I've Not Seen The Watchmen, But I've Got Some Morbid Curiosity

Republibot 3.0
Republibot 3.0's picture

I love The Watchmen comic - excuse me, Graphic Novel. I love it so much that and I kind of think the attempt to even make a movie based on it is kind of misguided. As such, I've not seen it, but I've been talking to R2 about it extensively, but I do have some questions if anyone is interested in getting a discussion going.

1) Does the threat of Armageddeon in 1985 really work in 2009?

Once upon a time there was a very bad movie called "Legend of the Lone Ranger" in which the Ranger had to prevent an assasination attempt on President Ulysees S. Grant. Well, since everyone knows Grant wasn't assasinated...not a lot of tension there.

Likewise, there wasn't a Nuclear War. I mean, I was there in 1985, and though it tended to worry the baby boomers around election time, people from my generation didn't think twice about it. Bombs were always pointed at our head, why get madder about that then the fact that the sun is gradually burning out? And of course we won the cold war without using the nukes. And we were already a year in to glasnost, things were lightening up. AND in retrospect it's very apparent that the cold war was really on its last gasp at the time.

The brinksmanship of the book really went out of style in the early 1970s (Thank you Richard Nixon, who ended it, a fact the comic either ignores or is unaware of), and much of the end-of-the-world mania in the story nowadays reads like a child who sees the aproach of night, and honestly believes that's the end of the sun. It's a bit solopsistic.

Is it possible to get worked up over a conflict that never happened? A conflict that never happened to a people in an alternate timeline? Twenty-five years ago? A lot of the cultural underpinnings of the time are gone and forgotten, the argot of the day if you will. Though a lot of us lived through those times, we're not those people anymore, and thier culture isn't ours, so is this remembered fear even remotely relevant as a dramitic motivator, or is it as arcane as the ancient Roman's very real fears about a Fifth Punic War?

2) Does the alternate world/paralell timeline thing still work?

When the comic was written, it was the happy-go-lucky 80s, and I'm here to tell you 1985 was a blast. In order to make the story both immediate and plausible, the authors had to generate a 1985 that was similar to, but distinctly worse than our own, one that was as close to the brink as the authors claim to have thought we were at the time, but closer than we were in reality. Nixon became a surrogate Reagan since the authors saw Reagan as the ultimate result of some kind of crazy bloodthirsty Nixonian agenda to kill all the commies (Which, I point out again, he didn't have. Not even slightly. Nixon was politically very moderate by 2009 standards, and is the man who began detent and effectively thawed the cold war in 1973 until that idiot Carter iced it over again during his disasterous presidency).

This worked at the time, though it confused some people - I remember a friend saying "But Richard Nixon wasn't president for five terms!" - and I had no complaints with it. I, like everyone else, thought it was clever. Effectively, all superhero stories are "Alternate Worlds" anyway, but Watchmen specifically addressed it and reveled in it. The point was to pragmatically show how things could go much, much worse than they did in reality.

That's a bit disingenuous, but, hey, Doomsday only existed to kill Superman: Disingenuous is what comics do. I'm cool with that. You need to generate a conflict to drive the story, and if you don't have a larger plausible conflict in the real world, you change the rules so you can generate one.

But looking back at it now, it all seems a bit distracting, doesn't it? I mean, the cold war is 20 years in the grave, the Soviet Union is gone, Russia is collaborating with us in space, and the People's Republic of China is now a bastion of capitalism. All this nonsense about giant squids and nuclear war seems, well, kinda' dated, yeah? A little bit? And all that stuff they did to set their universe apart from the real one looses its punch through the lense of time, as we get further from the 80s, and the current generation's lack of historical knowledge tends to express itself. I mean, hell, half the kids in 9th grade today can't name the seven continents, you think they're going to remember who was president a quarter century ago? ("Hey, so Nixon was president for 5 terms, did you know that? And then I guess came Reagan...")

Just some questions that have been drifting through my head over the past few days. Feel free to post your comments and thoughts.

Tags: