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Walking Dead Ideology

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Choosing a TV programme of your choice, explain how it creates its particular ideological perspective

The television has been around us for centuries and it has become a major source of information to society. Spreading information amongst the people means spreading a particular kind of ideas. These ideas or beliefs provide people with a way of understanding the world and they are referred to as ‘ideology’. It is believed that the media is used to set certain ideology in society. Consequently, television, as a part of the media, has its own role in putting through these ideas. In this essay I am going to explain what ideology is and how it affects society through television. I am also going to give an example of creating particular ideological perspective using the American horror drama television series The Walking Dead (AMC, 2010) developed by Frank Darabont. Ideology, as I already mentioned, is a particular set of ideas. However, we call ‘ideological’ only the ideas that relate to the distribution of social power. (Branston, G. and Stafford, R., 2010, p. 172) There are different ideologies, such as religious, political, etc. and each of them imposes its own way of seeing the world. Yet, ‘ideology’ was first defined by classical Marxism. Karl Marx claimed that our society is capitalist, i.e. it is divided into two major groups: the dominant class (the richer/ bourgeoisie) and the working class (the poorer/proletariat). The higher class are the people with power, the people who own enterprises, the employers. On the contrary, the lower class, are the subordinate, the workers of the enterprises, the employees. According to Marx, the ruling class oppresses the working class and only the former benefit economically from the whole system of the society. (Creeber, G., 2006,p. 44 ) He claimed that the bourgeoisie aimed at spreading a particular set of ideas amongst the masses. Consequently, ideology belongs to the dominant class. The ideology is the dominant ideas of society. The dominant ideas become part of the ‘common sense’ of society. (Branston, G. and Stafford, R., 2010, p. 176) As members of a particular kind of culture we are ‘trained’ to accept its ideology as natural. What is more, we are taught to invest in its maintenance so that the status quo cannot be resisted. (Mumford. L., 1995, p. 10) However, society is organised around a ‘preferred self-image’. The self-image is how the dominant class describe society. If there is a crisis over the dominant groups there will be competing self-images. Nevertheless, one of the self-images must be accepted. Otherwise, the coherence in society will be lost. A society without dominant beliefs is a society in crisis. (Cormack, M., 1994, p. 9, 11) This leads to the conclusion that for better or worse a society needs a leader, a dominant class, an ideology to follow in order to function properly.
Going back to Karl Marx, his approach is actually an ideology itself. It has been argued by a number of critics. The French Marxist Louis Althusser argued that there is more conflict between the ruling class and throughout society than Marxism claims. These are mainly race, gender, nation or age conflicts as well as contradictions between different corporate groups. There is nothing outside of ideology. The cultural theorist Stuart Hall claimed that ‘the notion that our heads are full of false ideas which can, however, be totally dispersed when we throw ourselves open to ‘the real’ as a moment of absolute authentication, is probably the most ideological conception of all’. (Allen, R., 1992, p. 127) In terms of media institutions, it is believed that they are a major factor in spreading ideology amongst people. Marx claims that the media is one of the main tools the ruling class uses to impose their ideas. Television is a huge part of the media and according to Marxism it would have a main role in maintaining the ideology the bourgeoisie has set. However, the Marxist understanding of ideology has left no alternative to the dominant ideology. Therefore in this case audiences are regarded as passive, unable to see beyond ideology and have their opinion. This approach to Media Studies is called ‘hypodermic needle theory’ as people appear to be directly influenced by the media. (Creeber, G., 2006, p. 48) Perhaps, the big impact of television on people derives from the most obvious thing about it: we receive it in our private living rooms every day. (Newcomb, H., 1982, p.434) It is believed that there is stereotyping in television storytelling. One aspect of this stereotyping is the so-called ‘binary oppositions’ (good versus evil, white versus black, man versus woman). These oppositions are not equal but one of them is accepted to be superior to the other, e.g. white is superior to black. This is why the good cowboy in a cowboy film is usually dressed in white, while the evil one is dressed in black. Television storytelling suggests that there is always a happy ending, everything will be all right and in the end things should stay the same like they were in the beginning or even better. This is a binary opposition itself: good always defeats evil. This shows how ideology changes our perception of the world and makes us think that there is always a good side of things. Furthermore, stereotyping can be noticed in television characters as well. (Creeber, G., 2006, p. 46-8) When watching a TV programme it can be often noticed that each or at least a few characters resemble characters from another TV programme. On the whole, television programmes always present a stereotype of the world surrounding us, there is always an idea to follow. I am going to give an example for this with the American television series The Walking Dead (AMC, 2010) as they suggest a clear ideology of how we accept the world. The Walking Dead TV series is about the sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) who wakes from a coma. On awakening Rick sees a world that has overcome a zombie apocalypse. He finds his wife and son as well as other many survivors. Although the characters are living in an alternative world, namely a world full of ‘walkers’ (as they call the zombies), they keep the beliefs of our society. Nevertheless, these beliefs start to distort at some points and switch to other ideas that help them stay alive. In my analysis of The Walking Dead I am going to focus on ideologies presented by the TV series which resemble our way of perceiving the world. One of the most obvious ideological perspectives in The Walking Dead is the one about leadership. When Rick Grimes finds his family he finds himself in a group of people who gradually start ‘following’ him, his directions and ideas, because he is a cop and they believe he is the most reasonable one. They accept him as a personification of the good, the right way. This is how The Walking Dead creates an ideological perspective that the policeman is the person who would always take the right decision. The group represents a small society which regards him as the leader and this serves as a potential election. As Mike Cormack states, a society without a leader is a society in crisis. (Cormack, M., 1994, p. 9, 11) Gradually Rick starts accepting himself as the one who rules and this can be noticed in the first episodes. In episode 4 (Vatos) Rick, Daryl (Norman Reedus), T-Dog (Robert Singleton) and Glen (Steven Yeun) meet another gang of people who also have a ‘representative’. When they meet Rick starts talking to their leader and presents himself as the leader of his group.
