Updated: Nov 11, 2019
Watching Watchmen: Rearview Mirror
A reaction to Watchmen 02: Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship
As I mentioned before, I love fantasy and sci-fi. I love to escape. As a mother and POC, keeping up with the politics and societal shifts of this nation is an exhausting, nasty business. The last thing I want to do with my TV time is watch 1) cops, 2) war, or 3) black people being hurt or killed.
So, why the heck am I watching this show? I suspect I may ask myself that each week.
If it wasn’t for Dr. Manhattan being referenced, we would never know any true superhero powers exist in this world (or on Mars, where Dr. Manhattan liked to chill and play with a super cool Erector Set.) The closest we get to Dr. Manhattan is one of billionaire Adrian Veidt’s staff – painted blue, member and all – play-acting for the weirdly erotic titillation of his eccentric master.
We know Dr. Manhattan helped saved the world from nuclear annihilation, but the show makes his absence abundantly clear. In the cinematic adaptation of the graphic novel, Dr. Manhattan (once physicist Jon Osterman) coordinates with Veidt to dupe the nations of the world into believing an alien invasion scheme, causing them to rally together to save the planet and leave off nuking each other into radioactive dust. But Rorschach – a man of absolutes, of black and white – was against the deception and sent his journal, with a true accounting of events and who was to blame, to the New Frontiersman, a right-wing publication he read.
Take a small jump forward in time -- 30 years -- and cue the romaine-throwing racist in the first episode. The white Southerner with a Rorschach mask stuffed in his dash. The black-masked cop, pleading with someone at HQ to release his gun lock so he can protect himself. We’ve been here before…
At first glance, the roles have been reversed: The black man is the cop. The white man is the suspect. But the power never changed hands.
And that’s where the strength of the second episode, and the series, resides. There is juxtaposition after juxtaposition, both visual and situational…
A high-ranking white police officer strung up in a tree, one shoe off.
A black mother breaking the news to her white son his “uncle” has been lynched.
White Night, when 40 police officers on the same force were murdered in their beds on Christmas Eve, leading to the masking of cops.
A black woman embracing her previously unknown grandfather for the first time, as she carries him from his wheelchair to arrest him.
The note attached to a child survivor of the Tulsa Massacre that’s written on the back of German propaganda from World War I, created to demoralize the American negro soldier.
But for every reversal, for every flip, twist, and refraction, the dark kernel nesting in the center of this story is unchanging. The core issues of racism, inclusion and resentment, the dynamics of power and hate, never flinch, never budge – no matter who is wearing a mask or taking one-off. The Victims of Racial Violence Act passed and Redfordations are being paid out in this Watchmen world, but it only seems to have heightened racial tension and resentment.
After reading recent poll findings from The Hill stating most Americans are against reparations and apologizing for slavery, I can’t help but feel viewing The Watchmen is like seeing history barreling down on you in the rearview mirror, and being helpless to avoid the damage.
By Jaimie K. Wilson