This essay was almost called Binge Watching the Walking Caucasians.
Caution: If there is anyone in the world (besides me) who hasn’t already watched the Walking Dead, please be aware: this blog post contains spoilers.
Author’s note: I’ve been told that the Walking Dead made huge changes after it’s first few seasons and is now one of the most diverse and feminist shows available to binge on streaming sites.
For the past two months, I’ve been binge watching the Walking Dead.
I don’t watch much TV. With the exception of the two recently ended weeks that included the Olympics—a period when I watched about forty-five minutes of TV per night—I probably don’t watch more than ninety minutes a week. Maybe four twenty-two-minute episodes. And all of those shows are watched with the rest of my family. For me, TV is simply about spending time with my kids.
Does that sound strange? It seems odd to write. The thought of two adults and two kids sitting slack-jawed in front of a TV watching cops solve violent crimes is about the worst family image I can conjure up. But we don’t watch cop shows. Mostly we watch clever sit-coms like Modern Family. And during those shows, we interact. Sometimes we hit the pause button and stop to discuss something, but usually we talk right over the action. TV with my family is time set aside to communicate.
This past Christmas, we got ourselves a spin bike as a family gift. The plan was that through these crappy winter months, when everyone typically sits around inside, we would each take a daily turn riding the bike. Even before it was delivered, I knew this was wishful thinking, our bike would get a solid week of use and then sit idle. But that never happened. Two months later, the four of us need to negotiate when we get our shift on the bike. As an example: it’s now 8:40 p.m. and Eli’s on the bike. He’s riding so late because I just got off.
When I ride, I watch the Walking Dead. My binge. As I ride, thirty minutes per day, I watch part of an episode. When one ends, I launch right into the next. Binging. I’m on the third season.
“Dad, a half an hour per day isn’t binge watching.” That’s Sophie giving me a reality check. I took a little poll. It seems that most people agree with her. Apparently for it to be a binge, you need to watch full episodes… at least two.
I can’t imagine sitting down for two full episodes. The Walking Dead just isn’t that good. It’s got to be the most redundant show ever written. By the time I got through the third episode (after four days of watching), I considered bailing on the series altogether. There are only so many ways you can “kill” a zombie, and I assumed by then I’d seen them all.
But instead, the Walking Dead snared me. I started becoming invested in the characters, and it was easier than finding a new series to watch while I ride. I still think it’s redundant and as slow moving as a soap opera (half of season-two took place over a couple of days in a traffic jam), but I’m still watching. And while watching, I’ve noticed something about the show:
The Walking Dead has a problem with minorities. From the start, minorities are almost non-existent in the roster of characters. Yes, there is a prominent Korean-American character. He’s strong and capable, but that’s where diversity ends.
I looked up the racial makeup of Georgia—the state where the action takes place (so far). According to Wikipedia, the white population of Georgia is fifty-five percent. Half of the Walking Dead characters should be non-Caucasian. Early on, there was Latino family. Not prominent in the action, but I recall the father having a few lines. They were gone by the middle of the first season. They struck out on their own. Leaving the safety of the lily-white group to find what they called “our people.” No kidding.
Regarding African-Americans, the show is abysmal. The black population of Georgia is over thirty percent. Yet the show started with only two black characters: Cartoonishly-named T-Dog and his mom. Even the walkers (zombies) are all white. Like the Latino family, T-Dog’s mom also quits the group. She commits suicide rather than continue as a marginal black character in an exclusively white show.
For the next season and a half, T-Dog does almost nothing. In every season-two scene, he is on the periphery, leaning against a tree, taking up space. There are only a dozen characters. You’d think the writers would give him something to do. Season-two’s role for T-Dog: badly cut his arm while scrounging around in derelict cars looking for cigarettes; get rescued from a tight jam by the resident redneck; and kill one walker. If he had a dozen lines that season, I’d be astonished.
At the start of season three, T-Dog was suddenly more vocal. He was more engaged. He was actually prominent is several scenes. Alas, the writers were simply trying to build some interest in him; a few episodes later he was eaten.
So, was the Walking Dead left with no African-Americans? No, around the time T-Dog began being prepped for death, the producers introduced Michonne. She’s a bad ass. Fit and grumpy. Her weapon of choice is a Samurai sword. She’s empowered and in control. But I wouldn’t call her a strong character. She has no character at all. All she does is brood and kill. Another African-American, another one-dimensional character.
Pretty much the only time a minority population has been well represented in the entire series so far is when our group of main characters discovers a handful of living inmates in the federal prison they take over. Three of the five inmates are black. Ah, finally! Some African-Americans in the story. Let’s ignore the fact that they are all criminals. It doesn’t matter, anyway. This group is completely killed off the show in a couple of episodes.
Even twelve-year-old Carl and the new-born baby (dubbed Little Ass Kicker) get more opportunities at character development than any of the black characters so far.
This is blatantly racist stuff. There is one “token” character of color at a time for three seasons. I’m assuming this was a big debate topic as the episodes were first being aired. Because I’m trying to avoid spoilers myself, I’ve been hesitant to read much about the show. But it’s hard to avoid. Just the other day, I saw a photo accompanying a news story about the new season of the Walking Dead. From this photo, I now know that five years later, Carl and Little Ass Kicker are still going strong… and yes, Carl is still wearing his idiotic sheriff hat.
I acknowledge that I’m only a third of the way through the filmed-to-date episodes, so possibly, the makers of the Walking Dead eventually rectify their oversight(?) if that’s what it really is. There may be a change coming that I can’t foresee, but so far, the show has been less diverse than my rural Pennsylvania farming community.