Spoilers Ahead: America as "The Walking Dead"
by Chris Churchill
SPOILERS FOR THE WALKING DEAD AND THE UNITED STATES!! ONLY READ FURTHER IF YOU ARE CAUGHT UP ON BOTH AND YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT!!
Good old, poor old, heroic old Rick Grimes, huh? What a guy. A man of integrity and honor. A man who understands that humanity is important in a human. Boy, he really gets it. He’s our guy. For those who don’t watch AMC’s biggest current hit, “The Walking Dead” I’m referencing the hero of the show, the former sheriff, Rick Grimes, current leader of group of post-apocalyptic survivors in that show. I love that show. I’m one of the few who nearly never criticizes its acting, writing, and story arc, even though I probably should.
I don’t criticize because it’s not real life and it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be as stupid as the premise that some vaguely scientifically-defined plague will make most of humanity a wandering hoard of magically evil, flesh-eating monsters. Yes. I believe my favorite show’s premise is stupid, yet I hope against hope that one day it will come true, because let’s face it, I don’t know most of you people, and they make it look fun on television.
We had thought that the mission of America was very much like the mission of our protagonist, Rick Grimes. We thought he was the real hero. We thought there was no other way but his. It was Rick Grimes’ way or a bullet to the head.
WE thought WE were the real heroes right up to the 2016 election. Then a bizarre parallel developed between America’s political divide and the collision between the hero, Rick Grimes and his crew with the new villain, “Negan” and his crew.
Now, I’ll just come out and say it. I voted for Hillary. I was as shocked and devastated at the utter (electoral college) annihilation of my candidate and all the hopes and dreams that we had attached to her campaign as anyone on her side was. But, like in the eventual collision between Rick and Negan, I should have seen this coming.
I mean, the way Negan’s guys were kind of everywhere. That should have tipped us off. Roadblocks and booby traps were becoming all too common.
Tea Partiers, like Negan’s “saviors”, had been whistling in the woods for years now. But we weren’t really sure how strong Negan was until the night he smashed Hillary and Tim, or maybe “our bravado and our heart” (i.e. Abraham and Glenn) over their heads with that barbed-wire baseball bat. Then there we were left, sweating, crying, bleeding, in complete shock, relegated to working for the “bad guys” and wondering, “what the hell just happened?”
My wife pointed something out the night that Negan took out a couple favorite characters on that show. Rick Grimes could be seen as just as bad as Negan depending on from which side one views the events leading up to the massacre. Maybe Hillary using the term “basket of deplorables” was the same as Rick killing a bunch of Negan’s guys at an outpost while they slept. Maybe Rick and Hillary assumed the “others” were expendable.
Here’s why the Democrats are Rick’s people and Trump’s Republicans are Negan’s people. They both were going around killing people under the guise of protecting their own way of life; their own worldview. Rick’s group did their survival thing by earnestly claiming moral superiority to the groups they had defeated up until that time and assuming that same moral superiority when asked by a virtual stranger from another group (the character of “Jesus” from the “Hillside” community, for you Walking Dead fans still following along) suggested that “these other people are bad and you should kill them.” In reality, that’s not a good enough reason to kill a bunch of people. It seems like you’d, kind of, investigate a little before doing something that drastic. Maybe Hillary and her crew should have investigated a little before using the “deplorables” line. (Or whatever else people want to attach to Hillary, true or not, that made them hate her.)
Negan, on the other hand, had a whole thriving community going on his side too. The problem was not whether or not he was helping the people in his community but the way he was doing it. That coupled with his own personal moral indiscretions with women.
For those who don’t follow Walking Dead, Negan rules with violence and chaos. He also keeps a stable of young ladies around for amusement. I’ve heard evangelical Christians say that they don’t care what Trump does in his personal life, so long as he is fulfilling their agenda. Negan uses violence in the way that Republicans use the “free market”. Let the system shake itself out. If you aren’t strong, you’ll be weeded out. No favors, no entitlements, no helping the weak. Just do your part and no one gets hurt.
Negan also let’s his underlings hash things out between them. You have to let them fight it out and then back the winner…after he wins. (I swear I’ve seen Trump do that.) Of course, Negan’s brand of “firing” someone is a little different.
So, it seemed for a while that Negan won. He certainly shut down any meaningful opposition for a while. As on the Hillary side of America, it was a bleak time on the Walking Dead for a while.
But here’s why I obsess on pop culture as metaphor for America:
Art doesn’t just imitate life, it sometimes predicts it.
So right now, America is dealing with the fact that maybe one side wasn’t as righteous as it was pious while the other side might be finally admitting that their guy isn’t really a “savior” after all. But I saw the season finalé. I’ve also read enough about what happens in the comics to know what’s going to happen.
SERIOUSLY SPOILERS AHEAD FOR BOTH THE SHOW AND THE COUNTRY:
See, Negan, eventually does get caught. Not for colluding with any nearby community. Simply for having an inhumane ruling style. He’s not killed. He doesn’t even remain a villain forever.
I watched the season finalé in theatres recently. Negan is under arrest and is told he will be in a prison cell for the rest of his life, as an example of what not to do and a reminder of a bygone, failing way of life. That’s what a great number of people in America think about the current administration. But (and this is from the comic book, it hasn’t been in the show yet), as Negan lives out his days in the cell, he actually becomes a serious asset to Rick’s people in an upcoming war with an even more insidious and destructive threat.
In the future of this country as in the future of The Walking Dead television series, it seems that the only way that we will continue to survive is by both sides seeing some value in the other. By understanding the value of each other’s ways of life. By coming together to pool our strengths to defeat a common enemy. There’s always a common enemy.
The “walkers” (the undead creatures that serve as constant threat on “Walking Dead”) are a device used to heighten the stakes of what is basically a metaphor for the development of human civilization. They are the unknown forces that can kill us all. Somewhere along the way, they (the fear) stops being such a problem. The problem becomes the other survivors.
We’ve gotten to a place in human development where the metaphorical “walkers” are much less of a threat to us than ever in the history of mankind. The threat comes from the other humans. We know that all we have to do is learn how to walk together and there will be nothing to fear. Even if the dialogue is stupid sometimes.