Monday, October 13, 2014
The Walking Dead--No Sanctuary--Episode One
Photos: from The Walking Dead's website via AMC.
The obliteration of peoples in the future might go something like this.
Actually, no. Let me re-phrase. This institutional evil has already happened in real history.
When Gareth strolls in with his clipboard and demands an account of bullets fired at Rick's group, he immediately stops the action--which, in this case, was some guy about to slaughter Glen with a hefty-looking aluminum bat, and then cut his throat over a trough.
He asks for the number of bullets fired at Rick's group. He's got a clipboard and a checklist. With more time and fewer commercial breaks, might he have asked about the weapons taken from them, or other valuable items? I think so. Three swords? Check. Six guns? Check. No where's that bag?
In World War II Germany, "valuable items" would be defined as paintings, gold (including gold teeth, or haven't you seen the same documentaries I have?), silver, china, art. Any metal to be melted down to use as bullets, tanks, etc. for the German war effort. In a Zombie Apocalypse, "valuable items" would be defined as weapons and bullets.
Did a Jew at Auschwitz live a few seconds longer as a soldier answered a superior's similar question? Did this soldier keep the gun pressed against a prisoner's head as he said, "Five gold teeth and two works of art taken from this prisoner, sir," in German, to his superior officer, who was standing over him at the time with clipboard and pencil in hand?
Yes. Yes, I believe that could have happened.
But real life isn't TV. So then the gun would've fired.
Systematically. Impersonally. Just taking inventory.
Institutional evil. I wish I could take credit for that phrase, but I heard it on Talking Dead later. Probably it's been a phrase widely used, at least since World War II.
I write this because some have already remarked that the people in Sanctuary got more than they deserved. That Sanctuary Mary (Denise Crosby, from Pet Sematary and other 80s movies, if you're as old as I am) didn't deserve what she got. This was, in fact, a poll question during Talking Dead.
So this blog entry is written to those 25% to 30% of the viewers who texted in with a "Yes, the Sanctuary People got more than they deserved. After all, they were a group like Rick's, and they got raped and beaten and killed. They were just trying to stay alive. You're either the butcher or you're the cattle, right?"
Because this is exactly what the Germans thought at the end of World War I. They'd been bombed and obliterated. Berliners were starving. Diseased. Dying. And a few of them were really pissed off. They were just trying to stay alive. They were tired of being the cattle. Better to be butchers.
And then a butcher walked in the door. A failed artist who became a butcher, to be more precise.
Gareth and Sanctuary Mary hadn't always been such cold evil automatons. Maybe she'd been a cook or a cafeteria worker before. Someone who made food out of other things. Maybe she saw Texas Chainsaw Massacre too often. Gareth, opined Conan O'Brien, had maybe worked in a Starbucks and had been a little overzealous giving away Starbucks cups and screwing up the inventory.
Conan's Starbucks reference got a ton of laughs, but he may have been more right than he realized.
Comedy often springs from dreadful things.
Bad people often aren't born that way. They become that way.
Or, they allow themselves to become that way.
And to defend their behavior--perhaps even to themselves--they allow themselves to believe certain self-serving clichés.
You're either the butcher or you're the cattle.
Or, more recently: You're either with us or you're against us.
Tragedy effects people in different ways.
"Whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger," said another famous German, Friedrich Nietzsche. But he didn't mean to slaughter because you've been slaughtered. To kill because you've been killed.
He meant more of what Glen said, when he told Rick they had to save whoever was in that metal container because that's who we are. He meant because they're stronger inside--humanely. Because that's what separates Rick's group from Gareth's: humanity. The ubermensch. The Super Man.
What happened to the original Sanctuary Mary and her group, the raping, the beating, the psychological torture, the starving--those are all, of course, terrible and tragic things, such as what the average German saw during and after World War I.
But that doesn't mean that they can "turn" like they did, into a zombie of a different sort, a living, zombified person who becomes so institutionalized, so regimented, so checklist / inventory focused that they aren't human anymore because they've forgotten what being human is.
Like another group in real history, Gareth's group sat down and had a meeting and decided upon the machinations of their own version of The Final Solution. This time it involved harvesting body parts and weapons rather than money, artwork and other saleable or war-usable items.
This time, instead of Jews, Gypsies and other "social undesirables," it was everybody.
But was it really any different?
Nietzsche, that famous German philosopher, had another popular aphorism: Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Gareth's group never learned that.
Apparently, neither did 25% to 30% of the Talking Dead's poll-answering viewers.
P.S.--This is exactly why we should read. You can learn a lot from reading. Novels, graphic novels--anything. You can learn a lot from artwork. You really can. The Walking Dead translates so well to the screen because it's important ideas were already laid out so well in its graphic novels.