Developing “The Walking Dead” as Shock Therapy

U.S. Army recruitment effort from 2001–2006 used the tag line "An Army of One"

I recently posted a short (400 words is the maximum allowed) piece about The Walking Dead at In Media Res. This I then developed a little bit more last weekend at the 9th Annual North Georgia Student Philosophy Conference.

Now, I’m developing the essay more, hopefully for inclusion in Dawn Keetley‘s collection, Dead Inside: The Walking Dead and the Problem of Meaning in the New Millennium, she’s advertizing at Caligari.

So far, in the slightly longer discussion (I had only 20 minutes to talk), I asked two questions:
1) as an art work, what work does the figure of the zombie do?, and
2) what happened to Atlanta that resonates so broadly with the rest of the United States?

In my talk I briefly touched on Walter Benjamin’s reading of Freud in his essay “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire.” In that essay, Benjamin proposes that we who live in Modernity have to constantly face an onslaught of information over-stimulation, which he describes as shocks. According to Benjamin, these shocks threaten the individual’s subconscious and so the individual’s consciousness shields against these shocks.

What I am proposing is that TWD is a regularly-scheduled shock treatment that people are electing to undergo. While these treatments are presented under the guise of entertainment, there is a therapeutic potential within not only TWD but the zombie and slasher genre at large (this is Larry Rickels‘ position).

Romero’s Night of the Living Dead came into the world just as the Civil Rights movement became militant, only months after the assassination of MLK, Jr.—from Atlanta, by the way. It’s difficult not to read the murder of Ben, the hero of Night of the Living Dead—the first African American hero in a horror film—who is dragged-out on meat hooks, as anything other than a premediation (to use Richard Grusin’s term) of an integrated U.S. society. But racial integration and the War on Poverty aren’t the looming social threats in the U.S. psyche today.

Today the threats impinging on our collective psyches are from the logic of Preemptive Strike (I refer you to Brian Massumi’s excellent essay in Theory & Event). Or the resultant terror accompanying the world’s shift away from the Cold War threat of macro, State-level, suicide (Mutually-Assured Destruction) to the micro: the suicide bomber and the improvised explosive devise, the gunmen shooting students, the Army of One.


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