Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Zombies and Infinite Shotguns

I love to complain about The Walking Dead TV show. I really want to love it - I've read the first 48 issues of the comic book (as conveniently collected in TWD: Compendium One) and I think it's fantastic* - but it drives me nuts, what with the stupidity of the characters and predictability of the plotting. (Clearly, the screenwriters have never met a horror cliché that they didn't like.) The season finale was just as groan-inducing as the rest of the episodes, though I want to write really quickly about one particular element - Hershel's shotgun.

[* this isn't just one of those knee-jerk "the comic book is always better" reactions, either. because i've gone on record, elsewhere on this blog, as saying that the Scott Pilgrim movie was a huge improvement over the comic. just so you know.]

The joke surrounding Hershel's shotgun is that, like the magical shotgun that you can acquire after beating a Resident Evil game, it's an Infinite Shotgun. Hershel blasts away with that thing for at least a minute, never once stopping to reload. And this is obviously annoying.

For some of us, anyway. The first comment I found online about the shotgun was actually in defense of it, and it went something like this: "It's a show about zombies. Why are you complaining about an Infinite Shotgun in a show about zombies?"

Well, because the only spectacular thing about this show - the only thing that requires you to suspend what you know to be true about the laws of science - is the fact that zombies exist. That's it. We're supposed to believe that everything that does not have to do with the zombie plague should behave just like it would in real life. Cars still need gas. People still need food. And shotguns still have to be reloaded. Just show Hershel reloading the damn thing - zombies are slow, he'd have the time. I didn't write these rules, I didn't decide that the world of The Walking Dead is just like the real world, but with the exception of the whole zombie-thing. The producers did. So just stick to your own rules.

And relatedly - would it kill them (the producers) to show that bullets sometimes (often!) miss their target? Not only have we been told that most of these characters are inexperienced shots, but they're using imprecise weapons - shotguns, especially, aren't particularly accurate - and managing to hit zombies in the head every time. And, in the season finale, they're hitting moving zombies while firing from moving vehicles. You know who's able to do that in real life? No one.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Quick "Hunger Games" Thoughts


I read the complete Hunger Games Trilogy over the course of a few weeks, shortly before the movie came out. One of the things that no one seems to mention (granted, I haven't looked very hard) but that I actually find most interesting and unexpected are the politics of the book - Katniss is an anarchist. She's tasked with assassinating the Bad despot, murders the ostensibly Good dictator, and has a generally fractious relationship with every other person in a position of authority. Except Boggs, maybe, though he's really just a soldier. (Even her mom is criticized for being a poor family matriarch, though she redeems herself as the series goes on.)

That might feel like standard teen rebellion stuff, but, of course, the book shows her to be right to distrust them in pretty much every instance - and really gives her no figure of authority to trust, or who proves worthy of trust. (She trusts Haymitch, in a way, but he's certainly no authority figure; and she begins to mistrust Gale - again, we learn, with good reason - just as he begins to gain actual power and influence within District 13.)

And Katniss resists taking any leadership role herself, and resents being thrust even into the position of symbolic figurehead. It's not even until (SPOILER ALERT) the epilogue that she's willing to become a mother and the head of her own family, which she agrees to only after a decade of cajoling by Peeta.

The one desirable type of community, it turns out, is the post-war District 12 of the epilogue, which is populated by about a thousand people who do their own thing, each of whom appear to live there precisely because it's beyond the reach and notice of the government. That's one hell of a surprising lesson about society to take away from a book ostensibly written for an audience of teenage girls. And the same teenager girls, no less - at least, according to the marketers - that devoured the absolutely awful and unapologetically conservative Twilight books.


What has been getting a bit of discussion - little of it in the mainstream media, though - is the gendered double-standard that's apparent from the "is this too violent for kids?!" fear-mongering. Because no one asked this about Spider-man, where Uncle Ben is shot and the Green Goblin impaled and Spider-man gets the shit beaten out of him. Really, no one asks this question (except for the obligatory and generalized "the question must be asked..." type articles that pop up every so often) at all about teen boys' movies. No, what the question doesn't state explicitly, but what it's actually asking, is whether this is too violent for girls.

Added the next day: All that said, the movie really isn't much less violent or graphic than the book itself. (With the possible exception of, say, the exploding boils that are produced by tracker jackers.) What they have changed, though - possibly because of the teen girl audience - is Katniss' relationship with Peeta. And by that, I mean that they downplay it to a huge degree - there's virtually no romance, here, and certainly very few suggestions that Katniss is only pretending to love Peeta. Which might strike people as counter-intuitive, I'm sure - why would a movie with a majority female audience eliminate the romance? - except that it isn't, actually. Because Katniss is, during many moments in the novel, thoroughly unlikable for her willingness to manipulate the audience and lie to Peeta. And that is probably why it had to go. (On the other hand, she's redeemed to a significant degree when, after they win, Peeta is dying and taken away from her and she screams for him to come back. But maybe they thought that was too disturbing to include in the film.)

In any case, the violence discussion is a red herring. Clearly, it wasn't the violence that producers felt might be problematic - it was Katniss' ambivalence, her Machiavellian streak, and her rage. They couldn't risk the possibility that tween and teen girls might find her mean or cruel, and might actually dislike her.


And then there's the horrifying
Twitter responses of racist fans of the book who a) didn't read it closely enough to recognize that some of the characters aren't white, and b) are enraged that some of the actors are black. Not that it should matter if characters who are explicitly described as white happen to be played by black actors, (I've written about why this is even desirable, before) but it speaks poorly - sometimes hilariously so, but often just depressingly - of both their reading comprehension and the subtle ways in which racism and white supremacist thinking works itself into the most unconscious operations of our brains. From an article on Jezebel:

The ubiquity of whiteness in popular media is so overwhelming that, in the absence of any racial signifiers, I would guess that the majority of white people and a significant number of non-white people automatically assume that characters are white. I know I do. (To be clear: I am a white lady.) I mean, Jesus, the impulse to default to white is so strong that the above child prodigies defaulted to white even when explicitly told not to.
It's a good lesson to take away from this horrible thing, at least. That is, the recognition that a lot of us default to white when we're not told otherwise, and that this is not an unmotivated or unproblematic process, even if it is so automatic that we don't have to think about it. In fact, lemme rewrite that last part for emphasis: "especially because it's so automatic that we don't have to think about it". (And now the question is, what do we do about it?)