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[sticky post] Race and the Walking Dead

Now that we are in the mid-season break of the Walking Dead, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss the glaringly obvious racial problems within this potentially interesting show. (My comments are about the show only—I have not gotten the chance to read the comic book. I certainly hope it does race better than its television counterpart.)

As someone who writes genre fiction myself, I understand the difficulty in writing fully actualize minority characters and the fear of doing it wrong. I understand that it’s just easier to ignore race all together or succumb to the idea that minorities don’t watch genre shows anyway, so choose not to bother. This attitude, though, leads to problems as evidenced by the big fat racial disaster in the Walking Dead.

The show is not necessarily a disaster because of the plot, though it’s slow and there are few likeable characters. It’s such because of the elephant in the room.

It was Toni Morrison who said that the “black presence*” is placed in fiction (and in this case TV) according to the needs and desires of its white creator and that the presence has been there since the creation of the construct of race—or at least the beginning of the American slave trade. Most notably, though, she says that the black presence is there even if it’s ignored and especially if it is unrecognized. In other words, blackness is a part of our social consciousness (in binary opposition to whiteness) and to ignore it shows more about the society than about the people the society hopes to alienate.

The Walking Dead is prime example: in the heart of downtown Atlanta, which has one of the largest black populations in the country, there should be blacks. Lots of them. Everywhere. In fact, it’s hard to imagine writing about Atlanta without having a significantly black cast. Other than perhaps Gone With the Wind. We’re damn near 60% of the population.

Blacks would have been within the homeless which turned into zombies that invaded the city, they would have been within the working population, and obviously they would have been a significant part of the survivors. Assuming you couldn’t find walk-ons to play the zombies, it should have been imperative to cast more than a few for main roles. Instead the unique Atlanta location was ignored and with it the opportunity to do race better than its genre predecessors.

The show began with so much promise. In a small town somewhere near Atlanta (close enough to ride a horse to into the city) a white cop, Rick, awakes to the world all zombiefied. He eventually runs into a black father (Morgan) and son (Duane). I’ll be honest with you. To me, these two characters are the most interesting characters in the entire series. They had all of the makings of a long thematic future: inner turmoil, focus, a father’s fight for his son while suffering visits from the child’s dead mother. From a viewer’s standpoint it was very effective to see this dead woman appear at the door, menacingly spying into the peephole torturing the pair. There has been only one parallel moment in the show (those who watch it will remember the shocking ending to the third episode in the second season).

But from this point it becomes wholly unremarkable and even problematic. The white man leaves the blacks behind. Naturally this is what the “characters” want (this becomes important again later) and so Rick doesn’t have any choice but to leave them. Now, this is completely ridiculous premise or at least needs a better set up. Not only do I think this dude would have taken his son the hell out of there, but he would have done it long before the cop even showed up. Of course it’s easy to talk about the character’s motivations and whatnot, but the truth is that this is written. It’s not real life which has no plot or reason. No. Instead someone wrote this fantastic duo out of the show after manipulating them to set up Rick’s search for his own son.

The show moves on (slowly) and the father finally finds his family—with a group of approximately 20 other survivors. The racial makeup: two blacks (woman and man), a Latino couple and two children, one Asian and the rest were either white or looked so**.

Two of the characters are redneck white dudes. They’re racist and they are used to show us how bad racism is so that anything else pales in comparison. At least they show us how bad obvious racism is. Instead the show uses long hidden biases within our society because by the time the finale comes around the black woman has out grown her usefulness.

One possible highlight: Somewhere around mid season, the group runs into a gang of Latino “thugs.” We know they’re thugs, because, well they’re Latino**. However, at this point the show does something interesting. It turns our preconceived notions of minority thugs on its head and shows us a group of individuals who are taking care of the elderly. Of course it’s done through a gang like structural group which is wholly different than our obvious “good guys” and the viewer realizes that Rick and his group cannot stay less the head gang member outshine him.

This leads me to one of the most obviously fucked up moments in the show. After discovering the CDC they’ve taken shelter in is going to explode, one of the white women decides to stay, taking her own life. Likewise the black woman, Jacqui, does the same. A white male character comes back for the white woman and tells her he refuses to let her die. Obviously she’s worth more than blowing up in the bunker of an obsolete federal building. Too bad Jacqui isn’t also. The white man tells the white woman that he will stay with her and die too if she doesn’t leave. Not wanting to risk the white man’s life, the white woman leaves and her life is spared. No one tries to save the black woman—none of the white characters or the minority ones. It can be assumed then that even the minority characters realize that this woman is not worth saving.

