The Walking Dead, Mad Max, The Road, Fallout, The Book of Eli, ___ of the Dead, Gamma World: why are post-apocalyptic settings so popular and so compelling?
I think it’s because they give us a simple and focused problem to hold on to. There are two types of fear of death, the neurotic and the basic. For most of us who have the time to watch tv or play games in an apocalyptic settings our lives are swaddled in complexities
– regulations, economics – that largely insulate us from the basic fear of death, that fear of literally dying that is endemic to every wild animal and every person who lives in the wilderness or Journeys too far from civilization, and that we all face at the end of our lives.
Most of the time we deal with a neurotic fear of death the fear of not mattering, the fear of not leaving a legacy of not being important, of not being loved, of not being good enough. You could argue that this is actually a fairly biologically driven fear as well, since a big part of survival is passing on your genes, at least at the most animal level. And only the “superior specimens” have the best chances of passing on their genes the most times in the animal kingdom.
To quote the Bloodhound Gang, “you and me baby ain’t nothin but mammals.”
We’re all swaddled up in this relatively safe bubble filled with self-doubt and bitching and just a general feeling that we’re wading through shallow water or mud or molasses. We just don’t have that freedom that people used to have.
In the apocalyptic genre, it’s basically you can do whatever you can get away with. There’s no police, no law, no civilization: you just have to survive.
You can get away with whatever you can physically get away with.
It’s good to root for people who try to maintain some sort of goodness in the sight of this lawlessness.
This is why people loved the Western genre for so long before it fell out of favor, because you had the strong individual standing up for something good in the lawless land.
I will leave the obvious low-hanging fruit of westerns’ horrible representation of Native Americans and other social issues for later because I have no desire to shoot fish in a barrel.
The post-apocalyptic setting usually gives us a chance to inhabit a character who’s trying to be a good guy or reluctantly becoming a good guy in the face of lawlessness, while also experiencing that basic fear of death vicariously.
And the best part about it is we don’t have to experience the deprivation and hard work that come along with it. We don’t even have to watch our favorite heroes experience that.
I mean sure The Walking Dead‘s characters scavenge for food, but Abraham would not really be able to keep that glorious ginger high top fade of his during an actual struggle to survive.
But we can watch, enjoy, be shocked and scared and catharsis-ed six ways from Sunday (at 9 pm, 8 central), without having to ensure trench foot or sepsis, and without smelling as bad as the zombies.
And, just because I can, and must: