Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Zombies & the Turner Thesis

Hello all,


This post is going to divert from the usual ATZ game…though it’s been on hiatus while my Victorious Kickstarter was plugging along. This is more about the idea of zombie apocalypses (ZA) and their fascination to Americans.


What first got me interested in this idea was a comment made on the “Watching Dead” Podcast (baldmove.com) where the hosts compared the shooting and camerawork of the series The Walking Dead (TWD) to a western cowboy-style show. This connected with me, and I wondered why that was. After all, other than gunplay it didn’t seem to have much similarity on the surface.


Then (as I’m a historian) I thought of the 1893 Turner Thesis. In essence this lamented the fact that by 1893 the “Frontier” of the United States no longer existed. Turner was concerned at this because he believed that American culture was shaped by the idea of a frontier. A place where people who failed or had trouble in one place could simply go to the frontier and ‘remake’ themselves and their lives. This created the American ideal of self-made (wo)men and hard work leads to success. In short, overcoming obstacles was a character building exercise.


Then it occurred to me, isn’t that exactly what a post-ZA world is? A frontier of danger and opportunities all around you? Civilization is limited to small communities constantly under threat by outlaw humans and ‘natives’ (ie zombies)? A place where people can remake themselves for good or ill? Thinking about each of the main characters in TWD (TV)…each one of them has changed and grown as people. A few went bad to be sure, but they either died because of their bad choices (Shane) or recovered a sense of humanity to become overall better people (Rick, Daryl,…arguably Carol).


Anyway, it seems fascinating to consider. Please feel free to post opinions!


Zombie Chow



Nobody667 said...

Interesting observation. I agree with the Turner Thesis, at least somewhat. As an American, I view the idea of 'heading to the frontier' and making a world for yourself is one of the defining parts of American culture (such as it is!) The idea of being able to face down any obstacle or hardship, and come out a more successful person is certainly part of it.

As it applies to the zombie apocalypse, the world is wide open, and all the current norms and social mores are broken. It makes everywhere 'the frontier' and life is dangerous and a struggle just to stay alive. I think part of this appeals to many people, as they see themselves surviving, and then getting to remake themselves, and by extension, civilization.

Maybe it's just that smashing zombies is pretty nifty, and plenty of gore and scary stuff makes for fun TV and gaming...

Great conversation starter.

Zombie Chow said...

Thanks for the insightful comments, Nobody667!

I wonder if this might also explain the "survivalist" movement of the 1970s-end of Cold War. Again, is it simply a matter of self realization?

Also, there's a certain Libertarian type argument as well. The survivor by definition doesn't require government to 'help' him/her. They make their own lives have meaning through their own efforts. Which everyone assumes they will be the one who survives...someone (I forget who) once made a comment that "We are all the heroes of our story." Few of us are willing to admit that in a 'real' ZA we'd be toast and incapable of surviving without help. I do, but being disabled gives me a honest perspective on my chances.
...and that's the reason for my blog name!

Zombie Chow