The two whites share an odd glance with the black woman as they leave. The glance speaks volumes and the “black presence” stumbles all over itself trying to ignore the obvious ideology within the show: black women are valued less and are not worth the effort it takes to save them; and minorities must be left behind, they are expendable, useless to the new society. Of course Jacqui blows up at the writers’, I mean …. um… her own insistence.

Somewhere around this time the Latino couple and children decide to leave off on their own. They probably saw the warning signs and chose to rough it out, less being considered expendable within the group structure. Or, you know, the writers didn’t have a use for them anymore.

At this point, there are a few main characters left in the show, but the remaining black man is certainly not one of them. The Asian guy could be argued as such, but only in that he is the errand boy for the rest of the group. Seriously, he’s “small and fast” and sent to get stuff, like pregnancy test for the white characters. Yep, they’re reproducing while the minorities are dropping off like flies. Actually, now that I think about it, isn’t that the basis of the eugenics movement of the last century and one of the major concerns of whites of the time. If the people of the last century had only known that a zombie apocalypse was the answer.

Either way, the black man hardly appears in the show at all and he’s actually one of the most pathetic people on TV. The whites on the show are running around, protecting the group while the black guy gets his ass kicked; drops a key, effectively killing the racist white dude; and gets a blood infection. It could be argued, though (and I’m willing to accept this argument to some extent), that the character is the exact opposite of the typical black male in other shows. And it’s true. Other than the name “T-Dog” (WTF?) he’s not obviously the black “hood,” he isn’t the black “businessman” and he isn’t the black “intellectual.” No instead he’s a completely blank slate. We don’t know anything about him which is not the case for any other character in the entire show.

For example:

Rick, a white cop has a wife and son and we have flashbacks back to them before the apocalypse. He’s the leader for whatever reason, but he’s not particularly good at it. But he’s a cop, and can shoot a gun, so why not?

Shane: the other white cop is his friend and is in love with his wife. For the life of me, I don’t know why. She seems to be the only chick who doesn’t find a way to shower and she’s constantly dirty. He’s also a leader or was before Rick came back. He shoots things and protects the group.

Lori, the wife is torn between two men. She has a son, she was having problems with her husband before he died and then moved on right after. She’s pregos and whiny and we don’t know who’s kid it is. But she assures us it doesn’t matter. She’s a woman so naturally she cooks. That’s what women do. But she helps the group this way.

Andrea lost her sister and is suffering from depression. She wanted to die but the writers interfered. She’s turning out to be a good shot. Even she hunts and helps the group now.

Carol’s husband abused her. She has a daughter who’s missing/dead and suffers for it. Woman = cook. And she’s sad which shows she’s a real person.

Daryl sacrificed his racist brother for the sake of the group. He is a great fighter and does what has to be done for everyone to survive. He is the only person who didn’t give up on the little girl—which show he’s a real (not racist like his bother) person. He hunts and protects the group and has an awesome silent shooter.

Dale: the old man. He’s in love with Andrea—whether physically or just in a daughter way, I can’t tell. He sees everything around him and doesn’t like Shane. Who can blame him really, but it’s none of his business and he can’t stop interfering. He often keeps a look out and protects in that way.

Glen, the only other minority, is sleeping with a white girl. They’re a cute couple and we’re supposed to like them. He’s a gofer for the group because…he’s Asian and small and fast. Oh and at one point the group decides to put him in the well with a zombie for no clear reason at all. And why not, the U.S. has been putting Asians in dark oppressive holes since the beginning of the transcontinental railroad.

T-Dog?…. I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know if he was related to the black woman. I don’t know if he was married or if he has ever had sex in his life, to tell the truth. If the show told us this, I don’t remember because it wasn’t important. Nothing about him is. Nothing about him is memorable, either.

I take that back. He did have one memorable moment other than getting his ass kicked by Daryl’s brother and losing the key.

The only other time race was mentioned was after T-Dog (seriously, what the fuck’s up with the name?) cut himself and became infected. The redneck, Daryl, saves his life which is meant to tell us something really important such as if the redneck has finally gotten over race and become “colorblind” then by god everyone should. Including the viewers.

