THE WALKING DEAD: Musings at mid-season finale time

 Posted by on December 2, 2012 at 10:37 pm  The Walking Dead
Dec 022012
(Spoilers ahead)
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.

  13 Responses to “THE WALKING DEAD: Musings at mid-season finale time”

  1. Unless I’m remembering incorrectly, Shane came pretty darn close to raping Lori in the first season, so that could have been what your friend was referring to. I still don’t see that as a glorification or anything, but I can certainly understand someone being turned off by that.

  2. I won’t make a judgment or give an opinion, because honestly, I don’t have one. I’m male, and it’s a convenience, and luxury, to not have to filter the world from this perspective. I’m sensitive to it, but I’d be a liar if I claimed it instinctual or intuitive to go there without a blatant pummeling or a request to do so.

    I wonder how Camille Paglia views TWD. I’m well aware she breaks ranks from a lot of feminist perspective. I was surprised, but then impressed, by her argument for The Real Housewives’ franchise being empowering to women and quite feminist in its direction. It was quickly dismantled that Paglia was merely being a contrarian; something she can sometimes rightly be labeled. It wouldn’t surprise me to find Paglia has already included TWD in her teaching, editorials, or her writing. Anything as big as TWD in pop culture won’t go unnoticed by her.

  3. Interesting topic to discuss. I fail to see how the attempted rape of Lori by Shane or Maggie by the Governor is glorifying rape or violence against women. It’s something that some bad people do and it exists in our real world so why shouldn’t it exist in shows, films, literature, etc.? If those scenes had been filmed in an erotic matter, I would agree with your friend.

    As for your comment that TWD “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.” I have to disagree with you. While the show has improved immensely in this regard this season, the second season frustrated the heck out of me and many other viewers who post about the show elsewhere due to TWD making the women seem weak, ineffectual, and dependent. Even though Lori desired to learn to shoot, she expressed it in a childish manner, pouted, shot at Daryl showing very poor judgment, yada yada. Not to mention Lori thinking that making the men food and washing their clothes to create a more homey environment for them was the most important job for the women at the magical farm. Add to that, her ridiculous stance on not wanting Carl to learn to protect himself with guns and other methods so that he would continually be at risk instead of being able to defend himself. It was ridiculous to watch this nonsense, imho, and those of many others I’m aware of. But, like I said, the show has improved immensely on this issue so I feel like I’m just dredging up yesterday’s news.

  4. Thanks for the interesting responses, all. I’d also be interested in Paglia’s view on the show just because I find her views on things so outrageous but also thought provoking.

    First off, the word “glorify” was not used by my friend but by me and I think it was overstated; I should have said something along the lines of the ways in which rape is normalized by the show and its portrayal of the current culture (which is in and of itself a way of discussing how the show portrays women’s place in this new world).

    Good point about Shane: though I think that scene was more to show how he was becoming unbalanced and also to show Lori’s regret and poor decision making. (I was thinking this week, watching DVD screeners for year end awards consideration, that the crux of many contemporary stories involving relationships almost always relays a theme about how the desire for sex causes us to make really bad decisions)

    Judy, I see your point about Season Two (the writing was uneven for the first few episodes), though it did seem obvious the women were annoyed at being expected to do all of the laundry etc. Also I don’t see Lori’s attitude about Carl not using guns is in any way sexist; that’s more of a comment on Lori’s character (her hypocrisy, her arbitrary attitude about things); she was very annoying but I did think the actress did her best with someone it was difficult to admire.

  5. I think a lot of the writing on the show is very sexist. Shane’s attempted rape is one thing; Lori’s later accepting of it as just hot-headedness is quite another. There was one remark in an early S1 episode about why the women were doing the laundry, but then it went away. It was so PAINFUL on the farm, watching the women gather in the kitchen to cook and clean while the menfolk protect them.

    Look at Andrea: In S2, on the farm, she was seen as deviant for wanting to shoot, and that manifested in a lot of ways: As an aggressive woman, she made more tactical mistakes than anyone and endangered them. As an overtly sexual woman, she made stupid, dangerous choices, as though the simple act of being sexual is suspect. Lori, too, made dangerous choices. Compound this with the anti-choice message and complete misinformation about Plan B.

    S3 has been a lot better. Michonne is a real badass. Maggie and Carol have learned to handle themselves. Lori is gone. But Andrea is still seen as making stupid sexual choices, and she’s also the one of the only sexually aggressive women.

    Maggie was the aggressor with Glenn, and their relationship has so far been wonderful to watch. But naturally, she gets sexually exploited.

    Rape is seen as “glorified” based on camera angles and what is shown–is it meant to titillate? I think all the horror on TWD is sort of meant to titillate; it’s entertainment. I also think Maggie’s sexual humiliation was clearly shown as horror, and that is not glorification.

    I don’t mind rape being normalized in that sense. I am a Rape Crisis Counselor: Rape is normal–would that it were not.

    I love the show, but the sexism, combined with the anti-choice message, combined with the racism, combined with the standard We Need Guns militarism of any post-apocalyptic story, creates a deeply conservative narrative I’m not fully comfortable with.

  6. Very interested to read the comments here re: roles of female characters and glorification of rape, especially people who have been turned off from the show by such portrayals.