Despite losing some people on the way Rick and the group manage to find a farm of an old man Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson) who operates on Rick’s son Carl (Chandler Riggs) in order to take a bullet out of him. Hershel gives the group a shelter and since he is the father in the house he accepts himself as the ruler and doesn’t let anyone stand against his decisions. When conflicts between Hershel’s family and Rick’s group appear Hershel tells the sheriff to control ‘his’ people. This is how the leaders negotiate. They are not formal leaders but for some reason their groups are driven to follow them. In the final episode of season 2 the farm is overcome by ‘walkers’, it is set on fire and they all leave. They make a camp for the night and start talking that they should find another place. At this moment Rick concludes that ‘this isn’t a democracy any more’ and tells them to leave if they want or if they stay they have to accept his decisions and strictly follow them. His best friend Shane (John Bernthal) went against him, wanted to have his wife and kids, and eventually Rick killed him. This is the idea that no one can stand against the leader or if anyone does then he or she has to be excluded from the group. Everyone is now ‘trained’ to follow the dominant idea and not spoil the status quo. (Mumford. L., 1995, p. 10)
In the third season of The Walking Dead introduces a new ‘leader’ character known as the Governor (David Morrissey). On hearing how he calls himself we can assume that he is a leader who has somehow taken great power over a group of people and made them believe him and follow him. Apparently he has been elected for the ruler of a small town called Woodbury. The viewer encounters it with Andrea (Laurie Holden) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) when after a whole winter of hard survival they are brought there and decide to stay in the town for a while. On entering Woodbury they see a large group of people who believe that it is still possible to live like they did before the apocalypse. They are assured that Woodbury is safe and that they can keep on living like this forever, pretending that the world outside is the same. This is how the leader, the Governor, keeps the idea for society and for the town as the natural place to live in. He appears to be rather selfish and wants to be the one and only ruler and prepares Woodbury for war against Rick’s group. The war ideology is still present in the human understanding of the world. The Governor doesn’t want to let any other leader exist. The very few people who know that killing other people is not right can’t make any difference because everyone else follows the leader and his decisions. The people in Woodbury are somehow driven to do what he says and ‘know’ it is right. This is the hardest time for the human kind and instead of gathering and supporting each other, people form small groups and put limits and borders between each other, threaten each other, kill their own kind. Even at this moment the biggest enemy of a human is another human. People are afraid and don’t trust each other. If they gathered against the ‘walkers’ they would be strong and invincible. However, selfish characters, like the Governor’s, manage to impose the idea of division, war and dictatorship.
Most of the TV series usually have a happy ending (Creeber, G., 2006, p. 46-8). However sometimes this is not the case, in The Walking Dead a lot of main characters die, some of them lose their closest people and all these moments make it sad and dramatic and not so happy in the end. However, the series keep the belief that reason defeats the evil. The Walking Dead shows that people need a leader or an idea to follow. Rick is the face of the reason, the good side, the right way. In the end of the third season the Governor’s madness drives him to kill all of his own people. The survivors are accepted in Rick’s group. Rick realises that people should support each other and his reason tells him to help them no matter that they stood against him on the Governor’s side. The sheriff withdraws from the position of a leader and announces that he can’t take decisions himself because they might be wrong. He tells his group that they should decide everything together, that every single person and his views are of great importance. He tells them to forget that ‘this isn’t a democracy’ and that he made a mistake assuring them that he’s the one whose opinion matters. This is how The Walking Dead presents the idea that people shouldn’t stand against each other but help each other and take decisions together. The TV series show that the ‘Ricktatorship’ is not the only way of how society can exist.
To sum up, ideology can be defined as a set of beliefs that are the basis of a political, economic, religious or other system. Sometimes, ideology is said to be the set of beliefs of the dominant class which the dominant class imposes on the working class. Ideology can be found everywhere in our daily life. One of the main ways of implying certain kind of ideas is through the media. Since the media is our main source of information, therefore television is believed to have a great impact on people in terms of ideology. Every programme we see on television suggests a certain type of ideology and influences the society in a certain way. The Walking Dead (AMC, 2010) is one of the programmes which present clear ideas . One of these ideas is about hegemony - how those in power maintain their control and the town as the normal place for a human to live. The Walking Dead is TV series that resemble our understandings of the world, especially in terms of political views. We live in times when it is easier than ever to influence unnoticeably on someone’s believes through carefully scripted television series and we need to be aware of that if we want to remain clear minded.

Bibliography:

Allen, R. (1992): Channels of Discourse, Reassembled: Television and Contemporary Criticism, Routledge

Branston, G. and Stafford, R. (2010): The Media Student’s Book, Fifth edition, London: Routledge
Cormack, M. (1994): Ideology and Cinematography in Hollywood, 1930-39, The Macmillan Press LTD
Creeber, G. (2006): Tele-visions: an introduction to studying television, London: British Film Institute
Mumford, L. (1995): Love and Ideology in the Afternoon: Soap Opera, Women and Television Genre, Indiana University Press
Newcomb, H. (1982): Television: The Critical View, Third Edition, Oxford University press

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