Enough! (Zombies, PTSD and the Clash of Civilizations)

Note to readers:  This post is about the TV show The Walking Dead.  If you haven’t been watching many of the references probably won’t make sense but hopefully it’ll still be interesting.  If not, at least it’s got a cool zombie killing clip.

So, I’ve enjoyed AMC‘s The Walking Dead quite a bit through this season and the last.  It hasn’t been without its problems but overall it’s been an enjoyable show.  The final ten minutes of the last episode (the ‘mid-season finale’ – whatever that means), however was pure gold.  In particular, this bit:

 Shane is not a beloved character among many fans in the series and he’s done some pretty…questionable things but most criticism leveled against him involves judging him against norms developed in our ordered and ‘civilized’ world.
I cut Shane a bit of slack.  Perhaps it’s because I know soldiers who’ve come back from deployments with PTSD or had my own (thankfully brief) brush with post deployment stress but expecting people to just be able to flip between ‘normal’ life and ‘oh, crap, there’s a rocket whistling over my head/zombie trying to eat my brain’ isn’t too realistic.
Thus, if you remember the movie The Hurt Locker, you have a character who is capable of handling the intense stress of deactivating IEDs yet is completely unable to handle a decision like which cereal to buy.

Shane is that character from the Hurt Locker.  He’s unable to turn off ‘survival mode’ and (I suspect) is the only time the character feels alive.  Just as William James must eventually return to Iraq because he fits in nowhere else, Shane can not be satisfied in a safe environment.  Seeking out danger and being in the proverbial ‘shit’ allows him to become totally immersed in the present and not worry about the way the rest of the world around him is falling apart.  He doesn’t need to think about his failed relationship with his best friend’s wife (Dude, we totally thought you were dead!) or the fact that he abandoned a good man to a horrible death (Sorry, Otis!).  All he needs to do is point and pull the trigger.
So while we like to think there are inviolate universal constants known as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ that’s not necessarily true. Take, for example, the question of whether you should kill the fat man (or, if you’re a glutton for punishment, should you kill the backpacker).  Now think about making some of these questions repeatedly.  How likely is it that we will remain consistent or hold ourselves to some moral code when short term practicality seems more effective.
I’m not a huge fan of Sam Huntington‘s ‘Clash of Civilizations‘ but I think you can see some of it play out in this scene.  Bear with me…
Hershel, Rick and Shane each represent different ‘civilizations’:  Hershel a religious based value system; Rick a secular, capitalist system and Shane a post-apocalyptic, Hobbsian one.
Throughout the season all three characters have been trying to communicate to each other.  Hershel was the least communicative as religious societies have to describe and explain the universe around them and have difficulty incorporating new information without avoiding questions that undermine the entire system (see:  Galileo).  As a result, he wants to get his visitors out of farm so he can quickly forget about them and return to life as ‘normal’.
Rick has been attempting to convince Hershel to allow the group to stay, essentially on an argument of efficiency.
Hey, Mr. Bourgeois capital owner! Let us stay and we’ll produce more widgets/farm your land/protect you from zombies.
At no point (even though Rick’s group is the only one with weapons) does Rick even consider upsetting the status quo of ownership or the means of production.  He’s even willing to consider living next to a barn full of zombies if those are the rules of the existing system.
Still, Rick and Hershel appear to be on a path to coexistence even if they don’t agree all the time.  Just as religion and capitalism have formed an alliance of varying degrees of easiness.
Shane, however, is a much different (and alien) culture.  He and Rick have been talking past each other all season, both unable to accept (or even understand) the values and priorities of the other.  In the scene above, things come to a head.
Shane first sets his sites on destroying ‘religion’.  He pumps five non-lethal (for a zombie) rounds into the walker* before dealing it the death blow.  Ultimately, religion can not withstand the reality of the dead returning to life and the zombies attempting to devour the living.  Watch how Shane shoots the zombie.  His disdain and carelessness while shooting it (I can remember very few other times when he appeared to barely aim at a zombie and his body language seems more different – as if not seriously threatened by this ‘walker’) can also be read as a demonstration of how little thought he gives to the religion based value system.  After Shane kills the ‘religion zombie’, Hershel collapses and is unable to do anything for the rest of the show.  He’s been defeated.
Then Shane (and virtually the entire rest of the group) starts killing zombies.  About half way through, Shane turns to his friend, Rick and in another offhanded move, shots ‘his’ zombie.  With that shot, Shane gives physical manifestation to his argument that ‘things are different now’.  The old rules in which they were sheriffs and their loyalty was to a set of community standards and rules (to which Rick still tries to abide with) no longer apply.  He shoots the zombie and, like Hershel, is rendered immobile until the end when he take a step (literally and figuratively) towards Shanes point of view.

So the next time you want to slag poor old Shane for doing some pretty horrendous stuff, remember.  He’s had a rough day…

*Not sure how far you can take this analogy but could the five rounds represent previous attempts to destroy religion?  Competing religions, Enlightenment, Communism, materialism, for example?

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