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AMC's (Tunnel) Vision of Gender Post Civilization

by Ethan Tussey

by Adryan Glasgow for IN MEDIA RES

According to the back cover copy on Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead graphic novel, “The world of commerce and frivolous necessity has been replaced by a world of survival and responsibility.” This zombie narrative is about the competition among possible masculinities in a state of nature. The apocalypse is a playground for (blue-collar, white) men’s fantasies of masculinity in it's most authentic form (read "survival" + "responsibility"), in this case that of Rick, although other male characters such as Shane and Glenn provide some nuance. The AMC adaptation emphasizes this focus in the fact that characters are summarily dispatched as soon as the gender performance they demonstrate is proven undesirable (consider Merle’s racism, Jim’s sensitivity, Ed’s abuse of power and even Amy’s non-violent utility). The problem with state of nature arguments is that they invariably stress the need of the weak to be protected by, and submissive to, the powerful. Worse, by literally killing off other possiblities, they naturalize existing power relations.

The first season of The Walking Dead made some serious missteps when it came to its portrayal of women. The second season seemed determined to earn an Emmy in misogyny. Yet, as a fan of both TWD and AMC’s gender nostalgia romp Mad Men, I find myself, like some others, hoping that depicting misogyny can itself be a critique of misogyny.

Unfortunately, I find Amy and Andrea’s conversation in the fishing boat (S1E4) to be quite telling of the series’ sexual politics. This scene stands out as a genuine moment of female character development and identification (despite failing to pass the Bechdel test) and, viewed in isolation, would have been as fitting on Lifetime as in AMC’s zombie series. What this scene underscores is not misogyny, but rather the inability of the writers to imagine women in a post-apocalyptic world. The unfortunate implication is that women have nothing to gain in an apocalypse fantasy. That Amy and Andrea’s dialog would be identical had their father passed peacefully in his retirement home tells us that, in the view of this series, there are no modern institutions constraining women. Women, unlike men, already exist in an authentic state of nature. Even being oppresses itself is a male privilege.

The Walking Dead clip

Clip from The Walking Dead, illustrating gender issues

from The Walking Dead (2010)
Creator: AMC
Distributor: AMC
Posted by Ethan Tussey