"The Walking Dead" as Mass Shock Therapy
by Paul Boshears — Europäische Universität für Interdisziplinäre Studien (the European Graduate School)
March 05, 2012 – 00:00
There is a psycho-genealogical need for The Walking Dead to be located in Atlanta. Atlanta is a zombie town. Resurgens, the City’s motto, is a normative framework. The phoenix, Atlanta’s totem, is a zombie bird. According to Ovid, the phoenix flies with the nest in which he was born, it carries with him the sepulcher of his father that is his cradle. Following Laurence Rickels’ analysis of the “Psycho effect,” we note the nativity of the slasher genre—of which the zombie thriller is a descendant—is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, whose opening scene is Phoenix, Arizona.
What happened to Atlanta that grips the imaginations of our contemporaries and shifts the City from being a “Noplace,” as the recent survey of Atlanta’s visual arts states, to an Everyplace?
The 2010 Census shows the South has become a rapidly diversifying and developing region. A significant change for Atlanta has been so-called “Bright Flight,” the inverse movement of White populations from the suburbs into the urban centers. With these demographic shifts come the anxieties associated with exposure to unknown people and folkways.
Watching the third episode of the first season, “Tell it to the Frogs,” we see the last of humanity huddled on the northwestern perimeter of the City, at Bellwood Quarry, arranging a pillaging raid on the urban core. There are no people in Atlanta, only faceless, threatening bodies between the suburbanites and what they want. This is a metaphor for the relationships between Atlanta and their suburban neighbors.
Were one to continue northwest from Bellwood Quarry along nearby Interstate 75, one arrives at Cobb County, long a conservative force in regional politics, formerly Newt Gingrich’s Congressional district. It is one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S. and historically has looked to the City of Atlanta as a menacing vision on its horizon. Cobb politics has been dominated by a fear of an imaginary criminal Atlanta denizen. This hysterical vision manifests in the constant refusal to allow the MARTA transit system to enter their borders for fear of a rise in crime. But the future of Atlanta requires more closely-linked infrastructure and there will continue to be waves of demographic shifts.
We understand The Walking Dead as a form of traumatic shock therapy: regularly scheduled intensive trauma sessions shifting the audience from the victims of their traumatic pasts to survivors of their future lived traumas. Atlanta prepares its future.