Part 1—When HAL shut down: We’ve never watched The Walking Dead, the AMC zombie drama now in its fourth season.
On the other hand, we did watch yesterday’s panel discussion on Meet the Press.
Was that not a form of the walking dead—that obviously faux discussion between those panelists and that moderator? (We’ll excuse Chuck Todd, who tried to create real discussion.)
Meet the Press is hardly alone, of course. Last Wednesday, we watched the pundit panel which interviewed author Amanda Ripley on CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Were they not part of the walking dead? How about Ripley herself, with her endless array of embellishments and omissions?
Back in 1968, Stanley Kubrick portrayed HAL the computer in his throes, as he slowly shut down. Today, all around the domestic landscape, you see major American intellectual and political systems as they follow suit.
That brings us to Hank Stuever’s complaint in yesterday’s Washington Post. Stuever, a TV critic, was reviewing The Walking Dead’s new season.
According to Stuever, The Walking Dead has become “an exercise in hopelessness.” We thought of Meet the Press as Stuever voiced his complaints:
STUEVER (10/13/13): Where do you suppose “The Walking Dead” is taking us? Or let me put it this way: If I ask you to envision what its final episode might look like a few years from now, what do you see?...According to Stuever, the world of functioning human beings is gone on The Walking Dead. He says that world won’t be coming back on that AMC program.
The answer, as Season 4 begins Sunday night, is quite possibly and intentionally “nothing,” which would stand to reason: AMC’s zombie saga is a hit because it is an exercise in hopelessness and even nihilism.
The world is gone and it is never coming back. There is no underlying anchor of morality or long-term care; the characters who might have once been vested in the nobility of shared survival now struggle and fail to provide relief—to one another or to the viewer. Our rooting for them is a cruel joke. Our hopes in the stouthearted redneck Darryl (Norman Reedus) will almost certainly be dashed at some point; even Hershel (Scott Wilson), the wise country veterinarian now hobbling on one leg, no longer seems to buy into his own platitudes of perseverance.
With “The Walking Dead,” there is no goal in sight. We are not building toward payoff. We are not even following the story arcs of the 114 issues (and counting) of the original 2003 “Walking Dead” comic book that started it all. There is only a reset button (revolving showrunners, new writers) or a fresh level of horror and despair, just like the popular video game based on the show which emphasizes the feelings and personalities of characters, who could all die at any moment. The TV show also banks on non-zombie intervals of personal conflict among the still-living, who behave like test subjects in a morbidly long experiment of applied social psychology.
Having watched the serviceable but flat opening episodes of this new season, I think now is as good a time as any to ask if it’s worth going on with “The Walking Dead,” when all it does is underline its message of futility over and over and over. Why keep watching, even if we like the gore?
According to Stuever, some viewers enjoy The Walking Dead because they like the gore. But beneath that pleasure, all Stuever finds is a “message of futility.”
We’ve never watched The Walking Dead. We can’t evaluate Stuever’s critique. But we’ll have to admit, his portrait made us think of the dying world of American intellectual elites.
At the end of Kubrick’s 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, a broken HAL begins shutting down. As with almost all living things, he very much wants to stay on.
Soon, though, all he can do is sing a very slow version of “Daisy.” Were those the famous old lyrics we heard on yesterday morning’s Meet the Press? Did we hear Cooper’s shambling panel singing that song last Wednesday?
In the current Harper’s, Thomas Frank describes one of the ways our intellectual systems have been breaking down in recent decades. Over the weekend, a version of his piece appeared at Salon.
We’ll discuss Frank’s piece later this week. We’ll also discuss those among the walking dead who have refused to discuss the obvious breakdown Frank is describing. (He describes it in lightly comical form. This is required within the world of our elites when their systems are dying.)
We’ll discuss Frank’s piece as the week unfolds. We’ll even discuss that panel discussion on Meet the Press. We’ll discuss those who have looked away from the steady process in which these systems have been shutting down.
All week long, we’ll discuss different versions of the dead—variants of the walking dead, the still-ambulating zombie elites among whom we are all trapped.
Tomorrow—part 2: Meet the Press
The way the French see HAL: According to the leading authority on the subject, HAL was “sentient.” Full name: HAL 9000.
We don’t know why they say HAL was sentient, nor do they explain. Soon, though, they provide more facts about the world-famous computer:
WIKIPEDIA: HAL is listed as the 13th-greatest film villain in the AFI's 100 Years, 100 Heroes and Villains. In the French-language version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL's name is CARL...Those French! They do have a different word for everything, just as Steve Martin observed.