Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Women, Children, and the Apocalypse

When I was at Comic-Con this past month, I attended two panels about upcoming post-apocalyptic shows (yay!)

I enjoyed the panels and look forward to the shows but I couldn't help but be struck by how the same questions were asked during both.

The first question? The role of the main female character. When asked about their roles in the show, both Sarah Wayne Callies (of The Walking Dead) and Moon Bloodgood (of Falling Skies) said they felt the roles of their characters were to keep everyone human, pull the family together, and remind them of what's important.

Essentially what I heard is that the men will be struggling with just how far they will go to save their families and the women will be the gentling, humanizing presence.

For some reason, this didn't settle particularly well with me. Perhaps if it had been just one show that took this direction, I wouldn't have even thought about it, but hearing it twice in one day really lodged itself into my brain.

I mean really? The show Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been off the air for seven years now, one of the first shows that gave us a kick-ass heroine who saved the world multiple times from its demise. What we all loved about her, though, was just how real she was as a character. Buffy was never perfect, she wasn't some sort of saint or sweet girl who also happened to save the world. She was tough, manipulative, and not above using others for her own purposes. Sure she often believed she was acting towards a greater good, the salvation of the world, but you can make a variety of arguments about her actions and motivations throughout the seven seasons of the show.

I also saw the film The Road (sorry haven't read the book!). In this dark and harrowing post-apocalyptic world, we have a man and child trying to survive. What is notable about this, at least to me, is that the man is trying to teach his son to remember the light inside them--in essence their humanity. They act counter to the many other people surviving during this time. And in fact, they do this without his wife, who couldn't hack it in this world, and is no longer with them. (though apparently that's a new rising cliched role)

And what about The Hunger Games? Katniss Everdeen does what she has to do to survive in tough circumstances. She's full of grit and strength. She doesn't cross any real lines, but she certainly calls to mind Buffy as she uses the love of those around her to give her strength to be the face of the revolution. The character that best represents the gentle preservation of humanity is Peeta, who acts in love for Katniss and continually demonstrates the ability to love sacrificially in the most difficult of circumstances.

The beauty of post-apocalyptic work is that it boils us down to the essence of who we are. A place where I suspect men and women will react differently to the circumstances they find themselves in. Not AS men and women or BECAUSE they are men or women but rather as people. Gender shouldn't be a factor in the development of a character's reaction in the most severe of circumstances, and I can't help but feel that the very last thing we need is more cliched portrayals of men and women during the apocalypse. It's just not fair to any of us.

Interestingly enough, the other question that was asked quite a bit is what do you do with children? I thought this was interesting because it's all well and good to write gruesome, horrible things in books or graphic novels but when you bring it to a visual presentation you need actual children to act out these roles. Children during an apocalypse will naturally not be sheltered from awful things, but the children playing these characters should perhaps be sheltered from the hideous zombies. In any case, a child acting in a post-apocalyptic piece might be introduced to some pretty dark things in life.

Who are your favorite characters in post-apocalyptic works?


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