‘Fear The Walking Dead’ Strikes Terror Inside Political Protests

As if zombies weren’t scary enough on their own, Fear The Walking Dead brings about an apocalyptic scenario a little too close to home, screenwriting even the likes of Mr. Robot season 1 haven’t yet covered.

From anarchistic rioting to California blackouts, this past week’s episode took the breakdown of society to a grisly new level by incorporating flesh eating zombies randomly into the mix, and just when you thought the chaos would finally end, we saw a blackout occur over the entire city of Los Angeles as our main cast fled the outskirts of the riots into the safeways of the suburbs.

The postmodern realism interwoven into this prequel leaves little to the imagination and much to be feared if there were to occur a zombie outbreak in the here and now amongst the plethora of disgruntled political groups on the brink of becoming angry mobs. From liberal outrage at racial inequalities to libertarian refusals to disarm, and then to anarchist anti-authoritarian desires to dismember society outright, we’ve seen an ever-increasing phenomenon of protests and riots occurring around the globe. To say the title of this show is on the mark is an understatement.

fear the walking deadPerhaps the scariest part of the riot scene in this weekend’s episode was the cop-on-cop zombie eating clip and one of our protagonists, a teenage boy, grabbing his dad’s attention to it. At this point, the demonstration turns from civilians against cops to an every-man-for-himself all-out riot; so much is happening at once that it’s difficult to even tell the difference between a protester and a zombie, a cop from the flesh-eating undead and a radical from a peacekeeping policeman. A dividing line is always there in a protest, but a zombie riot carries unforeseen consequences and violence that becomes unpredictable and outright senseless. You don’t want to be caught in this sort of unstable environment, and Fear The Walking Dead perfectly captures this sensibility.

Social media has yet to become the feeding frenzy it once was over The Walking Dead, but I give this show another month and a few more episodes of this unnerving beginning to the zombie apocalypse before people realize that it’s a much closer-to-home story than its predecessor.

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‘Halt And Catch Fire’ Lights The Internet Wick

The new season of AMC’s new critically acclaimed drama took off with a blast into the world of internet computing with network gaming on Sunday. Users of Mutiny’s game Parallax have the option of chatting with their opponents and it sparks an idea to create a separate community, much like the early days of IRC or even Bulletin Board Systems in the late 80s and early 90s. It’s a reminder that, before there was Firefox and Comcast, even before there was AOL, there were peer-to-peer communications between computer users utilizing 2400 baud modems and telephone lines, pieces of hardware that are both pretty much obsolete today.

The bright future of computer networking was only touched upon slightly in this episode as the rest of the story centered around the demise of Cardiff Electric and the relationships between the four main characters, Joe, Gordon, Cameron and Donna, the latter two working for Mutiny and struggling to establish their roles in the company. The problems they all face are typical of the computer industry no matter what the decade — hardware outages, memory allocation problems, power outages, and what to do with yourself after you sell your company and make a million dollars.

However, Joe MacMillan doesn’t quite make out as well as Gordon Clark as is foreshadowed in the first season last year with his constant computer selling antics and motivational speaking using quotes he ripped from Steve Jobs. Between his struggle to keep people motivated and his attempts at hyping up a machine that hasn’t even finished being built, Joe caused quite a bit of problems for the company that equates to more than just a stir, the biggest being the unethical behavior of the CEO who landed himself in jail after hacking the bank for extra funding just to get the Cardiff Giant completed and on the shelves. None of this pleased Nathan Cardiff, the silent partner whose Texan roots and conservative business sense ultimately got the better of MacMillan in Season 2’s opening episode.

The show, albeit hailed by some critics and carrying an overall pleasant reaction from fans, does have some work to do in keeping the story interesting and its viewers online. It deals with subject matter that is all too familiar to even those in their late teens and may not have much room to develop before it becomes just another show about computer geeks. Season one, after all, was centered on the beginnings of the PC market, even culminating in the introduction of the first laptop. Computer networking, on the other hand, is a much more familiar and possibly boring topic to millennials and Gen-Xers alike. The introduction of graphical gaming might be thought of by the writers as the saving grace, but 8-bit graphics are exciting to virtually no gamer this day in age. Perhaps a more compelling piece of evidence to discredit the show’s relevance is that this season’s first episode attracted only 66k viewers while episode one of the first season attracted over 1 million.

