In Answer to John Shirley On “Fear The Walking Dead” and Torture

“The word ends in prime time” would be an apt description of Fear The Walking Dead (AMC). A ‘companion” to the network’s The Walking Dead, Fear explores the fall of society to the ravenous undead, a topic that was glossed over in TWD. Set in Los Angeles, Fear follows the efforts of a family (and others) to survive as the city slowly and inexorably dies. Several episodes in, the army arrives, establishing a safe zone. Later, soldiers round up several characters in the dead of night and ship them to a field hospital. Comparisons to Gestapo raids are most likely not coincidental.

Desperate to rescue his wife from the clutches of her fascist captors, barber Daniel Salazar (who is revealed to have been a torturer for an authoritarian South American) kidnaps army corporal Andrew Adams, straps him to a chair, and tortures her location out of him.

The sight of an American soldier tied to a chair is uncomfortable. In a recent article for Raw Story (“The Walking Dead Spin-off Promotes Torture…So I’ve Walked Away’), noted science fiction writer John Shirley states that he will no longer watch the series because “It positively dramatized the false notion that “torture works.” Torturing people, we learn, apparently produces useful results.”

Let’s start here.

Torture is generally acknowledged to be a poor method of intelligence gathering (its moral implications nonwithstanding), as it often produces counterproductive results: Under extreme duress, people are liable to say anything it takes to stay the torturer’s hand. But to suggest that torture has never, under any circumstances, ever worked, ever, is ludicrous. Yes, it is largely ineffective, but its success rate isn’t zero.

To bolster his assertion, Shirley links to CIA data spanning the duration of the War on Terror. The problem here is this: Basing such a wide reaching claim as “torture never works” on a single fifteen year operation is narrow-sighted. Also, many of the prisoners taken by the US during the war were either innocent or low level operatives who knew next to nothing.


Later, Shirley states: “Even if torture did occasionally provide good information in real life, you’d still be wrong to characterize it in that way in television drama. You’re still effectively recommending torture to millions of minds unconsciously soaking up these ideas. Zombies aren’t real, people aren’t going to believe in them, unconsciously or not. But they know torture is real.”

This is the part that really bothers me. Shirley is saying that regardless if torture works sometimes, it should never be depicted working; it must always be depicted in a politically correct fashion lest feeble-minded Americans get the wrong idea.

Look, you can show torture failing all you want, but removing the realistic possibility of it working is dishonest. You’re trading reality for a politically sanitized half-truth.

Interestingly, Shirley makes the claim that Salazar will most likely escape punishment for his actions. Had he stuck around for the final episode instead of storming off in a huff, he would have seen Adams escape and shoot Salazar’s daughter. Why? Because Salazar tortured him. That’s called karma. Salazar did something wrong and something bad happened to him. I trust that most Americans can plainly ascertain that for themselves.


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