This Ish Just Isn’t Fun Anymore

“You’ll find more cheer in a graveyard.” – Gimli, The Two Towers

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The thing about porn is that at some point––unless you’re an addict––you have to stop and say, okay, I’m done with this nonsense.

Last night I reached that point with what has become for many people a Sunday night ritual of torture porn, The Walking Dead.

It took me about five seasons to become a regular viewer of this show, and now that habit, I think, is purged. I’ve never been a fan of zombies; unlike vampires or werewolves, they’re just not my monsters. My husband has been with it from the beginning, and though I didn’t like it because inevitably there’d be zombie nightmares involving our children each night I’d watch it, I used to enjoy his humorous recaps of each episode’s highlights. When I first asked him what the show was about, back in the first season, he told me it was a zombie show, yes, but it was also, like most good stories, about the Human Condition.

“It’s about these survivors’ attempts to maintain their humanity in the face of the end of it all around them. It’s a story about whether they will stay human or become zombies, yes, but also about whether they will retain their goodness in the face of other survivors’ becoming monsters.”

Hey, an exploration of humanity in the face of an inhuman threat––sounds like some good science fiction, doesn’t it? It didn’t take long to realize that the true threat of the zombie apocalypse isn’t zombies, who can be stabbed or shot in the head by a kid with enough practice. (And the implications of that detail, in and of themselves, are horrifying to contemplate.) The true threat, of course, is the people who turn on each other. The ones who care about nothing other than power in whatever corner of the world they have left. The ones who aren’t really any better than the bad actors we have in real life, and who aren’t even any worse, they just have more clout in their respective spheres of influence.

This could have been a show about rebuilding society in a way that improved over the calamity of the past. But then I guess it wouldn’t have been horror.

I think one of the problems I have with certain movies and television shows is the lack of creative problem-solving. I’m not learning much if anything from a lot of these stories. I liked The Matrix and even the sequel, but the third movie made the whole trilogy worse. I just felt hollow after watching the end of that cycle, as if the people who had conceived of this fantastic science fiction plot and these engaging characters who could literally bend reality couldn’t come up with anything better than resolving their dilemmas with guns. I liked Daredevil really well until the characters couldn’t get along and everything was just ultra-violence: the first season was compelling; the second one, at times confusing and insensible. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was great for a while, but now it takes longer and longer for a season to get good while half the characters––the ones who get the most plot time––stagnate in a soup of poor choices. The Jason Bourne movies––which have devolved into a cast with only a couple of women (both of whom are caricatures), long masturbatory car chases, and a brooding spy who never answers the question of will he or won’t he––haven’t been good for a while now.

And the violence––good grief, the violence. Probably by now you’ve read a bunch of the commentary on why people are leaving The Walking Dead in droves after last night’s last straw. There was no real character development; no one did anything that wasn’t predictable. And Negan? Seriously? What the fuck is that guy? He delivered on the promise of the last season’s finale, but worse. I suppose, in retrospect, we couldn’t have expected that he wasn’t going to be this way. The episode last night was just a confirmation of our worst, stomach-turning dread, executed in the most unnecessarily assaultive ways. I’m not sure things could have been worse if Lucille had gone after Maggie in her stomach and then her face. I’m really tired of the cheap shock, of the tug on my heartstrings that doesn’t have any heart in it. If a story wants to upset me, it doesn’t have to attempt to be the most brutal, most bloody, most creatively grotesque gore we’ve seen yet. Believe me, I don’t find that stuff creative. Tedious? Yes, sometimes. Insulting? All too often. It’s like they don’t even care that human beings, people with thoughts and feelings and relationships, are in the audience watching.

Dictionary.com defines porn as “television shows, articles, photographs, etc., thought to cater to an irresistible desire for or interest in something.” Yes, we all know it first means this in a sexual context. But we now have food porn, disaster porn, and torture porn (among others, no doubt). I love food but don’t really care about seeing everyone’s dinner on Facebook. I used to love my superheroes and their big-budget action films, but I’m tired of the stakes always being world-calamity-high. I don’t feel connected to those stories anymore, because they no longer feel like they’re about people, not really.