All in all, the season is off to an exciting start, but will it live up to the thrill of the first season? We at Pop Culture Fan can’t wait to find out! Halt and Catch Fire airs Sundays on AMC and has 9 more episodes. Tune in and tell us what you think!

True Detective, Breaking Bad – the simple truth about complexity

Suzie Gibson and Dean Biron, Griffith University

Nothing is produced in a cultural or social vacuum. All forms of representation intersect and interact with our contemporary world, whether we like it or not. This includes recently acclaimed television programs such as True Detective, Breaking Bad, House of Cards and Game of Thrones.

The fantasy elements of Game of Thrones enhance its images of a brutal world driven by the will to control. This is highly relevant when conflicts in pursuit of power – often underpinned by violence – continue to take place across the globe.

Medieval costuming, settings and magic may seem distant. Yet even Julia Gillard, a fan of the series, linked Game of Thrones to her impending doom as prime minister and the Rudd sword that would eventually slay her.

It is surprising, then, that Jason Jacobs’s recent Conversation article on Game of Thrones claims that social and political context has little if any bearing on its success. Instead, the show is elevated for resisting what he calls the tendency to exhibit “boutique contemporary issues”.

Gender inequality is offered as one example of an issue commonly woven into cultural narratives in a didactic manner. Setting aside his unsettling broad-brush treatment of contemporary feminism it is unfortunate that Jacobs conceives of discrimination as a “boutique” matter.

On the contrary, such collective problems demand critical inspection in cultural settings. Social content is something neither authors nor viewers can avoid. In the words of Duke University academic Fredric Jameson, we are each “condemned to history” in the inherent sociability of our lives.

Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood and Robin Wright as Claire Underwood in House of Cards.
Courtesy of FOXTEL

Jacobs goes on to argue that Game of Thrones is the best form of entertainment chiefly because it avoids complexity. Such complexity – lauded in an earlier Conversation piece by Jason Mittell – is instead seen as largely negative in the programs Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

But complexity is not the same as complication. Narrative power is produced through sophisticated storytelling. This enables many perspectives to emerge and audience pleasure to be heightened. Moreover, without complexity there is no simplicity: each relies on the other for meaning.

In the same way as other aesthetic forms such as literature and painting, a quality television series can ask important ethical questions. This involves making compromising and morally messy decisions, because the world we live in is difficult and complex. Television that responds to the urgent need for self-questioning cannot be so easily written off as convoluted.

The myth of the cultural divide

Well written and produced programs such as House of Cards and The Wire provide levels of meaning accessible to some, though not necessarily to all. That does not mean that they are less worthy. On the contrary, what is revealed is a wide assortment of narratives that respond to a diversity of viewers.

Audiences are not a uniform mass of receivers interpreting televisual texts in the same way. We are a varied lot, an unpredictable array of individual consumers. Appeals to “entertainment” value may seem to renew the division between purportedly complex cultural artifacts of limited audience reach, and the allegedly modest, accessible-to-all variety – the old “high versus popular” debate.

Bryan Cranston as Walter and Aaron Paul as Jesse in Breaking Bad.
Courtesy of FOXTEL.

That argument is long dead. When Man Booker prize winner Eleanor Catton speaks of being influenced by the The Wire and Breaking Bad in writing The Luminaries (2013), this only helps confirm the waning of any boundary between high and low culture. Reception can also change over time, with “difficult” art evolving into popular.

Television, once considered by many as the exclusive location of mostly worthless diversion, is home to much that may be seen as important art. Jacobs reasonably calls for judgements of taste to be a part of the academic’s critical arsenal. Yet his evident distaste for all matters contextual (social and historical) risks reviving a culture war that is a relic of the 20th century.

Further, raising a single television program above “most other contemporary cultural output” takes the process of cultural evaluation to an unhealthy level of precision. The almost infinite vista of cultural forms available to audiences in the 21st century – in television, film, music, literature, and elsewhere – surely demands more cautious language on the part of scholars and critics.

