…I just finished watching it – took me all of three days basically.
I want to start by saying that, despite the things I am about to say here, I really do like the show: my heart has been broken more times by this than any other TV show I know, and I really care about the characters, even the ones I didn’t think I cared about I ended up caring about after they died. It’s truly a credit to the writing that I ended up having feelings about certain people. You know who I mean.
However, something about it bothers me, extremely much so. Not so much that I’ll stop watching (again, I stress, I care about these characters and want to see them survive) but enough to make a blog post about it and structure a final paper on it.
Granted this comes out of an East Coast liberal college education, so if you know what that entails and you have automatically disengaged from this because of that then feel free to stop reading: everything I’m about to say is nothing you haven’t heard before, whether it be about video games, movies, or other TV shows and you disagree with it being a problem. I won’t sway you, nor am I trying to. I’m merely stating the things that I see that bother me, personally, in the writing of this (otherwise great) show.
My biggest complaint, that I’m sure other people tackle better than I am about to (I haven’t searched yet) is the role of women in the show. They are all passive characters, except for Michonne (and that’s another issue altogether). You may argue that Andrea isn’t passive, but she she only becomes active when she is uplifted by Shane – taught how to shoot (something, culturally speaking, has always been associated with “manliness”). Lori is second to first Shane, then Rick – always deferring to them and offering moral and emotional support. Maggie and Beth are both daughters first, and people second.
Maggie doesn’t begin to gain any individuality until she starts up her romance with Glenn (and his transformation is something else problematic).
Carol works as someone who is more in the background (and Beth) – she has growth and begins to take action after the death of her abusive husband. Of course this is also only after she is removed from being a mother – something that defined her (and is part of what makes women women to some people – it can be seen as Carol being stripped of the title “woman.”
The women do laundry. The men hunt. The women cook. The men fight. The women sing. The men command.
It is not to say that the situation is horrible, but given my minuscule knowledge of media and cultural studies, the fact that these things are obvious to me means that to other people these pose much larger problems.
You may not see the problem. Or think it’s a problem. That’s ok, I don’t blame you – we are taught that gender norms exist, that women are inherently [x] while men are inherently [y] and that when it comes down to it, we are inherently different creatures that will react and act differently when it comes down to it. I can’t say for sure whether that notion is true or false because we are all brought up to believe we, as genders, must be different.
Michonne is a fantastic character – the actress does a lot with her mostly silent performance. I can’t deny that she kicks ass or anything like that, but it would be nice to see a black woman fulfill a role that is not, essentially, a warrior woman. I realize Michonne is black in the comic. And I’m not saying this is necessarily wrong or anything, just that non-white women are allowed specific role in predominantly white media. Black women get to be action girls, or wisdom givers, or sassy best friend. While the performances may be nuanced, the characters often aren’t. I am happy that Sasha seems to be coming on full time to the group, and will be able to act as a contrast to Michonne (who can be said to be an angry black woman).
Glenn was one of my favorite characters, until Daryl got to be so Daryl. I still like Glenn, but his character arc seems to imply something about “manliness” – he was a scout, and a bit of a smartass. He was a little nerdlinger. I thought he was adorable. And the everyman. He was the primary target audience for the show. But he is not allowed to stay the same. He must have sex with a woman. He must kill. He must become proficient with guns. The arc doesn’t bother me so much as the message it conveys: in order to be a man, these things must happen. It wasn’t until these things happened that the group began to take him more seriously (they had, of course, listened to his suggestions before, only when he was the one doing the runs.) Beyond that, it wasn’t until these things happened that he was able to stand up for himself.
Finally, I am completely surprised that all the relationships, every single one of them, have been hetero. Now, I’m not down on heterosexuality: I’m straight. But not one single romantic or sexual interaction has been non-hetero. It’s not that there shouldn’t be heterosexual sex, but I feel like there could be some acknowledgment that “Hey… I wonder why absolutely no one is gay here.”
Again, I insist I like the show. The writing tends to be compelling, and when it’s not the actors totally make up for it. I am very attached to these characters, and really root for their survival. But these are areas where the writers seem to fall: I want a little more nuance. A little more diversity – not just in ethnicity but in gender types and sexuality. I’d love to see them tackle to idea of differently-abled people surviving, not just the old, but what about the blind, or the deaf etc…
There is a vast well of things the writers can do here. I hope they break out of their box of “gender norms” and “heteronormativity”. I have every hope that the non-white characters will develop over time – that’s the way all the characters have developed – but the world is a little too “clean”: if they keep it that way, the writing will go downhill and the characters will devolve.
But, you know, IMO.