Dead Reckoning

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I was perusing the pages of Variety today whilst sitting at Spago sipping on my half-caf skinny mocha fair trade latte, and came across this interesting tidbit on the surprising level of success enjoyed by, of all shows, that zombie chompfest The Walking Dead:

Just in case anyone doubted “The Walking Dead” could continue the ratings surge its fourth season experienced last year, the staggering numbersAMC posted Sunday night should put any skepticism to rest. If beating everything in broadcast and cable in the 18-49 demographic was starting to seem anticlimactic at this point, the drama series managed to top the Olympics, too.

Because the word “hit” has been overused to the point of utter meaninglessness in the TV industry, it’s easy to overlook that we are witnessing an honest-to-god phenomenon in our midst. But make no mistake: “Walking” has a freakishly huge audience. Which begs a simple question: why?

Not too shabby for a TV series based on some graphic novels.  I guess Alice Cooper was pretty prescient when he crooned about cadaver eyes back in the day.

But aside from being a triumph of geek culture, what else can we learn about the popularity of a show that–well, let’s face it, works from the same basic template George Romero deployed way back when the Summer of Love was still fresh in everyone’s minds.  The article takes a few good stabs at explaining why, mainly focusing on the quality of the stories and their unconventionality, all of which is true;  but it misses, I think, the essential appeal of horror–which functions much as a safety valve, allowing we humans to blow off steam and deal with our fears vicariously.

That’s not to say that America has gotten a sudden dread of being munched upon by the  undead, but the last few years have seen a lot of uncertainty.  Job losses, stagnant wages, the rise of Honey Boo Boo–all of these things have taken a toll on the American psyche, and led to a general feeling of a country in decline.  In times like these, horror has fertile ground in which to plant its seeds.  The  apocalyptic world of The Walking Dead is merely a manifestation of that.  An extreme, bat-guano crazy version of it, to be sure, but a valid one nonetheless.

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