Generic complexity

There is no such thing as generic or aesthetic purity. Breaking Bad’s sharp indictment of US health care does not prevent moments of experimental fantasy. A cinematographic style that might at first appear incongruous can in fact tap into questions fundamental to our existence.

True Detective, arguably the most literary series of all, depicts an astonishingly dark realm of violence and despair. Its film noir elements, including ghostly crime scenes, exposes audiences to nightmarish gothic moments where the divisions between reality and fantasy begin to blur.

Genres are almost always intertwined, which means that all kinds of narratives adopt different styles of storytelling. These can be both escapist but also strangely familiar. What makes these contemporary television programs particularly successful is their ability to skirt the boundaries between simplicity and complexity, fantasy and reality.

See also:
Breathtaking television: why Game of Thrones leaves the rest behind

The Conversation

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Three reasons Better Call Saul works

Philippa Burne, University of Melbourne

How do we become the people we are?

In AMC’s Breaking Bad we saw how Walter White ended up Heisenberg, how Jesse Pinkman ended up more broken than he began. But what about Saul Goodman, Mike Ehrmantraut, Tuco Salamanca?

Many successful shows spawn sequels. Producers and networks, keen to capitalise on having hit the jackpot, are loath to let go of the winning formula even after the final episode of a high-rating, well-loved show, and they follow the inevitable path of What Comes Next? This thinking gave us Joey, Frasier, and Joanie loves Chachi. Some are successful; some leave us wishing we’d never set eyes on them.

Vince Gilligan – who is repeatedly proving himself to be an inventive story-telling mind – chose the other direction: How Did We Get Here? Building on the success of Breaking Bad, which he wrote and produced, and rewarding its devoted viewers, he’s spun off a prequel: Better Call Saul. And it’s excellent.

We’re a week away from the finale of season one. The debut episode became the most-watched TV series premiere (for a key demographic) in US cable history, with 6.9 million viewers, when it aired in February. It has claimed further viewing records since.

Why does it work so well? Three reasons: character, character, and character.

Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman in Better Call Saul.
Ben Leuner/AMC

Gilligan understands that story comes from character, so he develops characters who give endless story, who have enough complexity and internal logic that they can twist and turn and baffle and surprise and still remain in character.

Well-conceived characters are icebergs – we the viewers see about 10% of the whole. Most of what the writer knows about them lies beneath the surface, and it’s these histories and drives that cause complex, interesting characters to act the way they do, to surprise and confound us, to compel us to watch them in every episode they appear.

Saul Goodman is one such creation. He exploded onto our screens fully formed as the fast hustling, ambulance chasing lawyer inhabiting a brilliantly, bafflingly over-the-top office. Who decorates like that? How on earth did this creature emerge? In Better Call Saul we find out.

Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut.
Lewis Jacobs/AMC

We also discover how he met his fixer, Mike Ehrmantraut. And where he first crossed paths with crazy Mexican drug-lord Tuco Salamanca. Better Call Saul is a series of meet-cutes, but not of the romcom kind, more the deeper-into-trouble variety. Saul’s world is being built and, in however many seasons Better Call Saul runs for, we’ll avidly watch Jimmy McGill transform into Saul Goodman, the man Walter White better call.

Another of Gilligan’s talents as a writer is raising the stakes. We saw this repeatedly in Breaking Bad when he put Walter and Jesse under ever-increasing pressure, in seemingly impossible life and death scenarios, and they continually survived.

And not through some random act of god, but from seeing an opportunity where no one else did, through deal making and fast thinking, through chemistry.

Solutions came from character and story logic. They surprised us but they didn’t perplex us. In the world Gilligan had created they made sense. I once heard Gilligan say in an interview that he strives to have seven surprises in every hour of television he writes, and surprise us he does. Repeatedly. Satisfyingly.

And the stakes were not only raised for Walt and Jesse, but for Skylar, and Walt Jnr, for Hank the DEA brother-in-law. Thorough and complex characterisation plus tight, surprising plotting equalled devoted fan viewing.

