The Walking Dead, Torture Porn, and Escapism

Back in October I was convinced to give the TV series The Walking Dead another shot. I originally watched though season 3, I think. Then I gave up on it, because excessive gore and sadistic torture porn simply aren’t my thing.

Now listen, before I get into this, I’m not saying it’s a bad show. If you love it, as many do, more power to you. There are things that I feel are both objectively and subjectively good about it. It’s just not to my tastes. The fact that I don’t like blood and guts is almost incidental. There was too much emphasis on how willfully cruel human beings can be to one another. Real life provides me with enough of that, thank you very much.

Walking Dead, Torture Porn, and Escapism

A few people whose opinions I trust told me that once you get past the torture porn of Negan’s violence and sadism early in season 7, there is some amazing worldbuilding going from there forward. So I started there. I was hooked by the way various communities had formed. The ingenuity and problem solving that the characters displayed was brilliant.¬†How they were forming an alliance and seeking ways to move forward together gave the show a more hopeful tone, in spite of the brutality of the villains. Once said bad guys were defeated, I was enjoying the tales of the more mundane struggles of survival and rebuilding society.

Then, of course, in the penultimate episode of The Walking Dead season 9 we’re back to torture porn. Ten characters, several of whom they’d spent just the season getting us emotionally invested in, are killed off-screen. And it’s done in the most dehumanizing, agency-robbing, cheap-shock-value manner possible. Screw you guys. I’m out.

Fantasy as Anti-Horror

My current obsession with Christmas-themed romantic comedies is the other side of this coin. Why I enjoyed about those seasons of The Walking Dead were the aggressively likeable characters doing good things and being rewarded for their kindness. Even when things didn’t work out for them, the massage was that being kind is the right things to do.

It’s got me thinking about the potential for the fantasy genre to be more than heroic horror. What is the solution to every problem wasn’t violence? What if communication, cooperation, and kindness were a more powerful force than the darkest magic? Why can’t there be more investigation, acts of creativity by the characters, and positive social interaction? This has given me a lot to think about, and is definitely going to influence my creative output in 2021.

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