be victimized when all hell breaks loose is something most post-apocalyptic literature has taught us, and we’ve seen the subservient role of women in the survivalist movement in the US (seeing as most survivalists tend to be fairly conservative in their politics; sorry for the generalization, but that’s what I see.
My friend posted this interesting discussion on the Jezebel website, on THE WALKING DEAD’s portrayal of rape and how it compares to other cable shows and cinematic depictions. The suggested rape of Maggie is proffered in a way that is obviously meant to titillate: her slender but curvy form is rendered half naked. We see the horror and love in Glenn’s face when he embraces her, temporarily safe. The sad truth is, rape is time and again made to seem “artful” in visual narrative. Think back to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Or STRAW DOGS. Or MOON IN THE GUTTER. Even Gaspar Noe’s IRREVERSIBLE, which depicts a brutally graphic rape scene, somehow manages, via its backwards timeline, to eroticize this visual, visceral memory.
So far, THE WALKING DEAD has not really demonstrated an overtly sexist view of how women, post-zombie apocalypse, will fit into the new paradigm. If anything, it points how how sexist attitudes and behavior will no longer work. Look at how Carol, away from her abusive husband, has bloomed; her disdainful response to Axel’s assumption she must be a lesbian because of her short hair is hilarious…and the expression on her face is downright empowered.