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad.

Gilligan has chosen to go back six years with Better Call Saul, to 2002. To a time when Walter White was a law-abiding chemistry teacher, and Jesse Pinkman was still at high school, most likely paying no attention to Walt’s teaching and failing his chemistry exams.

One of the great joys of this choice of 2002 is that at the end of the 10 episodes of season one, we’ve still got five years of Saul’s evolution to explore. A second season of 13 episodes had already been commissioned before the first season aired. Plus the opening scenes of series one promise even more than six years of prequel – could there be life for Slippin’ Jimmy post-Breaking Bad?

In those opening scenes, Jimmy then Saul now Gene is living undercover in Omaha, Nebraska managing a Cinnabon store and looking mighty nervous that his old life is going to find him.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill and Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler.
Ursula Coyote/AMC

The viewers are more nervous that it won’t. Here’s one sequel I would have complete confidence in.

When we’ve finished watching Better Call Saul I’m betting many of us will turn back to watch Breaking Bad again, from beginning to end. Saul is a spin-off series that adds layers and richness to its parent show. Where so many spinoffs leave us with regrets and the wish we’d never fallen into their arms with so many hopes, Better Call Saul is so far giving us exactly what we want – familiar characters involved in great stories with an added frisson of knowing where it’s all going to end.

Vince Gilligan, please don’t ever stop writing. You’ve got a lot to teach us about storytelling, about the human animal and about life.

The Conversation

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After Mad Men, big money replaced big ideas

Craig Wood, Indiana University, Bloomington

In last May’s mid-season finale of “Mad Men,” advertising agency patriarch Bert Cooper dies unexpectedly after watching the live television broadcast of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The next day, Don Draper has hallucinatory vision of Bert performing a winsome song and dance routine of what must be the greatest of all deceptive advertising promises: “The Best Things in Life Are Free.”

Cooper’s 1969 death could signify much more: as the second half of season seven begins and the series approaches its conclusion, viewers may witness the stirrings of what – in real life – marked the end of advertising’s modern era.

The burst of creative innovation inspired by the mad men of advertising’s heyday began with the rise of television in the 1940s and concluded in the late 1970s, when giant, publicly traded advertising and media holding companies began gobbling up smaller, creative boutiques, like Mad Men’s Sterling Cooper.

The acquisition binge would result in a loss of creative independence and innovation.

Draper embodies modern era’s eccentric personalities

During those halcyon days of the modern era, advertisers, for the first time, crafted messaging with a dual purpose: appealing to consumers’ logic and emotion.

Back then, advertising was primarily a creative endeavor, with messaging honed through market research and focus groups. There was a storytelling element, too: the formulation of big, creative ideas that entertained and engaged consumers through the novel medium of television.

The pioneers of these big, consumer-focused advertising ideas were primarily spearheaded by a few big names: personality-driven males who dominated the business (and still do), along with a few women (like the diminutive but courageous Mary Wells of Wells Rich Green, who may be a model for Peggy Olson’s character).

The enigmatic Don Draper could be thought of as a cocktail of modern era advertising personalities – one part Bill Bernbach and one part Rosser Reeves, with a twist of George Lois.

Like Bernbach, Draper is known for elegantly integrating art and copy in his advertisements. In a business that previously separated these distinct elements, Bernbach was one of the first “mad men” to wield creative direction over both.

Bill Bernbach’s iconic ‘Think Small’ Volkswagen Beetle ad.
Martin Schilder Groep/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Take Bernbach’s Volkswagen Beetle ad. The small (admittedly unattractive) German import was foreign to American consumers accustomed to bulky, boxy automobiles. Rather than try to downplay the car’s features, Bernbach put them front and center: “Think Small” and “Lemon” were his spare, Helvetica Bold headlines, which floated in white space above a black and white photo of the Beetle. The minimalism and directness of Bernbach’s iconic Beetle advertising was original and authentic, resonating with car buyers open to economy, function and style.