    I think it’s been a mixed bag. In general, we see women in very traditional roles on this show. I think this is probably realistic as society deteriorates. The ascendancy of women, especially recently, has come as jobs requiring intelligence and social skills become more prominent than roles requiring aggression and brawn. Obviously in a societal breakdown situation you are going to see some backsliding in this regard. In other words, women’s roles have been changing over the last 100 years not because women are changing, but because the world is changing. In a zombie apoacalypse, the world changes back. This is, I think, part of the escapist appeal of zombie apocalypse fiction. It shows a simpler world where unremarkable people fantasize that they could triumph or at least become highly valued members of their group.

    Michonne can’t be held up as a feminist icon yet, because she is pretty much a cartoon, at least up to this point. Lori is a very sad case indeed. Maggie I think has done very well and shows both femininity, intelligence, depth of feeling, assertiveness in every sphere, and a willingness and ability to do lots of useful things including fighting. Overall I think hers is probably the most positive portrayal of women on the show. Andrea has often been a model for feminist viewpoints with her assertiveness, intelligence and her fighting prowess, but has somehow been turned into a brainwashed doormat recently. The governor obviously wants to return to more traditional roles for women, and this alone ought to ring alarm bells for her. I noticed he had a briefly glimpsed unnamed woman in his bed in one scene, and I think it’s sort of implied that he pretty much has his pick of the women in the village, or close enough.

    I will say that the very upsetting scene with the governor and Maggie was very highly erotically charged. The brief and rather awkard rape scene with Shane and Lori during season one in no way compares. I have been trying to figure out what was so highly upsetting about this scene. It was extremely emotional in a different way than the profoundly sad tableau at the end of “The Killer Within”, and miles beyond any of the cartoonish violence on the show in terms of its emotional impact. I think this is due to the extremely ritualistic nature of the scene, and its erotic implications, combined with the threat of torture which always raises very strong emotions. There is absolutely no doubt that this scene is a double edged sword in which the audience was manipulated in a very specific way. I won’t let the producers off the hook by saying this scene didn’t eroticize rape, or that it was not meant to tittilate. It most certainly was and did, even though no actual rape occured and even though the potential rapist is just about the slimiest, most unsympathetic character imaginable. In short, what was going on in this scene was BDSM erotica, plain and simple. There is absolutely no way the producers didn’t know this and understand the entertainment value of it. I think the same people who would avoid the show on account of scenes like this would also avoid on principle any kind of BDSM erotica, and they are absolutely right if that is their view.

    • Your last paragraph is interesting to me as I didn’t see it that way at all. And I am someone who is totally not into BDSM in any way. In fact, it repulses me. So, if it was there or that was part of the intent, I’m surprised I didn’t see it. I’m not saying you’re wrong as that is your opinion and your perspective but I don’t think it’s a universal fact.

      I do agree with the rest of your post.

      • I really can’t understand how anyone would view the scene when Maggie is tortured to be even remotely erotic. I also have little experience with the BSDM world, but I do understand that it’s based on tacit agreement and trust between the participants to allow frightening and potentially dangerous power dynamics to play out, and sometimes shift, based on completely open communication. I fail to see how an ACTUAL kidnapping victim, whose personal safety and the safety of a loved one are at stake have had any kind of choice or trust to agree to be threatened and humiliated for the enjoyment of others. This is violence, plain and simple. Not anything like eroticism.

        • Just to be clear, real BDSM is a fictionalized fantasy; people exchange power with an agreement that makes each party safe. With that agreement in place, they will then act as if the violence, bondage, or humiliation (of whatever degree) is real. When watching fiction, the very fact that it’s fiction substitutes for the safety agreement, and so “real” (unreal) kidnapping, violence, etc. can be seen as erotic.

          I don’t think this scene was BDSM-erotic; I think it was frightening. But that’s subject to debate.

    • ” In short, what was going on in this scene was BDSM erotica, plain and simple.”

      That’s really, really reaching. For reasons the others have stated, but it is also a gross misunderstanding of the subject and the practices.

    • I can’t address each point, because I hear different things going on. One person seems to be saying, if I understood correctly, “I’m not into BDSM, and I didn’t find this scene erotic,” which I would say tends to support my view.

      I should point out that I use the terms erotica/pornography interchangeably in this context. It is more accurate to say this scene is domination/submission rather than BDSM. It contains numerous elements which are hallmarks of the genre: coercion, implied threat of violence, an attractive, semi-nude female subject, a domineering, physically imposing male, ritualized commands that are reluctantly obeyed.

      To avoid any confusion It is important to point out, as Deborah Lipp did, that in the context of a BDSM “scene”, the coercion is real, even though outside the frame of the story it is understood to be consensual.

      If they wanted to show what kind of person the Governor is (as if there could be any doubt) they could have had an actual rape (as the comic books do) but had it occur offscreen. Rape is a serious and often-used interrogation technique, but this kind of makes it into porn.

      I realize this is a sore subject and upsets people, so I won’t mention it again. But I still say it was a cheesy, gratuitous, exploitative soft-core BDSM scene done for cheap thrills. It made no sense in the context of the story. There is no tactical or strategic advantage to be had in giving your subject the idea that you won’t carry through on threats. Especially when you’re planning to kill them at the end anyway.

      • I haven’t read the comics, but I’m guessing they are much more sexually charged and gratuitous from an adolescent bent. They’re obviously not following the comics to the letter, but I’m sure they have a lot of pressure to integrate more of the elements they have mostly ignored so far. It must be a difficult task; one that they aren’t going to do so well when trying to satisfy everyone.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.