When I think about The Walking Dead––and I’ve thought about this for a while now––I don’t know how much longer the series can go on. At this point the zombies are hardly even a character anymore. The cycle of find a place, meet another group who are assholes, fight that group, find another place, meet another group who are bigger assholes, fight them in an uglier way, lather, rinse, repeat––I just can’t. I no longer care whether that world survives; I’m no longer sure it should. And the thing is, I don’t know what disturbs me more: the content of last night’s episode or the show’s enduring popularity.

Have you been paying attention to what’s going on in our culture right now? If so, then you are probably aware that real life is pretty badly screwed up in a lot of ways. It’s –isms as far as the eye can see. I’m not looking to escape into worse violence when I turn on the television. It doesn’t make me feel better about my own situation; it makes me feel worse about the human race. What’s happening on some of these shows we’ve been watching turns my stomach, but what bothers me more is that I’m not having the zombie nightmares anymore. Even after last night’s episode, which literally nauseated me––and by the way, blood does not make me squeamish––I didn’t have those dreams. This tells me I’m becoming desensitized to it, even if only a little. And that tells me it’s time to pull out while I can.

Game of Thrones, you’re officially on notice. You’ve still got Peter Dinklage and amazing costume design going for you, and I’m genuinely curious to see how a world full of matriarchies plays out, especially since only two of the leaders of the various regions or clans appear to be psychotic––a significant improvement over the life art purports to imitate.

But pull any more sensationally cruel and insulting stunts like the Red Wedding, Sansa’s wedding night with Theon and Bolton’s bastard, and Princess Shireen, and you and your lack of taste and storytelling prowess will probably lose me, too.

***

For another really interesting post about giving up on The Walking Dead, check this out.

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13 thoughts on “This Ish Just Isn’t Fun Anymore

    1. Interesting. I hadn’t heard that the next season would be the last. But then I guess that makes sense. I mean, they’re reaching the endgame, so there won’t be any story left according to the rules they set out at the start of it all.

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  1. I’m curious to hear a bit more about the problem with the show’s execution of the Red Wedding. Are you objecting to the Red Wedding in general, or the changes the show made by having Robb’s wife present at the Twins to be murdered?

    I’m not trying to set a trap for you, I’m just curious in hearing your take on it, since the surprise betrayal of Robb and Catelyn was one of those amazing events in the books that was completely unexpected, but also completely consistent for the story.

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    1. Sure, I’m happy to chat about this. 🙂 I should preface it by saying that I’ve seen all the episodes of the show but have not read the books, so my knowledge of the text comes from my husband’s near-play-by-play accounts while he was reading them. (That helped me decide not to read them.)

      My objection was in Robb’s wife’s presence, which I understand was not in the text at all. It felt to me unnecessary since, without Robb or Catelyn, she wasn’t likely to pose any real threat to anyone else wanting the Iron Throne, even if she’d cared about it. So strike one was putting her in there. Strike two was beginning the assault with her, on her womb, with multiple blades, when the audience has just experienced the recent joy of knowing she was with child. The surprise attack was the worst kind of surprise: upon the most vulnerable character in her most vulnerable state. It was so, so brutal and deeply insulting to the audience. It felt like she was in the scene only so she could be sacrificed in that way to wring the maximum anguish out of the viewer. I thought it was cheap and grotesque and mean-spirited, even more so than the rest of the content of the series.

      To be fair, the rest of that scene didn’t bother me nearly as much. Did I like it? Not at all. Did it shock me? No more than any other ordinary violence on that show. The only other surprises I had, honestly, were that Catelyn thought there was any chance threatening Walder’s own wife would make a single bit of difference to him, or that he would even notice her anguish that her first-born son would be targeted.

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      1. Thanks for the reply. I completely understand how you feel about Jeyne Westerling… I mean, Talisa being there (Robb had a completely different wife in the books), being pregnant, and killed. It seemed like emotional manipulation like you describe.

