Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Lisa Flores

Second Advisor

Marlia Banning

Fourth Advisor

Polly McLean

Abstract

This thesis examines gendered portrayals in AMC’s The Walking Dead and NBC’s Revolution, two popular, contemporary television programs. The shows’ location at the generic intersections of science fiction and post-apocalyptic drama potentially allows for them to tell fantastic stories about people, place, and politics that diverge from current cultural conventions of gender, ability, and power. This project utilizes a feminist rhetorical criticism to interrogate these texts in order to uncover the degrees to which Revolution and The Walking Dead put forth narratives that uphold hegemonic assumptions and “norms” about gender, power, and survival despite their futuristic settings, as well as moments which subvert them. I found contradictory messages about gender overall, and specifically about bodies, ability, and power as they function in their respective dystopian worlds. There is an uneven burden of gender-complexity for female characters only; women alone must learn to adopt masculine ways of fighting, maintaining a home, and even mothering. Men who lead, fight, and mentor are assumed to “naturally” possess these abilities. Qualities and strengths typically associated with femininity are almost never privileged, for even when communication and contemplation are adopted by men, they are mixed in with the typically-masculine traits of aggression and expansion. Such familiar scripts are also often characteristic of the Western genre, as both programs utilize these qualities, as well as the wandering hero, the evil villain, and the duel, to provide recognizable narratives in otherwise-strange settings. However, The Walking Dead’s additional genre of horror then works to disturb familiarity. By presenting the audience with bizarre and grotesque images, sounds, and stories, this show, above Revolution overall, presents more complicated narratives about gender, ability, and power. Neither program can be dismissed as outright sexist or conventional, nor can their kick-ass female protagonists simply deem the shows revolutionary. Rather, they, and I find The Walking Dead more so, simultaneously work within traditional ideologies of patriarchy and Western cultural hegemony while providing moments and characters which subvert those very norms.