I haven’t written much about movies or TV over the past 20 years — even though it was my major in college. Go figure. But I did write this about 18 months or so ago. It stemmed from something I noticed in the first season of “Fear the Walking Dead” on AMC. It was devoid of reporting about the looming zombie apocalypse.
Pretty story — or at least it should be.
So I knocked this off. My niece Ariel liked it. I hope to write more about movies and TV in the weeks and months ahead.
After watching the first four episodes of “Fear the Walking Dead,” the much promoted sequel / prequel to the AMC network’s franchise program, “The Walking Dead,” I was struck by one thought beyond how ponderous, poorly acted and drearily scripted it is.
Where in the hell are the journalists?
For those who don’t know, the precursor to this show, “The Walking Dead,” is just about the most popular thing on cable TV not produced by the NFL or involving candidates running for president. It’s a searing, shocking, perverse and downright depressing survival / morality tale set in a dystopian world already overwhelmed by a zombie apocalypse (the nuclear holocaust of this generation). The series starts with what is ostensibly the end. The would-be hero awakens dazed in a hospital in Georgia to a world that has already proceeded into a fresh hell that defies the imagination of anyone but the author of the comic book that spawned this shocking enterprise. No one knows how it began or spread. It’s a mystery the character Rick Grimes must unravel while trying to stay alive among the inhuman zombies, who, like email, keep coming even as they are deleted, and the very human menaces also grasping for purchase by any means necessary in an uncertain and harrowing world.
It’s riveting stuff, for those who can stand to watch it.
“Fear the Walking Dead,” on the other hand, is set in Los Angeles when all is still pretty normal. People are going about their daily lives. The two central characters work at a high school — one a teacher the other an assistant principal. She has a teenage daughter and son, the latter is a drug addict — about the last person you would want to have around when the world is about to slip off its trolley. The dad has a civil libertarian teenage son from a previous marriage and an ex-wife.
Pretty standard daily dramas ensue. Things, of course, get a little out of kilter fairly quickly, there’s some buzz at the school about people becoming sick. No one seems to understand what’s going on except one chubby kid at the high school — the quintessential tech nerd — who admits he’s seen some strange internet traffic and warns that when things go to hell, they go to hell fast. Not long after, a YouTube video surfaces of police firing round after round of bullets into a “homeless” person who won’t go down. Most don’t believe it, or think it’s a fake. There is the standard “Twilight Zone” mixture of denial, misunderstanding and panic. There isn’t enough information to make a call one way or another.
This is where I ask again: Where in the hell are the professional journalists?
There are no newspapers reporting even the start of a plague or action by local, state and federal government. There are no hysterical reports on TV, there is very little digital reporting either. Things do indeed go to hell quickly and without a peep from the media. What we have are a few citizen journalists with cellphone cameras.
This omission says a lot about the changes in our culture today and is not by accident. In terms of filmmaking, newspapers and TV have historically played pivotal roles in advancing plot and informing not only characters but audiences. The spinning newspaper headline is a cliché, but it and TV or radio reports fill in blanks and help the storytelling. And in a larger sense, the media — new and old — were part of the narrative. Reporters should be in the field telling this world-shattering story via any means available to let people know what’s going on and question public officials.
But there isn’t even a hint of a journalist anywhere as things descend into, well, hell.
I also think this says a great deal about how the show’s producers view media today. “The Walking Dead” series is set in a time period very much our own. It’s not futuristic in the least. But this is a definite nod to the rapid decline of newspapers — which has been in progress for nearly a decade — and the relatively new idea that TV might be in just as much trouble. In a media market shattered into millions of pieces, more people are choosing to watch what they wish, when they wish and on whatever format they wish. Today, five people could be sitting in the same room watching five different programs on tablets or telephones — and none would be news.
Ten years ago I might be tempted to warn that the producers are providing a cautionary tale about what might happen in a world where the media no longer matter or worse, cease to exist. After all, isn’t it the traditional job of the media to tell the public the world is going to hell whether it is or not?
The reality is probably far more scary for people in my line of work. The producers didn’t think to include journalists at all.