        I’m not going to try and defend that choice, but I always assumed that the addition of Talisa was there to substitute for what was going to be lost from the book. I’ve never read a more gripping chapter (okay, sorry for being hyperbolic) than Catelyn’s perspective as everything goes horrible. A lot of secondary characters die, we see them die and how they die, and by virtue of the book, we know them from Cat’s experiences and it is hard hitting.

        But all that being said, you are right to put the show on notice. You started the article about The Walking Dead, and my wife and I are behind on finishing the previous season, and the buzz from the premiere is not encouraging us to catch up.

        Thank you for giving me your feedback. I write a lot about Game of Thrones, and I am eager to hear about people’s opinions of the show, not only as an adaptation, but also as its own work of art.

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      2. I appreciate your starting the conversation with me!

        I am definitely planning to watch Game of Thrones as of now. It has, I think, gotten less wretched recently. As was noted earlier in this comment thread, the upcoming season will be the last, correct? It makes sense that it would be, since the question of who will take the Iron Throne is coming to a close finally. And I’m a former costume designer (and love that aspect of things) and a fantasy author (and love that aspect of things), so I’m predisposed to give it more leeway than The Walking Dead (I never liked zombies to begin with).

        I can imagine that chapter, written from Catelyn’s POV, must have been extraordinary.

        A lot of the problems I had with Sansa’s wedding night revolved around the scene feeling like it was there just to show Theon’s character development, which is a misogynistic and pointless thing to do to a female character, even above the level of what’s typical for that show. It just didn’t need to be shown. Nothing in that scene was unexpected for Ramsey’s character, and even if Sansa couldn’t have had a different outcome, putting it on view was distasteful at best and viciously sensational at worse. But better storytelling would have given Ramsey a chance to be different, would have given Sansa or even Theon a chance to control the situation somewhat. The audience could have assumed victimization; there was nothing creative in further demonstrating Ramsey’s nefariousness. And that pointless violence is what upset me.

        As for Princess Shireen, well. I don’t have a lot of words to express that ugliness. Melisandre and Stannis and his wife sunk to new lows.

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      3. It’s almost the last season… the showrunners apparently mapped out 13 episodes to get them to a reasonable wrapping up point. No one really knows how closely it’ll be with what GRRM wants to do in the books, but we kind of assume things will end the same, but George will get there in very different ways (with possibly different characters seeing the end.) But the 13 episodes are going to be spread out over 2 years, since they really can’t put out more than 10 episodes in a year, logistically, so they’re doing something like 7 and 6.

        You’ve pointed out extremely valid problems with Theon, Sansa, and Ramsay, which was a weird adaptation from the book. I don’t know if I wanted Ramsay to necessarily be different (I’m not trying to cherry pick from your list of suggestions, but it’s a complicated situation and it might take me some time to tackle some of my thoughts on it) oh, Ramsay, yeah. He’s pretty much awful and I think if the show tried to make him less awful than he is in the books, I might set fire to something. But you’re right about the victimization not needing to be shown. In the books, it’s not really, and it’s not Sansa, which is even more of an issue. I did know that once Littlefinger convinced Sansa to marry Ramsay to further his plans (because the Boltons needed the legitimacy) I knew exactly what was going to happen, even though none of this happened to Sansa in the books. It’s not a scene I feel a need to defend. I think I did write a lot of words on the topic, because you can’t write about the show and ignore the gray wedding.

        Shireen’s death really bummed me out. Stannis was a hard character to defend beforehand, but Ser Davos always could get me to consider Stannis as possibly ending up as an asset for the good guys (but not necessarily king.)

        Thank you so much for our discussion.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I appreciate your response. 🙂 And I know, all of this is a lot to parse out; it’s very complicated in some ways.

        Thanks for the information about the last episodes, too. Are you connected with the show in the industry at all?

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      5. I’m not connected to the show at all, other than someone who watches it (and writes essays about it.)

        But I read about the show’s production, and listen to more than one podcast about the show, so the breakdown of the number of remaining episodes has been a topic of industry reporting.

        (Along with HBO trying to convince the show runners to maybe go a few more seasons, or to get them to agree to helm a prequel series.)

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