Draper also possesses characteristics of the Ted Bates agency’s Rosser Reeves, who was renowned for his development of the Unique Selling Proposition. The gregarious Reeves thought every product must convey its “unique benefit,” the quality that differentiated it from the rest of the competition. If this quality didn’t exist – well, it could be created through advertising.

Reeves believed that once a Unique Selling Proposition was established, the advertising message – the brand benefit – had to be repeated (often within the same ad) to resonate with the consumer. Anacin’s “Fast Relief” ads were an example of his effective and memorable use of the repeated USP brand benefit.

Draper employs Reeves’ USP strategy in an episode when he pitches the “It’s Toasted” tagline to Lucky Strike. The client argues that all cigarette tobacco is toasted. Draper’s reply? “Yes, but you will be the first to advertise it.”

‘We can say anything we want,’ Draper says, employing USP in his pitch to Lucky Strike executives.

Finally, some of Draper’s excesses could be linked to the antics of temperamentally creative George Lois, who once threatened to jump out a window if a client rejected his advertising ideas. “You make the matzos, and I’ll make the ads!” he once shouted as he stood on the window ledge at a Kosher food company’s Long Island City headquarters. (The client eventually agreed to move forward with Lois’ idea.)

Postmodern era defined by market warfare and consolidation

Mad Men has given fans a taste of this unique era in advertising. So what happened in the industry over the ensuing decades?

I began working in the advertising agency business in 1979, and witnessed the seismic shifts that occurred during the next era of advertising: the postmodern era.

Military-inspired jargon dominated marketing strategies; terms like “positioning,” “offensive warfare,” “defensive warfare” and “flanking” were the battle cries of advertising’s new warriors. The cola, beer and burger wars fought for the hearts, minds – and wallets – of consumers, primarily through television advertising. This lasted until the rise of the Internet (itself a powerful, new advertising medium).

Maurice Saatchi – one half of Saatchi & Satchi.
STR New/Reuters

The postmodern era saw the growth and domination of publicly traded, global holding companies. None rose faster – and fell further – than Saatchi & Saatchi, which, at one point, was the world’s largest advertising company.

Saatchi & Saatchi, founded in London by two Iraqi immigrants named Maurice and Charles Saatchi, initially gained worldwide attention in the 1970s for its advertising on behalf Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party.

“Labour Isn’t Working” read its iconic tagline.

The Saatchi brothers (known among competitors as “Snatch it and Snatch it”) went on an acquisition binge throughout the 1990s that included some of the world’s biggest and most well known agencies. In 1986, it purchased Ted Bates for a staggering $500 million.

While ad agencies were growing in size through acquisition, clients sought to grow their market share through aggressive, comparative (sometimes negative) advertising. Before there was Dave, the soft-sell pitchman and founder of Wendy’s, there was “Where’s the Beef?” – Wendy’s attempt to cut into the sales of Burger King and McDonald’s.

Meanwhile, clients took notice that agency principals were getting mega-rich from their advertising budgets. Ted Bates chairman Robert Jacoby reportedly pocketed $100 million from the Bates sale alone. Ultimately, disgruntled shareholders ousted the Saatchi brothers in 1994, and the agency was carved into pieces.

The Saatchis demonstrated that the new model for advertising agencies of the future was first and foremost financial; lost were the creative zeitgeist and “mad men” of the modern era.

But advertising, like nature, abhors a vacuum. During the 1980s a new crop of independent, boutique agencies also emerged with a focus on creativity and the fine art of persuasion: The Martin Agency in Richmond, Virginia; Fallon and Carmichael-Lynch in Minneapolis; and Los Angeles-based Chiat Day, which created Apple’s iconic 1984 ad.

Nonetheless, many of these new wave creative “hot shops” were acquired, like their predecessors, by five major global holding companies: WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, Interpublic and Havas.

It’s telling, then, that after Bert Cooper’s death in Mad Men, the agency’s remaining partners sell a majority stake to rival McCann Erikson – thus ending its creative independence.

