“Learning” from The Walking Dead (No Spoilers)

I am far enough in my media marathoning research and writing that I’m ready to announce my thesis: The immersive experience of media marathoning creates a liminal space through which the fictive and real worlds come into contact. In this space, marathoners are able to use the dialogue between fictive and real worlds to work through complex questions of morality. My book is divided into two parts, the first analyzing marathoners and the second analyzing their chosen texts.

Blog readers may be tired of my How I Met Your Mother references that have peppered summer and fall posts, so I’m moving on to The Walking Dead to illustrate how I got to my thesis. The Walking Dead provides a lot of interesting “equipment for living” for its viewers, specifically as we wrestle with complex questions surrounding illness, death, euthanasia, and survival. In a recent conversation my dad he told me The Walking Dead encourages him to question what role he would play in our neighborhood if there was a natural disaster. He has thought about what resources and skills could he provide for the group of survivors. (It may come as no surprise that my dad has a generator and gun collection.) These survival thoughts are on others’ minds: A student of mine told of getting into a verbal fight with his co-workers over how to best survive the zombie apocalypse. This type of conflict reminded me of visiting the zoo this summer and seeing a little boy get put into time out for Avada Kedavra-ing his sister. These examples show the real consequences of our experiences with these mediated worlds.

walking dead

Please suspend your disbelief, Mr. Wonka.

In a more poignant example, Ingrid, an avid television marathoner, could not keep the real world/fictive world dialogue out of her head. In regard to Breaking Bad, she connected her father’s death from cancer to Walt’s struggles with cancer, surmising that her viewing of the show “might be cathartic in a sense.” She had a less cathartic and more adverse reaction to an episode of The Walking Dead: “Where the girl’s dad had gotten bit by the zombie and she was talking to him and it looked like he was dying. [. . .] She was like, ‘It’s OK I understand you don’t have to live anymore if you’re in pain.’ I was like ‘whoa, whoa, whoa, too familiar’ and I actually had to get up and leave.”

The experience of marathoning doesn’t provide all the answers, but it can certainly encourage us to work through complex, and even painful, questions.

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