This recent episode of the Walking Dead episode really hit it on the head for me why it always seems so popular in conservative circles. It seems almost designed to resonate with the conservative mind in a deep way.
1. The other is scary:
The walkers represent many of the fears of the conservative mind. The walkers on top of being literal representations of death, also are powerful symbols of the conservative interpretation of "collectivist" ideas. They they will either assimilate or destroy the individual. Over and over again the refrain is that when it comes to other people they don't know, the right reaction is skepticism at the mildest, or hostility at its strongest. The show over and over again assumes that in the absence of authority, we revert to brutal and sadistic ways.
2. Violence, especially gun violence, is necessary for a safe society:
This one is a little obvious. The show reveres soldiers, police officers, and hunters. Basically the characters we’re led to like the most are the ones who are deeply entwined with American gun culture. Characters on the Walking dead rarely show their value without the use of guns, and those that don’t are the most likely to die (sorry Morgan). It also reinforces a natural hierarchy of those with violent capabilities. As I mentioned, the police officers and soldiers always seem to naturally rise into positions of authority, and those without that training learn to simply accept it or die to the rampaging hordes of collectivism.
3. The Pioneer:
Big in the American psyche, but especially in the conservative one is the idea of Jefferson’s yeoman farmer. It comes sometimes literally in the case of Herschel, but many of the stories in the Walking Dead are about single people rising up to protect their tribe.
It also rewards those with extremist self-sufficiency and apocalyptic ideation. The best people in this zombie world are those who hoarded cans of food, guns, and ammo before the apocalypse, as well as those that retired to rural areas. Who are the unlucky ones? People who live in cities, do white collar jobs, and were members of society. The Walking Dead’s heroes are those that hunt their food, hoard their resources, and live off their own land as Jefferson wanted, but with less slaves.
This builds on point 1, but in the Walking Dead tribes are key. In our world its class, race, town, but in this it is the bonds of groups. “The Group” is a category never challenged, and the supremacy of “the group” is rarely ever a problem. If anything, it is privileging the humanity of your own over others that saves them many times.
5. The World is Competition:
My beef with the Walking Dead has always been that the Walkers would likely have been put down in pretty quick order, and the new spinoff has shown how much gymnastics they have to do to show that the walkers could overwhelm society. But that would tell a collectivist narrative and wouldn’t make for good TV. So the show has the collectivist federal authority give up at the first rattle, reinforcing that trusting the government is not a good idea. In the wake of that, every group of Humans except for “the group” have been either cannibals, raiders, or naïve sheep begging for an authority figure to lead them to safety. There are no networks outside of small tribes or city-states, and they kill each other for resources instead of the clear superiority in pooling resources and working as a team.
6. Conservative Values Matter when it really counts:
I think Margaret Atwood really hit on something like what I’m getting at in the Handmaid’s tale. In her novel, when reproduction is heavily reduced from a disease, women very quickly have their position reverted to a deeply conservative place. To Atwood this is an example of pure horror, but the Walking Dead seems to see it as an asset.
As soon as society breaks down, dynamics in “the group” revert to conservative norms. Watch the first season again and see the role that women and children play in “the group”. Society becomes almost naturally more hierarchical, and the death penalty becomes a foregone conclusion. It’s those with strong “family values” that seem to thrive in this world, and those who oppose it, usually die.
I should finish this off by saying I do really like the Walking Dead. I think some of the ways it is humanizing homosexual people is really good and I commend it for that. I just thought through this all to explain why the show seems to be much more deeply resonant to conservatives. I am currently reading through the comic book series, and find that the people behind the direction of both are actually really interesting, and I might make a follow-up comparing the two.