My prediction for the end of the show’s run? Don Draper – unable to function in the postmodern world of ads, fads, excessive consumerism and toxic agency politics – abandons advertising once and for all. Perhaps he is tossed out by new agency owners for his contempt of the executive “yes men” who replaced his generation of “mad men.” Or he refuses to dumb down his creative visions for increasingly risk-averse clients. (Or, once again, he is caught in the wrong bed at the wrong time!)

More likely, he walks out unceremoniously – empty handed and alone – continuing the desperate search for the authentic life that has eluded him.

He accepts, finally, that the best things in life actually may be free – and not as advertised.

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We’re all The Walking Dead – we just don’t know it yet

Juan Francisco Salazar, University of Western Sydney and Stephen Healy, University of Western Sydney

Last night, the final episode of the fifth season of The Walking Dead screened on Australian television. The hit US series has for the last five years constantly reached larger and larger audiences around the world. In the US, each new season continues to break cable ratings records.

Swarms of downloaders accessing the show after each episode airs are evidence of its global following. But the stunning renaissance of the zombie in popular culture is reflected not only in the popularity of films and TV series such as The Walking Dead.

Zombies have become an urban phenomenon, with cities from Sydney to Santiago, Chile, organising annual zombie walks. Not long ago the University of Sydney was plagued by a mass of the undead during a Zedtown event, a humans-versus-zombies game involving hundreds of players.

It’s not just about the zombies

Many cultural theorists have explored the significance of the zombie and its continued prevalence in contemporary culture. With roots in Haitian folklore and precursors in West-African religions, the zombie of Afro-American creole beliefs was animated by magic, unlike the zombie of the late 20th century, which is re-animated by viral contagion.

British sociologist Tim May sees zombie films – from White Zombie (1932) to Night of the Living Dead (1969) and Dawn of the Dead (1972) – as expressions of racial anxiety.


Others examining the same films see the zombie as embodying the mindlessness of consumer society. In his recent piece on The Conversation, Joseph Gillings saw in the remorselessness and lack of self-regard an apt metaphor for the terrorism spawned by globalisation’s discontents.

More recently, film scholar Deborah Christie framed the zombie as means for thinking through anxieties about the post-human condition emerging at the turn of the 21st century.

“It’s their world now, we are just living in it.” That’s how one of the young characters in The Walking Dead puts it while hiding from “walkers” (the name the group gives to zombies) in the forest.


But what attracts our attention in The Walking Dead is not the zombies but the survivors. For them such arcane meanings are less important than finding a way to continue to live. Or to put it another way: the importance is less on containing the zombie apocalypse but understanding the new complexities emerging from a zombie aftermath in which bare life and community economies must be redefined.

In our view The Walking Dead reflects on the meaning of group solidarity in a brave new world. Rick Grimes, the leader of the survivors, played by British actor Andrew Lincoln, sees his group as a family bound by relations of mutual support.

Throughout the series we see characters transformed by this practice of solidarity. Daryl, the group’s consummate survivalist, is transformed from a stereotypical redneck into someone deeply concerned with the group’s welfare.


Rick’s communitarian family contrasts with other failed collectivities the group has crossed paths with during this and previous seasons. We’ve seen a dystopia under the control of a threatening “governor”; cops holed up in an Atlanta hospital with patients who amount to slaves. We’ve watched a biker-gang collective being decimated by a few zombies because of a lack of group cohesion; we’ve see a non-zombie cannibal collective dispatch other hapless survivors with bureaucratic efficiency to save themselves.

Rick’s family is also quite different from the utopian walled eco-village it finds itself in during the fifth series. Even though there is enough room for them to live separately, initially Rick’s group refuses this return to the nuclear family. Rejecting the trappings of civilisation, they prefer to remain in collective life.

In different ways, the characters express their desire to “not forget” what has allowed them to survive thus far.

At this moment in The Walking Dead, the real challenge facing the characters in Rick’s family is not whether or not they can survive but rather whether or not they can survive as a “collective” in a setting that promises a return to individual existence.

The dilemma facing Rick’s family may seem to have little to do with our present circumstances – but learning how to value collectivity and act collectively in the face of profound crisis is something we must all embrace.


