Fear the Walking Dead tackles fake news

Colby Minifie as Virginia - Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 5, Episode 13 - Photo Credit: Van Redin/AMC
Colby Minifie as Virginia - Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 5, Episode 13 - Photo Credit: Van Redin/AMC /

No one expects a debate about misinformation during the zombie apocalypse, but Fear the Walking Dead brought one to the fore.

Fear the Walking Dead “Channel Five” was mostly framed around dueling documentaries that also served as advertisements/recruiting films. There was Virginia’s entreaty to join her group, complete with happy survivors she’d saved. Then there was Al’s efforts, which suggested that Virginia wasn’t telling the truth. Al used Tom’s testimony as well as footage of what Morgan’s group was doing, and how Morgan’s group’s vision for the future was better – and didn’t involve needless killing.

I am not one to often believe that The Walking Dead or Fear the Walking Dead is making a political point, or even asking a political question. Indeed, partisans from all sides of the aisle could find messages that support their views based on different show themes. And perhaps that was the case here – the show wasn’t trying to make a point about real life, or even raise questions relevant to modern culture, but did so by accident.

Yet, I can’t help but think the dueling docs had something to do with the massive amount of misinformation that is negatively affecting our discourse.

I don’t mean to compare this to the mainstream, objective news media – despite popular belief, mainstream journalists work to be honest and factually accurate, never knowingly producing “fake news.” But there are partisan sites out there pushing an agenda, and some are willing to play loose with the truth. There are also purveyors of hoaxes who produce false content for money, if not for to push a political agenda. Finally, there has long been an advertising industry, and it hasn’t always been honest. Not to mention the long-time existence of government-produced political propaganda.

It’s those latter topics – hoax news, false advertising, propaganda – that I think Fear was touching on in “Channel 5.” What is true? How do we know who is lying? Is Al’s group’s truth the real truth, or does it become propaganda when used for recruitment (and to steer people away from Virginia), even if it’s factually accurate? Meanwhile, Virginia’s videos are omitting that she’s willing to kill those who can’t help her – but how could a random survivor know this?

We, of course, know the truth. We’ve seen Virginia kill Logan because he was no longer useful, and when Morgan and Al met Tom, the audience was shown that he was telling the truth. But again, place yourself in the shoes of a survivor in this world. Someone who found tapes from both groups and a working VCR at a convenience store. How would you know, even given Tom’s testimony, that Virginia’s not telling the whole truth? Sure, Al’s been recording, and perhaps the next tapes will give away the game, but at the episode’s start, Virginia’s recruitment ad seemed like a solid sales job.

In today’s world, misinformation is rarely (although occasionally) life-threatening. But in the zombie apocalypse, it can be as deadly as any walker. Side with Virginia and you can’t offer her much? You might end up dead. Side with Morgan? They’ll help you. Side with neither? You might not be better off alone, or you might get caught in the crossfire.

In real life, knowingly peddling false information is a good way to make money. In the world of Fear, it’s a good way to recruit survivors that you can control, should you let them live. Virginia understands that, or, at least, she does now after seeing Al’s work.

The difference is, Al seeks the truth. Sure, at the moment, that truth could be beneficial to her group. At the very least, it could save people from being killed at Virginia’s hand. But Al is a journalist who wants to get the story – the true story – while Virginia has sinister motives that lead her to deceive.

Next. Alicia Fights Her Demons. dark

Being able to discern who’s telling the truth from who’s lying is a valuable life skill in real life. In the post-zombie world, it’s a matter of life or death. Unfortunately, just like in real life, there are those who seek to profit by being misleading.

Fear just reminded us of that fact. And that’s the truth.