But not, of course, their own character. After getting saved by Daryl T-Dog gets a blood infection (he truly is pathetic). In his delirious state he goes on a racial diatribe, complaining that everyone around him is “racist” and explaining that it is not safe for a black man to be around southern Georgia cops and too many white folks. Of course these are valid concerns but he is shut down effectively by Dale. T-Dog hasn’t really appeared in the show since that time which, I suppose, is the proper smack down for daring to challenge the white powers that be.

The interesting thing here is the implication that race is only ever a problem when minorities mention it. And obviously it’s only mentioned when the person is crazy or delusional. Race, within the show or otherwise, is never an issue for practical, rational thinking people—only infected black men. Racism is either blatant in your face (the racist redneck) or it is an accusation (the black man) and doesn’t really exist. Either way, it does not belong in a zombie apocalypse.

Ironically the character during this rare moment of honesty is probably right. At least about the show and the black presence that Morrison has outlined. The show does race in a really poor way and this is highlighted by the fact that they have until this moment ignored it and then out of nowhere attacked it so aggressively, as if to silence any dissenting voice daring to challenge them.

The truth is that race is an issue and it will still be an issue after the apocalypse, no matter the source. It’s not realistic to ignore it. Of course the real message seems to be that black and minority people are expendable—no need to replace them—just keep moving, ignoring the obvious. They don’t belong in our new (soon to be zombie free, we hope) society.

The real question of course lies with the Walking Dead staff—the presumable white creator. Will they continue to play ignorant with the “black presence,” ignoring it but never truly succeeding because of the inherent nature of blackness in our society? Or will they challenge themselves, realizing they will probably get things wrong but that doing it wrong, and trying, is often better than not doing it at all?

Practically anything is better than what we have now.

*Toni Morrison refers to the black presence as the “Africanist presence” in her literary criticism Playing in the Dark. It’s brilliant and I wholly suggest reading it.

**I realize that some of the actors’ racial identity may be different from the characters they play, but that is irrelevant to the stereotype we are given on screen.

Originally published December 20th, 2011.


( 76 comments — Leave a comment )
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Dec. 20th, 2011 07:13 pm (UTC)
Marvelous - you summed it up brilliantly, and I agree with you on every turn. I actually stopped watching after the first few episodes of the second season, after being quite intrigued with the opening episodes with the black man and his son (and having to cap the black woman - what an extraordinary performance she gave WITHOUT DIALOGUE). But since then, it's just been a lot of stupidity bracketed with some admittedly brilliant gore effects. But I want more from this show than gore, and if I don't get it, I look elsewhere.
Dec. 21st, 2011 12:30 am (UTC)
I agree with your article but only in the areas in which you refer to the show as slow and with few likeable characters and that taking place in Atlanta, there should be a much larger black presence. Beyond that, you sound like nothing more than a racist yourself and your writing structure is atrocious. I certainly hope you get yourself a proofreader before trying to submit anything professionally.

You mentioned that you have not read the comics but "certainly hope it does race better than its television counterpart.". The show is based on the comic, therefore, it's basically the same albeit, the comic is much better. I have to ask, when you supposedly watched the show, how much effort did you put into actually "watching" as opposed to sitting in front of the screen making note of every little thing you could tie to the race card. Your recap of the show clearly indicates that you did not watch closely. You have no idea why they sent Glen into the well that had the zombie in it yet they stated quite clearly why. You mention that Carol's daughter is missing/dead yet we watch Rick put a bullet through her head because she had been bitten and turned. Daryl didn't "sacrifice his brother". Where do you even get that from? We don't even meet the character Daryl until later in the show when it's discovered that he is the brother. Like so many other plot holes in this series, we never find out what happened to the brother. All we know is, he cut his hand off to escape.

Your review of the T-Dog character is spot on. Really, what is up with that name? You are correct in that he does not fit what television and Hollywood typically paint as the "usual" black character. A blank slate is a perfect description.

Overall, what continually perpetuates the race war is people like yourself who simply cannot take a show for what it is and enjoy it. The need to pick apart every minute detail is old hat. As I said earlier, given the location of the show, it should indeed have a much more varied cast but it doesn't so get over it. If it bothers you that much, select any one of a 1000 other channels to watch. I'm sorry if this sounds racist to you but I am willing to bet that if the cast was predominately black, the complaint would be that it's unfair because the majority of people getting killed are black zombies. You can't have it both ways.

