Watchmen – What Happened to the American Dream

APRIL 15TH, 2011

a brief excerpt…


Although the film Watchmen was created in 2009, the story and the graphic novel it was based off of both take place in the 1980s. The Watchmen graphic novel writer Alan Moore created a world of fantasy based in American history, but the storyline is more of an alternate American history. In this America, Richard Nixon is elected President for his fifth term and America is on the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. These events are interpreted as horrific and tragic; the typical American citizen wants neither of these events to occur. The graphic novel and the film depict an American life where the Watchmen superheroes change the events of history by aiding the government or working on their own. The Watchmen heroes are vigilantes, an organized group of citizens that punish lawbreakers outside of the legal system. They are complicated, flawed,  and overly emotional humans. We meet the first generation of the heroes, the Minutemen of 1940, in their prime years through a series of flashbacks. This group had more influence over the real American events that were depicted in the film, i.e. the end of the Vietnam War and the assassination of President Kennedy. Watchmen reveals intimate  details  of  American history  as well as reflects on the 21st century American society.

The Watchmen plot intertwines with real American historical events, even blurring the lines in some cases. In the 1980s, “prisons overflowed and violent crime rates which, in 1980, had tripled since 1960, continued to climb with the appearance of crack in 1985” (Whitley). The film portrays the violence of the time period very accurately by showing street riots, the underground of New York City, and Sing Sing Prison. Work with computers and space travel was new in the 1980s, yet in Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan was already an expert in those fields. The film deals with the commercialism of oneself for fame and glory: “The idea of self-promotion resonates even more profoundly with our contemporary audience, living in a society teeming with ways to broadcast aspects of oneself through mediums such as Facebook” (Anderson). In Watchmen, Silk Spectre I and Ozymandias both successfully sell their masked vigilante personas for success. 

Watchmen reflects the effects of war on America, accumulating to street violence. The depiction of the heroes shows that even in the 21st century, we’re still hoping for saviors—someone to protect and fight for the little guy—because the police don’t seem to be doing the job. We are left wondering what the normal citizen can do to make a difference, to be heard. This film can be seen as a propaganda film, reflecting the effects of war and the terrors of nuclear warfare. The story develops conspiracy theories that can be applied to our 21st century society: what is out government hiding from us, who do you trust in times like this? As a big-budget film of an estimated 130 million dollars, Watchmen utilizes modern technology and advancements in special effects. The film deals with stereotypical American ideals: good versus evil, the lust for money and fame, the threat of war, social identity, and the evolution of science (just to name a few). The Watchmen “reflect an unflattering image of American identity” (Anderson). By utilizing all of these factors,Watchmen is a film that accurately depicts the (alternate) world of the 1980s, but also maintains its influence in the 21st century. 


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