The following blog does not contain spoilers for HBO’s “Watchmen.” So, feel free to read and enjoy whether you’ve seen it or not.
Flashing red and blue lights.
A short siren chirp.
A routine traffic stop.
One man white, the other black.
One man armed, the other not.
If you’re like most people in our country right now, you’re probably sick to your stomach because you know exactly where I’m going with this. But what if I said you didn’t? What if, this time, the suspect was white and the cop was black? What if, this time, it was the cop who was unarmed? What would you think? And then, what if I went on to tell you that, despite those facts, the altercation ended the same way as you originally thought, with an unarmed black man dead at the hands of a racist white man? Would it discourage you? Would it make you feel hopeless? Like nothing we do will keep black people from being senselessly murdered in this country? I’m not sure. I can’t say. What I can say for certain is that the scenario presented above made you think. It may have even caused you to self-reflect.
Thankfully, the scenario above is not a news story that you missed. It’s not even a story from our reality. It’s a scenario presented in the first episode of HBO’s “Watchmen,” from showrunner Damon Lindelof (“Lost,” “The Leftovers”). Watchmen is a sequel to Alan Moore’s 1986 comic masterpiece of the same name and, much like its predecessor, it acts as a stark social commentary on the time in which it was created. Though instead of criticizing the war-happy U.S. of the 70s and 80s, it focuses on racial inequality. HBO’s “Watchmen” aired in 2019, the same year in which the show takes place albeit in a reality both similar and unfamiliar in comparison to ours. If you’ve listened to our podcast, you’ve undoubtedly heard me sing the praises of this show for the better part of the last 6 months. But I am watching it through for a second time and not just because of its exquisite narrative, inspiring performances by Regina King, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Tim Blake Nelson, and pulse-pounding score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. No, this time I watching for the scenes just like the one outlined above. The scenes that make me think.
Thinking is good because thinking inspires action. And if there is one thing we are in desperate need of right now, it is action. Because we must eliminate wide-spread racism AND systemic racism in our country. To be clear, I’m not talking about just the confederate flag-waving, n-word saying, George Zimmerman brand of racism. I’m also talking about the subconscious, passive racism. The kind that causes white people like me to walk on the other side of the street when we see a black man walking toward us, to move into less diverse neighborhoods, and to mostly hang out with people who look like us. It takes deep, introspective thoughts to eliminate that kind of racism. And it takes a show like “Watchmen” to inspire those thoughts.
See, movies like ‘Selma,’ ‘Malcolm X,’ and ‘The Help’ (which are all good by their own merit and please don’t think I am knocking them at all) while they are excellent representations of the harsh realities of the Civil Rights Movement, they do not require us to think or reflect. We are taught about those events in school. We are even taught how to feel about those events. So, they act as unconditioned stimuli, eliciting a response but not one that requires any real thought or genuine feeling. It may make the more flamboyant racists living among us to cringe but for the passive, subconscious type that I talked about earlier, we need a different kind of stimulus. Something like a whistle or a dog clicker, something that makes us snap out of it or think “how do I feel about that? and what does that say about me?” “Watchmen” has an unending supply of those dog clicker moments.
For that reason, “Watchmen” is exactly the show we need right now. I’d love to go deeper into my analysis of the rich themes and immaculate storytelling, but I can’t risk spoiling the show and its effect. So, I’ll leave you with this. Watch “Watchmen.” You’ll be better for it.