I think maybe I'll write an article about my feelings on why Tyler Perry doesn't have more White people in his shows. Or would that just be a little too racist?
Dec. 21st, 2011 02:22 am (UTC)
Anonymous: Although I never refer the the show itself or its creators as racist certain people continue to read it as saying such. You seem to be one of those people. Instead I said that the show does race badly. This means that the show does not depict the minority characters with the same regard it does the white characters. This may be acceptable to you, but it is not to me. I am a fan of the genre, and as a minority person, I can assure you that my point of view is just as important as yours.

It is always interesting to me that many people don't see race/racism until it's a minority calling out privilege. You accuse me of being racist because I point out problematic situations in a television show. Do you not see this as odd?

If the show is "basically the same" as the comic, that means the comic does race poorly as well. There's no getting around this. You can't ignore it away.

Of course I know why they put Glen in the well, but it makes no logical sense. In case you don't understand, the water would have already been infected by the zombie having been it for however long. Taking it out would have changed nothing. "Missing/dead" implies a progression to that state. The girl was missing, then she was dead. Got it? Daryl didn't "sacrifice his brother" but he left him behind. He could have chosen to look for him.

I guess pointing all of this out was meant to show, what? That I didn't watch the show? And therefore discredit my points. You have not done this. Instead, you imply that I'm the problem of the world's racist ills and that somehow if I stop pointing out problems everyone else will stop being racist/prejudiced. But this, again, is not logical. It has never been the case that ignoring a problem fixes it, and it won't be so for racism within our society.

I'm going to ignore your comments about my writing. I understand that this must be really upsetting to you and insults make you feel better.
This - (Anonymous) - Oct. 21st, 2012 08:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - Wanizame - Jul. 4th, 2013 01:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - chaosthethird - Dec. 21st, 2011 03:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Jul. 22nd, 2012 05:13 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - danaseilhan - Oct. 26th, 2012 03:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - danaseilhan - Oct. 26th, 2012 03:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 21st, 2011 01:13 am (UTC)
You've basically summed up my issues with the tv show verbatim (Not to mention the sexist anti choice bents on this freaking series.) In the comics, at least the characters of color were of importance to the group structure and to save everyone's bacon. Part of me wishes your story in let's play white would be on tv or movie but the cynic in me knows that it'd be screwed by hollywood. sigh. I don't think I can hold out til season 3.
Dec. 21st, 2011 01:19 pm (UTC)
I really really really hope it gets better. If it's not better by the end of the season, though, I probably won't make it to season 3.

I'm glad you enjoyed Let's Play White. Which story?
(no subject) - angelsscream - Dec. 22nd, 2011 05:18 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 21st, 2011 02:22 am (UTC)
Blacks in Horror
Related to this is Robin R. Means Coleman's book Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to the Present. See my interview with her on my blog on this topic at http://www.theofantastique.com/2011/11/27/interview-with-robin-r-means-coleman-on-horror-noire-blacks-in-american-horror-films-from-the-1890s-to-present/
Dec. 21st, 2011 02:24 am (UTC)
Blacks in Horror
Thanks for this important consideration in the hit television series. Related to this is Robin R. Means Coleman's discussion of Blacks in American horror films in her book Horror Noire. See my interview with her as we unpack the book's thesis: http://www.theofantastique.com/2011/11/27/interview-with-robin-r-means-coleman-on-horror-noire-blacks-in-american-horror-films-from-the-1890s-to-present/
Dec. 21st, 2011 04:29 pm (UTC)
Re: Blacks in Horror
I hadn't heard of Horror Noir. Looks interesting.
Dec. 21st, 2011 03:19 pm (UTC)
Spot on critique, Chesya. I didn't even think about the obvious demographic problem regarding Atlanta. And you're so right about T-Dog being useless and unimportant. He has been nothing more than a liability. And man do they like to sneak in that message of "oh there goes the black man complaining about racism again, but it's all something he drums up out of nowhere".

You ever see Lakeview Terrace with Sam Jackson? This theme ran all throughout that film, but so many people I've spoken with didn't notice it at all, to the point where I was wondering if *I* was drumming it up from nowhere. But the friend who I went to see it with noticed it as well. Took us some time to be able to articulate the prevalent feeling of "wrong" throughout the movie.