Zombies have been incorporated into innovative educational tools aimed at disaster preparedness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US recently put together a sort of toolkit for emergency-preparedness for disasters and catastrophes: Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse. The use of a zombie apocalypse allows us to think of possible disaster responses and the relation between collectivity and resilience.

This might be seen in the containment strategies of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The xenophobic responses that followed the outbreak led nowhere whereas the collective response has been far more effective in containing the spread of the virus. Climate change is yet another example of the need to think seriously about solidarity as a key instance of disaster-preparedness and response.

The Walking Dead is a useful metaphor to think with. As we wait for the sixth season, we can contemplate its role in debating how we anticipate events that may threaten the economic order of things. So, does a zombie apocalypse signify the end of capitalist civilisation, or its perverse consummation?

We take it for granted but acting – or failing to act – in advance of possible futures is in fact an essential aspect of contemporary neoliberal democracies, whether we are talking about terrorism, climate change or a zombie pandemic, as the CDC toolkit implies.

A show like The Walking Dead helps us think through the challenges we face as a species; it helps us reflect on the critical importance of how to make new economies possible, and not just in the aftermath of major disaster.

The final episode of season 5 of The Walking Dead screened on FXTV last night.

The Conversation

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We’re obsessed with zombies – which says a lot about today

By Joseph Gillings, University of Bath

The zombie invasion is here. Our bookshops, cinemas and TVs are dripping with the pustulating debris of their relentless shuffle to cultural domination.

A search for “zombie fiction” on Amazon currently provides you with more than 25,000 options. Barely a week goes by without another onslaught from the living dead on our screens. We’ve just seen the return of one of the most successful of these, The Walking Dead, starring Andrew Lincoln as small-town sheriff, Rick Grimes. The show follows the adventures of Rick and fellow survivors as they kill lots of zombies and increasingly, other survivors, as they desperately seek safety.

Generational monsters

Since at least the late 19th century each generation has created fictional enemies that reflect a broader unease with cultural or scientific developments. The “Yellow Peril” villains such as Fu Manchu were a response to the massive increase in Chinese migration to the US and Europe from the 1870s, for example.

As the industrial revolution steamed ahead, speculative fiction of authors such as H G Wells began to consider where scientific innovation would take mankind. This trend reached its height in the Cold War during the 1950s and 1960s. Radiation-mutated monsters and invasions from space seen through the paranoid lens of communism all postulated the imminent demise of mankind.

By the 1970s, in films such as The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor, the enemy evolved into government institutions and powerful corporations. This reflected public disenchantment following years of increasing social conflict, Vietnam and the Watergate scandal.

In the 1980s and 1990s it was the threat of AIDS that was embodied in the monsters of the era, such as “bunny boiling” stalker Alex in Fatal Attraction. Alex’s obsessive pursuit of the man with whom she shared a one night stand, Susanne Leonard argues, represented “the new cultural alignment between risk and sexual contact”, a theme continued with Anne Rices’s vampire Lestat in her series The Vampire Chronicles.

Risk and anxiety

There’s a monster to suit every period.

Zombies, the flesh eating undead, have been mentioned in stories for more than 4,000 years. But the genre really developed with the work of H G Wells, Poe and particularly H P Lovecraft in the early 20th century. Yet these ponderous adversaries, descendants of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, have little in common with the vast hordes that threaten mankind’s existence in the modern versions.

M Keith Booker argued that in the 1950s, “the golden age of nuclear fear”, radiation and its fictional consequences were the flip side to a growing faith that science would solve the world’s problems. In many respects we are now living with the collapse of this faith. Today we live in societies dominated by an overarching anxiety reflecting the risk associated with each unpredictable scientific development.

Now we know that we are part of the problem, not necessarily the solution.
The “breakthroughs” that were welcomed in the last century now represent some of our most pressing concerns. People have lost faith in assumptions of social and scientific “progress”.


Central to this is globalisation. While generating enormous benefits, globalisation is also tearing communities apart. The political landscape is rapidly changing as established political institutions seem unable to meet the challenges presented by the social and economic dislocation.

