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Miss Conduct Watches: "The Walking Dead"

Posted by Robin Abrahams  March 14, 2013 02:35 PM

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I've wondered for a while what people who don't watch the show make of us "Walking Dead" fans. Fans of "Downton Abbey" or "Mad Men" quote their favorite characters, revel in the period costumes, deconstruct the social nuances. Fans of "Walking Dead," on the other hand--we don't seem to do anything but bitch about the show like it's family. There's not enough action. The dialogue is stilted. Andrea is the worst. Ghost Lori, really? The Governor is miscast. Andrea is the worst. Merle is annoying. Tyreese is underused. That's not how the morning-after pill works. Stupid show. Andrea? The worst.

You'd be forgiven for wondering why we bother with it, is what I'm saying. "Walking Dead" fandom is more like an irritable addiction. You can't help but take one more hit even though it never quite gives you the feeling you're after. 

Recent research by Sarah Lauro (@zombiescholar on Twitter) has gotten some press. Lauro proposes that interest in zombies surges when people feel frustrated and disempowered, unhappy with where society is heading. Makes sense to me. Horror is usually a metaphor of some kind. We sit by the hearth casting dark looming shadow monsters on the walls, shadow monsters of the things that truly scare us. 

The shadow monsters of "Walking Dead" are the ones that haunt family people. The middle-aged, the middle-class, the squeezed. The sandwich generation responsible for their parents and their children, for assisted-living payments and tuition, for entertainment and guidance. And for the decisions. We're all afraid of medical technology that can extend mere physical survival long past life. And we're afraid of not doing all we can, of being heartless and calculating, of making, horribly, the wrong choice. 

In the world of the "Walking Dead," end-of-life choices are never wrong, only horrible. Mom dies. You shoot her before she wakes up and eats your face. Taking what is brutal and traumatic and complicated in real life and making it brutal and traumatic and simple--that is the art of horror. 

On the other side, "Walking Dead" presses, relentlessly, on the existential horror of raising children in an evil world. The show's adults have reconciled their own morality to that of a zombie-infested wasteland--some becoming worse in the bargain and a few, like Daryl, finding a chance to redeem themselves. But Carl? If he survives to adulthood, what kind of person will he become? Most readers of this blog don't need to keep their preteens armed at all times for their own protection. But any parent who has wished their kid could just ride around, heedless and helmetless as they did in their own youth, or looked at employment and tuition statistics and wondered how their kid would make it, or had to explain an unpleasant reality too soon, has felt the shadows that "Walking Dead" throws on the wall.

Maybe this is why "Walking Dead" fans don't swoon like "Mad Men" fans. Why we bitch about the show like it was family, but can't turn away from those flickering shades.
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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