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Trauma in the Media: My Obsession with The Walking Dead!

Posted on April 27, 2018

Trauma in the Media: My Obsession with The Walking Dead!

I’m currently binge watching The Walking Dead. Yes, yours truly likes zombie movies and is only slightly embarrassed to admit it to all of you!

For those of us who understand trauma, it becomes easy to bring this understanding into all aspects of our life and worldview. Over the years, I continue to look for an excellent story void of any trauma. I’m still searching! Great stories follow an arc and trauma sets forth the challenges and growth opportunity for the characters to overcome and experience.

The Walking Dead intrigues me because trauma is a constant threat and enters nearly every episode in the form of people getting eaten alive and then becoming zombies, or Walkers as they are referred to in the show. The Walking Dead is not a show about zombies; it is a show about a small group of people surviving constant trauma and what that trauma does to them and other surviving people or groups. When you binge the show, like I’m currently doing on snowy days, you become almost oblivious to the fact that zombies are unusual things! The show transforms into an investigation of human psychology and relationships.

While fiction rarely captures the true devastation of trauma, hardships create great characters. In overcoming trauma, these characters transform from struggling normal people into heroes and heroines. From Homer to Shakespeare to Disney, the great storytellers understood the transformational power to trauma. The better one presented the psychological damage, the more complex and relatable the characters. Freud argued that our connection with these characters facilitated catharsis as we relieve our unconscious anxiety and tension through participating in the story.

Binge watching, while maybe not the healthiest way to spend the day, allows us to lose ourselves in these characters, their traumas, and their transformation. Sadly, I’m almost done with The Walking Dead so I’m looking for suggestions. What are you watching and, if you put the trauma lens on the show/movie, why do you think you connect to it on a deeper level?

Put your response in the comments so others can add it to their lists!

15 responses to “Trauma in the Media: My Obsession with The Walking Dead!”

  1. Courtney says:

    If you want a great show about trauma then Shameless should be next on your list.

  2. Randy says:

    Hi Matt,
    It was another great session with you here on Fort Carson the other day! I completely agree with the aspects of trauma in the media where film-makers use it as a strength to captivate the audience. I also believe it may cause small trauma’s to the viewers as they watch and ride the roller coaster of adrenaline that we all crave and thus the reason we continue to watch. What do you believe or think of the long-term effects for our youth in that regards? If kids are watching shows with small or large trauma’s, could the become desensitized to the events taking place? If they are, will it decrease their empathy when it comes to real-life events? I have been pondering this myself for a while now and wonder how much children are effected by the media and video games revolving around war and other graphic content.

    It is an older series but I really enjoyed “Vampire Diaries” and “The Originals” which is a continuation off the first. The trauma roller-coaster that kept me going through it was the relationship triangles, the grief of life loss, and the re-occurrences that were involved with the undead.

    Thanks again for a great workshop and have a wonderful weekend!

    • Matthew Bennett says:

      Thanks Randy, I’ll check your suggestion out! Your question is a good one. While I am not an expert in this area, I have come across some interesting research. The first was a study that compared Japanese and U.S. youth who play violent video games. The study showed that youth in the U.S. showed a greater negative response to these games (though see the next study for context on this finding). Research wondered if this response was caused by where these groups played their games. Most of the Japanese youth played video games in their living room with family present the U.S. youth played in their rooms. It seemed like this cultural difference explained the responses more than a genetic difference. The other research I’ve seen shows that if I child has violent tendencies before exposure then exposure creates a state of aggressiveness after playing. Those youth without these tendencies showed little effect. Like most things, the relationship between consuming violence and violent acts or thoughts are complex. My conclusion is that kids from neglectful or abusive homes experience a greater negative impact when compared to those from good family systems.

      I always love my trips to your district! It is such an honor to work with all the great folks I’ve met!

  3. Lisa says:

    Hi, I probably am not fit to comment on zombies as I don’t consume them or really any commercial programming. I find the visuals off-putting and choose not to add extraneous fright in my life (plenty of real-life struggle to grapple with). However, the zombie craze has always struck me a a reflection of our culture and the people therein – overworked, overstressed, overweight, overconsuming, overviolent – pretty much pushed to the limit on a daily basis. I know folks that are simply checked out because it is the only place they can find respite. These are the zombies I see, along side your heroic small group. Thank you for your work!

    • Matthew Bennett says:

      Love it! I agree that our “monsters” are reflections of our cultures. Aliens, Vampires, Zombies, and others represent the dark sides of our humanity (or what we fear about “others”). Seeing the survivors in a world of zombies as people trying to find meaning and identify in a world gone numb is fascinating! Thanks for the deep thought on a Friday!

  4. Jen says:

    Jessica Jones all the way!

  5. Terry Barlow says:

    I’ve been a WD fan since it first aired. As a fellow zombie-phile, I couldn’t agree more with your assessment! There are several others that are worth watching but Breaking Bad is one of the best. And Dexter, though the concept is raw and a little disturbing, is fascinating. I’m just starting Jessica Jones also – TERRIFIC!

  6. Terry Barlow says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful blog… always.

  7. Sabrina says:

    Hi Matt,

    Love your blog! I am on season 6 of Walking Dead and am also fascinated by the psychology of it all. Some of my other favorites are Outlander, Sons of Anarchy, Dexter and True Blood. Outlander is my #1 favorite! There’s some interesting psychology in time travel too.

    While Sons of Anarchy is extremely violent, you get an inside look at how ingrained a way of life/upbringing can become – even when it goes against what you would think all humans would have as basic morals. I remember a talk you gave at the library and examples of working with a gang member or a person experiencing homelessness. You mentioned trying to drag people living in those kinds of worlds into our worlds and how it just doesn’t work any more than us trying to survive in their worlds. I think that goes a long way in finding ways to meet people where they’re at in the helping professions.

    Another thing that fascinates me about some of these shows (and books) like Sons of Anarchy and Dexter is the way writers can write the shows to pull viewers into the world of what we would normally perceive to be a villain (in the real world) and get us rooting for them in the shows.

    • Matthew Bennett says:

      Hey Sabrina! Sons was one of my favorite shows as well. I love your point about connecting will the villain, that is why I love The Americans so much. I have not watched Outlander yet but heard positive reviews from several people, so now it is officially on my list! Thanks for the kind words and suggestions my friend!

  8. Melissa Data says:

    I’m a huge fan of The Walking Dead as well because of its study on human psychology. I love the trauma lens…don’t know why I didn’t figure this out sooner. Great post, Matt!

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