So there I was in the crowded food court of my local mall when I noticed something strange. I couldn’t hear anyone talking. I glanced quickly left and right to see if there was some sort of hostage situation taking place. Everything appeared normal except the only sounds I could make out were people’s shoes dragging across the tile floor and that ubiquitous background music being broadcast from hidden speakers. Patrons of every age were idly shuffling along with uncoordinated gaits, their expressions were slack-jawed and devoid of all emotion, and they moved in small herds but didn’t seem to interact with those closest to them. It was like a scene out of AMC’s The Walking Dead. I was getting a touch nervous when I noticed a key detail. All of their eyes were fixated not on me, but on small glowing screens in their hands. They weren’t part of an undead horde intent on eating my flesh; they were all just on their phones. No sooner had I breathed a mental sigh of relief, then a startling realization hit me.
We really are the Walking Dead.
On Valentine’s Day, The Walking Dead begins the second half of its sixth season. To those of you who aren’t avid watchers, it may appear that this is just a mindless show about dull stereotypes smacking zombies with baseball bats while trying not to get bitten. For its dedicated fans, its a rich multi-layered drama about a group of well-developed characters smacking zombies with baseball bats while trying not to get bitten. For an English teacher like me, its a metaphor of the world we have created around us through our obsession with technology.
If you don’t believe me, just compare a walker (the term “zombie” is never used on show) to someone engaged with his/her device. I’m pretty sure there’s one nearby. Examine the face closely. Notice the complete lack of response to any outside stimulus, be it wind, loved ones, or oncoming traffic. See how the eyes are cold and dead like a doll’s. The thumb scrolls through posts, links and pics in an ever-changing smear of incomprehensible color. The expression never changes. The only goal is to just mindlessly consume whatever is placed in front of them. They are unable to respond above a grunt with any other humans but are quite content when among others similarly infected. Anyone threatening to come between them and their phone is liable to be violently attacked. Don’t believe me, just try to take away a teenager’s device without pulling back a bloody stump.
Just like a walker, one of their primary characteristics is the ability to spread their disease to others. Instead of physically scratching and biting, they send out ‘Friend Requests’ and pester you with links to YouTube cat videos. If infected, all of the victims’ thoughts revolve around how to get more “food,” which in this case consists of Instagram likes and Twitter followers. If you continue to resist, the attackers only seem to multiply. You’ll become more and more isolated like the characters on the show as your real-world friends shrink away.
In this post-apocalyptic world, the only way to stay human is to avoid those who already show signs of the disease, which means you must stay away from social media at all costs. We see this with the lead character of Rick Grimes and his little tribe. They are completely devoid of electronics to the point where it makes me wonder what they do with all the free time they have been gifted with. Those long nights by the campfire with nothing but actual conversation to entertain themselves with? Sure, they have to stay alert because they could be killed at any moment, but hey, sign me up anyway.
Here’s one final point to make on why The Walking Dead is just a metaphor for the way most of us live today. Consider the literary character of Dracula. Aren’t vampires simply perversions on the concept of romantic love? The hypnotic gaze, the fangs piercing the neck, the way garlic stops all the action. And what is the only way to kill a vampire? You have to drive a stake through its heart, the classic symbol of true love, because that’s the organ that’s been corrupted. What’s the only way to stop a walker? That’s right, you must destroy the brain.
So, the next time you find yourself out in a public place like a restaurant, take a moment to look around at the clientele. See how at the table next to you Mom is uploading a picture of her food, Dad is streaming the game, the older child is on Snapchat, and the toddler is mesmerized by a cartoon involving a dancing turtle. Notice the dining room’s lack of conversation, which has been replaced by the sounds of dead meat being shredded and torn to bits by grinding teeth. Welcome to this week’s episode of The Walking Dead. Hopefully, it’s not starring you.