Owen (14) and I like zombies. Seth (17) was traumatized by an early and disastrous viewing of “The Grudge” and even though he thought last year he was ready to watch “Alien” with me, as soon as it started, he got interested in doing something else, so I turned it off. Owen, on the other hand, well, just as soon as we get a couple of extra minutes, here we come, Ripley!
Owen convinced me to start watching “The Walking Dead” so I did, and I expect regular readers of this blog (you two know who you are!) will quickly deduce that I have quite a few criticisms of the show. Actually, since I’m pretty sure neither of you has seen it, I will quickly say: it’s from a comic book, written by men, in a certain comic book tradition where there always has to be a good guy and a bad guy. Emphasis on “guy”. White guy. So, for example, when Owen and I talk about the show, I tend to ask things like, “If they’re supposed to be in the south, how come there aren’t more black characters?” and “How come none of the black characters get to have full stories like the white characters?” and “Where are the gay people?” and “Why are those two idiots fighting again?”
Despite all that, I remain in the sorry plight of people who like zombies (or vampires, or werewolves) and am compelled to watch what’s on offer, hope springing eternal. So I’m on Season Three, and just watched the 4th Episode called “The Killer Within”. In this episode (spoiler alert) not only does the only surviving child, Carl, have to put a bullet through his mother’s brain to stop her from turning into a zombie, he has to assist as she is killed by a field cesarean in order for his sibling to be born. Elsewhere, the only remaining black man sacrifices himself so that the only remaining mother (after Carl’s mother) has a chance to escape, but she doesn’t make it either (or at least, that’s how it seems at the end of the episode).
In preparing me for these eventualities, Owen kept saying , “Season Three is sad, Mom,” and I would say, “Ok, I know people are going to die. I just hope it’s not T-Dog! (the black guy)” and he would say, “T-Dog is an amazing character. But Mom, think about who’s the most expendable. Who’s the most expendable, Mom?” And by gum, he was right! Moms and black men. Who needs ‘em?
First of all, I am proud of my Black Ops-playing baby for understanding that what passes for mindless entertainment carries all the sins of the society (racism and misogyny being just two), and second of all, what the fuck? Carl’s poor mother had a shitty role, badly written dialogue and a mostly one-dimensional, wide-eyed character, but she did sometimes offer a different take on how people might interact in the vastly changed world. My favorite line of hers, tossed out in between puerile musings on how she’s a bad mom and gosh she’s sorry she cheated on her husband when she thought he was dead and the world had just gone to hell, was something like, “We cleaned up a spot for Carl where he can…do whatever it is he does now.” She can’t say “play” anymore, even though Carl is only about 11, because he has had to turn child soldier in order to get along in the zombie apocalypse. I like the line because it indicated to me that she might be capable of thinking differently about how humans are changed by the dire circumstances and how they might start exploring those changes and keep hold of some life- and soul-saving emotional and spiritual complexities. Rather than just doing the easiest thing: me good, you bad, me kill you before you kill me. Later in the episode, she tells Carl never to do the wrong thing, that he’s a good person and he’ll know if it’s wrong, even if it feels like the easy thing to do. Then comes the gory cesarean scene and then the bullet. Hey, the baby’s alive, though!
Owen and I love zombies. I also love vampires and werewolves and aliens, and he loves dystopic novels and fantasy where there’s lots of fighting. We love our genres and as mad as I am about T-Dog and the moms, I’m going to keep watching “The Walking Dead” because I’m interested in spite of myself, and because I like talking with Owen about it. To comfort me before the fact, during the same “who’s the most expendable” conversation, he also kept saying, “Mom, the women are about to get really badass!” “The Walking Dead” is adapted from a comic book. “FunHome” and “Are You My Mother?” by Alison Bechdel are also comic books, only now we have been taught to call them “graphic novels”. Genre has its rules, and wherever there are rules, when you bend or break them, the effect can be sublime. Within boundaries there are worlds, as any writer of sestinas or haikus can tell you. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” George Romero’s movies, all the “Alien” movies, “The Matrix” movies – thank god for the genre benders and breakers. I don’t know what’s going to happen in “The Walking Dead” and I really don’t know what kind of weird relationship (I think these are their names) Andrea and Meshaun have and am constantly on the verge of being offended with Meshaun’s servant role and Alison’s flirtation with gross men, but, if the woman are fixin’ to be badass, I will keep watching. Hope springs eternal, and plus, hanging out with Owen is just a pile of fun.