There's a word for it.

 

The Walking Dead is one of my favorite shows. You have to understand this is not normal. I do not like to be scared. I think being scared on purpose is a waste of good adrenaline. I don’t do haunted houses. I don’t do roller coasters. I refuse to skydive. I think nightlights are genius. I do not do fear. So how did it come about that I have seen every episode of The Walking Dead?

I think I’ve finally figured it out, five seasons later. There are all of the regular reasons: It’s character-driven and well written. The production is great and the cast is beautiful. But a lot of shows do this. I would know. I watch a lot of tv. (I need it on to avoid hearing noises outside.) It’s not really about the show. It’s about me.

Of course it’s about me. Most people don’t engage in something they are not attracted to (the rest get their own label). It’s not worth the energy to force yourself to like something that doesn’t matter, like a television show. So if you like it, it’s because there’s something about it that, to put it dramatically, calls to you personally. It’s not narcissism; it’s nature.

In the past I’ve said that I like the show because it’s less about the dead guys than it is about the live ones. This is true, but there’s more to the story.

After watching an episode recently, I decided I needed some downtime before sleepy-time so I didn’t spend half an hour checking underneath the bed for undead nappers. For that downtime, I chose The Hunger Games.

Bingo.

There it was. The reason I like The Walking Dead. And The Hunger Games. Breaking Bad And Lost. Final Fantasy and Coheed and Cambria. Brave New World, War of the Worlds, Charles Dickens, Edgar Rice Burroughs. You get the idea.

Dystopia.

Dystopia is tragedy made digestible. It’s just outside the realm of possibility that we don’t have to be afraid of it. Think about it. There is no possible way there could be a zombie apocalypse and no one knows what a zombie is. Crazy, right?

We can sit on this side of the screen or the page and not actually have to run from danger or learn how to start a fire with sticks. It’s safe, and we can watch over the characters like guardian angels in the wrong line of work. We get to empathize. Well, as much as we can. I don’t actually know what it’s like to have to decide to kill or die and I hope you don’t either.

Dystopia gives us permission to feel whatever the characters are feeling and experiencing. It’s the best kind of escapism.

I can hear you now. “No way! Happy/smiley/Disney singing animals is the best kind of escapism!”

I absolutely understand if you believe that. I can Singin’ in the Rain with the best of them. I watch I Love Lucy every morning and for my 30th birthday I did an Anne of Green Gables tour of Prince Edward Island. I also love utopia. Escapism in a lot of forms, really.

But on the dark side of the moon, you get to let it all out. You get to feel afraid and anxious on a level that is just not socially acceptable in the real world. In fact, if you don’t feel for the characters you’re insensitive.

Interacting with these characters on an emotional level allows us to grow as human beings. When a loved one walks out of a barn as a Walker that needs to be put down, you feel the desperation of loss and you can identify with the loss of others. When your stomach drops as someone dies so the others can live, you know the feeling of sacrifice.

Empathy is a great gift, one that should be taken advantage of. Absolutely spend time in the Magic Kingdom. Think of the happiest things. It’s the same as having wings.

But also spend time in the Arena, in Terminus and the Land that Time Forgot. Because if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.