And Glen represents a number of different problematic stereotypes for Asian men - he's emasculated (they chose to make him "fast", that is, good at escaping, instead of "strong", i.e. good at fighting). Though I was surprised that they made him a viable sexual partner for the white woman, because Asian men tend to be depicted as entirely undesirable, a trait they share with black women. But notice again, this was an opportunity to show the only kind of racism that white audiences can accept - overt - via the father and his objection to Glen and his daughter.

Glen also fits the "model minority" stereotype in that he doesn't call any attention to his race and just wants to fit in as part of the group by making himself amply useful to the white characters with little complaint. Unlike the black man who is always complaining, reminding the group that he - when he is even on the screen - can never be "one of them".

I've had to turn off the part of my brain that notices this stuff just to be able to watch the show. But that's pretty common of what I have to do whenever I'm watching/reading white-written genre fiction.
Dec. 21st, 2011 04:21 pm (UTC)
Lakeview Terrace was insane. The whole idea that a black man is the real threat to the American family structure was over the top in that movie.

"I've had to turn off the part of my brain that notices this stuff just to be able to watch the show."

Agreed. I have to do that with pretty much everything.
hmmm.. - (Anonymous) - Jul. 22nd, 2012 02:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Jul. 22nd, 2012 02:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 21st, 2011 05:40 pm (UTC)
You know how mad, or confused, or just left pondering the lack of african americans in walking dead has left you. I felt the same way when they plugged african americans in for totally no reason at all to other things (the black norse god in thor movie, the black greek god in percy jackson movie). Difference is, until I typed this, I never bothered with it and mostly just decided vote with my dollars and time and not watch them. But while we're whining, I figured id share something no one should really care about like you did. A lot of people bitched about the black norse god in thor though, and they were all called racists, and the arguement against them was "its silly fictional movie, who cares".. so is walking dead. Let it go, the show barely makes any sense. maybe all the black people got smart and formed their own safe city "new africa" and it hasn't been discovered by the mostly unlikeable one dimensional cast members. Show can't do white people very good, be thankful they aren't trying african americans. Need a zombie fix, try dawn of the dead (70s version) or the will smith I am legend.
Dec. 19th, 2012 06:08 pm (UTC)
People like this really tire me out, because they seem to oblivious to their own tunnel vision. Why does anyone think that Black movie-going audiences had anything to do with the casting decisions of "any" Hollywood movie? Okay, so Anonymous didn't like the casting of Idris Elba in a film based not based on actually Norse mythology, but a comic book character. Far enough, but what does that have to do with this discussion? Sounds like someone looking for any excuse to vent about Blacks invading their European entertainment. As far as I know there are no Blacks on the production of Thor, or on The Walking Dead. Any Black concern certainly didn't make any difference to Peter Jackson in the casting of the Hobbit (even when it came to incidental background characters). Why would it make any difference to any other film or television personnel (Girls I'm looking at you).

Thing is, one of the constant rebuttals I see online whenever Blacks bring up the discussion of little to no Black or Poc presence in American film is that these stories take place in areas where in reality there are few PoC and that justifies it. Now we get a series set in a major center for Blacks, and the show looks like it was written from the perspective of some alternate reality. If this situation were reversed, I can easily see people like "anonymous" raising quite a bit of a fuss about supposed "realism" and catering to whiny cultural groups.
Dec. 22nd, 2011 05:50 pm (UTC)
A lot of interesting food for thought in this article. I was unaware of the population percentages in Atlanta, but that is pretty bad.

T-Dog (really? why did they name him T-Dog?) is easily the most worthless character on the show. This is doubly unforgivable because he has no comic book version. Whereas with other characters the writers could have scrimped on characterization under the idea that "fans of the comic will know them" or "people will be able to look them up", characters such as Daryl and *shudder* T-Dog need extra screen time as they are entirely blank slates. I had felt that this went more into the writers' great difficulty with characterization in general, but at this point T-Dog is the only one who has had essentially NOTHING happen with his character. Every other character has been given at least some sort of arc. They have not all been good, but at least they have been given that time.

I am not sure if I agree with the problems with Glenn. This could be at least in part me having a soft spot for the comic version, and it could be because I feel like they have started to address on the show the fact that he is their gofer and that he is starting to feel taken advantage of. He seems much more fleshed out to me. Outside of Hershal's problems with him I do not really see where they would address specific race issues with him. Maybe that is because I do not see him being small and quick as being a racist characterization. Yeah, he is not a lumbering hulk going into every fight, but does his character need to break every stereotype we associate with people? Am I missing something here (admittedly white writer on this end)? He feels like a fully realized character with feelings, desires, and motivations to me.