However, although destructive, globalisation is also forging new links between people, through what Anthony Giddens calls the “emptying of time and space”. Modern digital media has built new transnational alliances, and, particularly in the West, confronted people with stark moral questions about the consequences of their own lifestyles.

As the faith in inexorable scientific “progress” recedes, politics is transformed. The groups emerging from outside the political mainstream engage in much older battles of faith and identity. Whether right-wing nationalists or Islamic fundamentalists, they seek to build “imagined communities” through race, religion or culture and “fear” is their currency.

Evolving zombies

Modern zombies are the product of this globalised, risk conscious world. No longer the work of a single “mad” scientist re-animating the dead, they now appear as the result of secret government programmes creating untreatable viruses. The zombies indiscriminately overwhelm states irrespective of wealth, technology and military strength, turning all order to chaos.

Meanwhile, the zombies themselves are evolving into much more tenacious adversaries. In Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later it takes only 20 days for society to be devastated. Charlie Higson’s Enemy series of novels have the zombies getting leadership and using tools. In the film of Max Brooks’ novel, World War Z, the seemingly superhuman athleticism of the zombies reflects the devastating springboard that vast urban populations would provide for such a disease. The film, starring Brad Pitt, had a reported budget of US$190m, demonstrating what a big business zombies have become.

Why zombies, why now?

This is a relentless enemy, seeking to cause death and destruction with little or no regard to their own safety. They may be your neighbour, a friend or teacher – but now they want you dead. Sound familiar?

Today, at home and abroad the primary weapon is terror, aimed at local populations but also, thanks to globalisation, world audiences. The terrorists ramp up the atrocities to provoke violent overreactions or attacks on civil liberties. These acts slowly turn the people against the established authority.

In these conflicts, the strategic target is no longer the opposing army but the hearts and minds of the people, both at home and abroad. It is in this context that the popularity of the zombie genre has grown. A cursory look through zombie entertainment reveals that the vast majority of it has been produced in the last ten years.

Like those of previous generations, our fictional nemesis reflects deep-seated concerns. The shock of the Paris Charlie Hebdo attack, the Copenhagen shootings and the Sydney siege are still fresh in our memory.

As the survivors in the Walking Dead have found, such relentless enemies may force even the most upright citizen to confront their moral codes. Rick’s struggle to hold onto his old values is one of the most fascinating aspects of the programme. In the battle for TV ratings, survival, no matter what it takes, may be enough, but, in the real world, holding on to our moral compass may be the greatest weapon we possess.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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Q & A: Are You A Breaking Bad Expert?

“Breaking Bad”, one of the hottest TV shows, is now in its season finale on AMC. Fans from all around the world are all concerned about how is it going to make a satisfy ending?

If you claimed that you are a Breaking Bad expert, here are some pop quiz for you to find out how well do you know about the story of Heisenberg!


Q: True or False: RJ Mitte, aka Walter White, Jr. has Cerebral Palsy in real life?


A: True! RJ Mitte has a mild form of Cerebral Palsy. In the show he made his symptom more severe than real life by talking slowly and walking with crutches.


Q: Who has Heisenberg NOT killed?


A: It’s Tuco! Although Walter wants to kill him but fail a lot of times. The one who pull the trigger is Walter’s brother-in-low, the DEA agent, Hank Schrader.


Q: True or False: The show was always meant to take place in New Mexico?


A: False! The show was meant to take place in Riverside, CA. But AMC suggested New Mexico for the tax breaks.


Q: Which character was NOT meant to live pass Season One?


A: Surprisingly the answer is Jessie! He was meant to die in Season One. But the creator changed his mind after re-watching Aaron Paul’s performance.


Q: Which character is rumored to get a spin-off?


A: “Better call Soul!” Vincent Gilligan, the creator and the producer of Breaking Bad said “Peter Gould and I are hard at work trying to figure out what a Soul Goodman spin-off would look like…We can’t promise it will happen. But we love the idea very much. ”


In April 2013, it was revealed that AMC and Sony were interested in a spin-off series that would focus on Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), with Gilligan and series writer Peter Gould developing the project.

Which color does Marie wear a lot in the show?


Can’t wait to see the season finale on September 29, Sunday!