kublahken

Contributing writer for The Artifice.

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    Decoding Social Commentary in The Walking Dead

    Some weeks ago, there was an episode of the Walking Dead that appeared to serve as a commentary on real world events. It was a story of one group of people, reduced to an almost primitive cult-like state, driven to attack another segment of society that endeavored to hold on to current notions of civilized existence. This group that faced attack was comprised of survivors living in a kind of gated community somewhat untouched by the horrific realities of the outside world.

    This one episode could easily be seen as a commentary on our fears of the other, about the encroachment of medieval fundamentalism and our relationship to modernity (as a sometimes violent counterforce). The attackers in this episode had a religious zeal for delivering death as way of providing an answer for the "civilians" ills. Those that survived the onslaught wielded modern weaponry (in contrast to the attackers who were armed only with sharp or blunt instruments, painted faces and madness). Those who lived within the city limits (as it were) and imagined a safe life of homemaking simplicity were cut down while the people trained in the art of killing (even those who first tried to use non-lethal methods) survived.

    Obviously, the tradition for the Zombie film as a symbolic experience was set by Romero with Night of The Living Dead (Vietnam) and his follow-up Dawn of THe Dead (consumerism). With The Walking Dead we appear to be in The Age of Terrorism.

    The Monster is alive and well, and, as always, is us.

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      There was a time I felt that voices like Stewart, Colbert, Oliver, Maher, Wilmore and so on were invaluable. Now I’m not so sure.

      I’m wondering if these individuals really educate and motivate or simply let us vent, allowing us to move on to other things. Should the tensions of our world be relived like a gas valve, or should they be channeled into organized movements? Shouldn’t the satiric knife be used, somehow, to surgically strike the sickness so obviously rife in the body politic? Thomas Nast anyone?

      Media, to a very large extent, is on its heels; it operates within the constraints that corporate power allows it to. Revenue realties and ownership demands have undermined the mainstream sector of the 4th estate, and news, as a general matter, doesn’t freely and rigorously pursue the truth wherever it may lead. If it did, would we need the Assange’s, Ellsburg’s and Snowden’s of the world? Would we need alternative press?

      Colbert’s in-your-face (literally) takedown of George W. Bush at the 2006 Correspondent’s Dinner was the high water mark of any of the so-called political comedians. Speaking truth to power directly, Colbert delivered a message that many felt was not being heard. So it was cathartic, but did it actually have any effect on policy? Do any of these shows? Or are they mainly telling us what we already know about corruption and the misplaced priorities of our leaders?

      I wonder if these shows are unintentionally medicating us with laughter when we should be mobilized with righteous indignation. The focus is on mocking the ever-changing faces, not the system that produces them. Treat the cause, not the symptom.

      Real or Reel? The Complicated Personas of Political Comedians

      Just to clarify, for myself if nothing else, this article seems to suggest that we’ve come to a point of such rich sub-genre infusion that we’re on the cusp of a Meta-Genre neo-golden age. In other words, we’re going beyond repurposing (the “homage” and reboot) and moving into richer territory comprised of fresh new voices that effectively distill, transform and transcend their original horror influences. There are bold visions to be sure -Takashi Miike comes to mind – but are we really seeing a visionary movement fueled by multi-genre inspiration?

      For example, the earliest work cited, Eraserhead, follows the supposition that “Audiences are starting to see horror as something much more visceral and experimental rather than linear and straightforward” but Eraserhead, much like the work of surrealist Jodoworsky were arguably at the apogee of their strangest imaginings during the Midnight Movie period of the Seventies. And many of the darkest indie chillers come from that time period, such as Taxi Driver, The Exorcist, Phantasm and Texas Chainsaw (Night of the Living Dead just missed – 1968). And, in a related note, the Seventies was really the age of the Auteur. There’s often too much money at stake these days to gamble on a filmmaker’s “gut” unless that gut is a proven moneymaker. Not sure someone like Coppola could really exist today.

      Obviously, there are unique visions of horror that stand out in every era (Body Snatchers, Psycho, Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer, Carpenter’s The Thing, etc.) but this article posits we’re entering a period of intense originality fueled by an inspired and sustained synthesizing of genre. This sounds more like the personification of someone like Quentin Tarantino than a genre movement built upon a deep re-formulation of horror cinematic language. And to that point, I’d argue Tarantino is so unique because he’s cut from another cloth and that cloth was made in the 70’s. He’s found a way to re-configure his source material and make his own voice heard but isn’t this an anomaly?

      I see this current period as similar to the post-Halloween slasher era when one indie made such a financial splash that it spawned an exhausting series of copycats (including countless sequels and re-boots). We’ve been moving out of the nightmarish (for the wrong reasons) torture porn genre and through the ghost genre. What’s next?

      Indie Horror: Recent Rise of a Meta-Genre

      Violence is our national pastime. It always has been. The only thing that changes is one’s ability, or lack thereof, to render it with meaning. This is no country for men who think like old men.

      Bell, Moss and Wells all have a history of military service during wartime and engage in violence as necessary for reasons they justify to themselves. They view, or once viewed, violence as driven by a directive, sometimes moral but always inescapable in its necessity. These are aging men losing either their taste and/or facility for violence.

      But let’s be clear. This isn’t about chronological age, not really. This is about antiquated perspective. Recall Uncle Ellis telling Bell of Uncle Mac’s violent end in an obvious attempt to disabuse Bell of a romanticized nostalgia. Bell has such discontent with the loss of decorum in young people, a causal link, he posits, to our crumbling world. Well, isn’t Chigurh awful polite to the driver he pulls over (right before killing him)?

      Chigurh is neither young nor old. He’s immortal. He doesn’t wear a cowboy hat because he isn’t a cowboy; he’s an angel of death with a dark bob that hugs his face like the hooded cloak of the Grim Reaper. His scythe is a cattle gun (or captive bolt pistol) because humans, for Chigurh, are basically cattle, worthy only of a coin toss to determine their fate. Look at the crime scene: dead humans littering the desert floor with their dogs. We’re beasts of the fields.

      At a glance, it may seem the preponderance of violence lies with the Mexicans and the “exotic” Chigurh. However, it’s a white financier who puts all this violence into play. This isn’t a landscape of shifting racial dynamics as much as shifting perceptions. White and brown are locked in an eternal dance of death. It used to be land, now it’s drugs. The movie ends with Chigurh fleeing white suburbia after all… and barely in one piece at that.

      No Country For Old Genres: McCarthy, The Coens, and the Neo-Western