This boarders on another topic that I can only hope the writers are dancing around because it is such a cornerstone of zombie movies since "Night of the Living Dead": the idea that when the world starts breaking down, you would hope that all those biases and issues would suddenly seem trivial and everyone can get past them. And for a time it might even seem that way. But underneath, those problems are still there, and they are even worse than ever because the stakes are that much higher. Maybe T-Dog's rant was meant to be a breadcrumb, just there to let us know that this is going on (although in a most unsubtle way) so that when it does come to a head, it does not seem like it was totally out of nowhere. Really wishful thinking, I know, but one can hope (although I feel like I have been waiting for the writing to get good for nearly the entire show).

Two other small areas where I diverge from your viewpoint. One is that you point out how Dale goes back for Andrea and is willing to leave the black woman behind without any attempt to convince her. Is it wrong for me to point out that there was a fourth person in that room, a white male, who nobody else tried to save? Would that be the show saying there's no room for science in this new world? Or that they were just killing off a useless character they had written in for a 2-parter? I am not accusing you of racism for ignoring his presence, but I feel that it bears mentioning. To me it felt to me like Dale went back for Andrea. It would not have mattered much who the other person from the group was (it could have been Shane, or Glenn, or Daryl, etc.), it had more to do with Dale's feelings for Andrea than it did him trying to save the white girl over the black. Again, this could be partially due to biases from me having read the comic.

I am also curious about your belief that Daryl is racist. His brother was beyond any shadow of a doubt, and I feel like the show set it up so the viewer would assume he was as well, although he has done nothing that I can recall that was racist. Sure he's a redneck, and we could assume that he used to be racist and got past it, but there is really nothing to show that he was ever that way before the zombies popped up.

Interesting thoughts though which do seem to reinforce a thought I have held all along: the show's writing is really flawed.
Dec. 23rd, 2011 04:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Interesting
Some good points, Anon. I think Glen's character is more fleshed out than the other minority characters, but for me it's more troubling when examining all the other minority characters. Why is Glen the gofer? Why was he sacrificed and put into the well for such a ridiculous reason? Those things become more obvious when you couple them with the other minority character problems.

"Maybe T-Dog's rant was meant to be a breadcrumb, just there to let us know that this is going on (although in a most unsubtle way) so that when it does come to a head, it does not seem like it was totally out of nowhere."

I wish this were the case too, but the writing until this point hasn't given us anything to support it. If in his complaint, T-Dog had mentioned past problems, like the one with Jacqui and Dale doing something other than shutting him down and attributing it to the rantings of a sick/delusional man, I could agree. But as it stands, it doesn't seem this is the case.

If I remember correctly, the fourth man in the CDC room was not a member of their group and had actively tried to kill them by refusing to let them out. Thus he was not someone they wanted to save. This makes not saving Jacqui all the worse because they didn't value her any more than they did the potential murderer. Even if this is not the case, it is completely unimaginable for me to leave anyone behind, or worse, save one person and not any others. To save only Andrea, no matter the reason, you're telling your audience that she was worth saving. Everyone else in the room wasn't.

Daryl is not racist to the extent that his brother is, but he seems to hold and express these ideas (his language in the beginning of the show, for example). Perhaps Daryl is supposed to be conflicted, or fighting this ideology. Unfortunately for the show it didn't do its work to address this, fleshing out the character more. It took the easy way out: one day the dude woke up to a zombie apocalypse and suddenly wasn't racist anymore. It all makes sense.

I agree that the overall writing is flawed.
Re: Interesting - (Anonymous) - Jan. 28th, 2012 08:30 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 23rd, 2011 03:35 pm (UTC)
well said
missed opportunity is exactly what this is. failure of imagination. it doesn't take malice to write a story that fails, it just takes a lack of follow-through and the persistence of flawed assumptions-- like the notion that in ATL people of color would be in the minority. I'm reminded that Ursula LeGuin always eschewed assumptions like this in her writing, to the incidental benefit of her already excellent genre fiction.
Danny O'Dare
Jan. 8th, 2012 12:20 pm (UTC)
Very interesting post, I shall study it carefully!


