Don’t lose your PC badge in the Apocalypse

April 18, 2013

It was an interesting coincidence that The Simpsons aired their “survivalist” episode “Homer Goes to Prep School” the same night The Walking Dead was wrapping up its third season. I’m not sure that actual preppers watch The Walking Dead (only in the sense that fictions feed many of their beliefs), but I think the show serves as a good guide to that mindset, since both preppers and TV writers seem to share the same Incredibles complex, namely that there are but a few worthy people on this planet and the rest of us are sheep.

(Don’t worry too much about your standing. You are mostly likely one of the sheep. And I am using the term “preppers” to refer to the very stereotypical notion of survivalists driven by right-wing conspiracy theories.)

Take Lost. There were more survivors and more people on that Island than the opening credits would suggest. Where else did they get all those people to run in front of bullets? Random people would pop up whenever the writers needed to display the Island’s hostility to humanity without losing a main player or when someone needed to stand behind Jack’s shoulder and nod during emotional “group” face-offs.

These people experience the same suffering, the same losses, and the same struggles as our main characters, but for some reason, they are not exceptional. They are functional, what gamers would call NPCs (non-player characters).

Back to The Walking Dead. Woodbury was a town full of NPCs. They support their sociopathic leader (the Governor) without question, right up until they don’t. The Governor has this vast network of spies, soldiers, and commandos, watching the prison, capturing walkers, etc. – but only about three men get names, lines of dialogue, and close ups. The rest are sheep, even though they stop bullets as good as anyone.

So if you want to survive a zombie apocalypse, you need to keep a tight grip on your PC badge, which is not as easy as it sounds. Andrea, she was a PC, and look what happened to her. She had many “emotional moments” that would seem to grant her a permanent “PC” tattoo – but The Walking Dead is essentially an unending sequence of emotional moments, one after the other, so much that they have lost their impact. Many characters have noted, “Everyone’s lost someone.” That’s the universe they live in – but the show’s writers seem to be unable to move on from that…

While there is no guarantee of permanent PC status, one way to guarantee loss of status is to become the moral foil to either the protagonist or the antagonist. Andrea was both. That’s a definite fail on her saving throw.

As I understand it, fans complained about her obtuse inability to see the Governor’s true nature. But characters are only as smart as the writing allows. And the writers twisted and turned and contorted to keep her as dumb as a post. There was plenty of information floating around that should have swayed her opinion of the Governor – e.g., he had Glenn tortured, he sexually assaulted Maggie, he gunned down a group of soldiers and took their weapons.

Any one of these tidbits, had they been communicated to her, would have swayed her to one side and altered her character arc. But we never see this information passed to her. No one tells her. Why? Because doing so would spoil her function. She needs to get us from Point A to Point B. Andrea didn’t kill the Governor because the script told her not to. She lost her PC badge.

Like The Walking Dead writers, preppers see NPCs everywhere. Except we are their canvas – and they are painting their own narrative on reality. They look at me and see a radiation canary. I will be the sheep gunned down by jackbooted government soldiers, the one who dies from the formaldehyde in a flu shot, the pile of dust after a fifth-column drone attack on American soil. No matter how hard I believe I have a PC badge, they will never regard me as anything but zombie food.

So both preppers and TV writers both are willing to sacrifice NPCs to realize their narratives. I guess the big difference is that TV writers are trying to make fiction look more like reality. For preppers, it is just the opposite. They might, for example, edit a popular animated show so that it appears to foretell actual events.

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