Jan. 8th, 2012 02:33 pm (UTC)
Zombie fiction in general seems to attract a largely white and right wing audience. For all of the characters of various races and backgrounds, the fan base is pretty solidly right wing. I first noticed this by tracking comments on different zombie discussion groups. Sometimes the racism of the fans is subtle, but other times it's unveiled and quite overt.
Jan. 28th, 2012 11:55 am (UTC)
but what else were they going to do?
a very interesting article and one that I find I can't disagree with - except perhaps a minor quibble here and there.

As I went through your point-by-point, I couldn't help thinking about possible solutions. Interestingly, I didn't find any.

Consider the show if it had paid more attention to the black majority presence in Atlanta: several scenarios present themselves -

survivors mostly black constantly blowing the heads off of mostly black zombies. probably accurate - but not a prime time concept (and likely to be viewed as 'the way things are in the urban ghetto')

a mostly white mix of survivors constantly blowing the heads off of mostly black zombies: plays for the audience, but talk about accusations of racism...

an 'accurate' mix of survivors, portrayed in realistic, consciously non-stereotyped, with mostly minority leaders (given the current population that would be drawn from this is likely) going up against an accurately proportional mix of zombies: wouldn't be accepted by a mainstream audience.

I'm not sugesting that this show has to be inherently racist/insensitive to suceed, nor am I saying that a good portrayal would necessarily fail in the market place. However, I think the audience needs to change at least as much as the show before we'll see the kind of show you're advocating.
Tina Jens
Jan. 28th, 2012 07:53 pm (UTC)
Excellent & Thought-Provoking
Thanks so much for writing this. It seems like whenever someone writes or talks about racism, there's always a flurry of people who response that only a racist would think that there's racism in our society or mass media. I worry that knee-jerk response has a (perhaps intentionally) chilling effect on people who would otherwise write about or discuss the issue.

But racism in real life and in our entertainment is a real and important issue, and it's not going to get better if we don't talk about it and offer constructive criticism to improve it. Your point-by-point essay is excellent constructive criticism.

I particularly liked your encouragement to creators to try to address these things, even if they do it badly or fail, because only by trying, failing, then doing it better next time, will it improve. Without attempts and failure, there can be no success. Writers and artists know this in a big picture sense - they (we) all have stories or novels that failed as they were learning their craft. But they need to embrace it at the content level as well, writing about issues and characters that are perhaps out of their natural comfort zone.

The best use of monsters in storytelling is to explore social issues. Too many genre works - film and television, particularly - duck that part of the equation and just go for a cheap plot that gives lots of opportunities to indulge in visceral gore. If it really is true that the prime demographic for zombie stories is conservative, white, males, then a thoughtful creator would seize on this opportunity to explore issues of race and gender in between the head-shots and zombie brains exploding. Good art is *both* entertaining and thought-provoking. Genre fiction has often been at the fore-front of addressing social issues. It's disappointing when such a high-profile work as this show fails so badly to do so.

I'm going to share your essay with my Fantasy Writing Workshop class at Columbia College - Chicago. I can't wait to hear their discussion on it. - Tina Jens (I'll sign this in case the system logs me in under Anonymous)
Jan. 29th, 2012 05:57 pm (UTC)
Re: Excellent & Thought-Provoking
Thanks for your reply, Tina. Please keep me informed about the discussion in your class. I'd love to hear what they think.
Re: Excellent & Thought-Provoking - Tina Jens - Jan. 30th, 2012 05:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 3rd, 2012 04:48 am (UTC)
Great analysis.

I really, really loved the very beginning of the show with Rick waking up in the middle of a hospital with NO CLUE what was going on. Darabont was fantastic at setting up the tension, and part of that included Morgan and Duane Jones, the first living humans Rick finds after his world's turned upside down, and easily the 2 most interesting characters in the series. Their zombified wife/mother roaming the neighborhood and showing up at their door was the most heartbreaking and horrifying moment for me - it's too bad that happened within the first episode or two of the series debut.

You point out a ton of issues with this show's depiction of race. I think it's part of the writers' unfortunate disconnect with reality. In addition to the racism, the characters just don't act like real people - or if they do, they're among the most despicable ones I've ever seen. The only member of the main cast I could really stand was Glen.
Damian Starks
Apr. 4th, 2012 05:34 am (UTC)
Good Stuff
Marry me.
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