By this point, everyone in this class knows how Watchmen ends: Adrian Veidt destroys NYC, blames it on aliens, and relies on fear of the incident to force the Cold War powers into cooperation against their new, shared enemy. NBC's TV show Heroes raised fan outcry in its first season when it re-used this plot as part of its season long story-arc. In the show, a shadowy, wealthy political manipulator named Linderman plans to manufacture a nuclear attack on NYC. When the explosion goes off, he will use political reaction to the attack to place his pet candidate into the US presidency, and usher in a new era of peace and stability[1|. Many visitors to TV-related message boards commented on the similarity between this and Veidt's scheme.[2| I want to use my term paper to explore where the idea for this plot came from, how these sources influenced its use in Watchmen and Heroes, and how these two series use it to express different ideas.
The writers for Heroes admit that they have been influenced by Watchmen[3| However, I intend to point out that the basis for this type of plot (the creation of a false enemy to try to unite a population) is an old one, with historical precedents. I'd like to focus on McCarthyism and how the United States used a "Communist vs. Capitalist" binary to cement American public opinion. I can also explore Hitler's villainization of Jews, and how he used that to drum up German patriotism. I'm a little bit wary of mentioning the Nazis, though. By this point in history, mentioning the Nazis has become a cliché[4|.
The books 1984 and Animal Farm both provide a literary usage of the trope, long beforeWatchmen was ever published. In 1984, the government fakes a constant war to win the support of its people. In Animal Farm, Napoleon uses the threat of Farmer Jones and Snowball to convince the animals to support his reign. Mentioning both in one essay could be overkill, but either one of them will help establish a precedent for the "imaginary threat as a uniting force" trope. I will argue that one of these books, and United States reaction to the Cold War, set a basis for Watchmen's Veidt scheme.
Heroes was released more than a decade after Watchmen, and its plot reflects all the previous precedents, as well as the example set by 9/11. 9/11 was a real disaster, not staged like Veidt's, but it (a) took place in NYC and (b) cemented national opinion together, and in favor of the president_[_5| Heroes' focus on presidential power (a large part of Linderman's plan is to put his chosen candidate in the White House) reflects this more recent tragedy. This lets Heroes comment directly on present-day events.
Once these links are established, my discussion will shift into an exploration of how Watchmen and Heroes use the same basic plot (destroy NYC to bind people together) in different ways. The crux of the matter is that Watchmen portrays Veidt's plan as mostly successful. Dr. Manhattan warns Veidt that "Nothing ever ends", but we see that Russia and the USA have announced a détente in the wake of the disaster. In the coda with Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, the post-disaster USA is shown to be a peaceful, happy place. Heroes doesn't really blow up NYC, but one of its episodes flash-forwards into a version of reality where the disaster really did take place. This lets viewers observe the fallout. In Heroes' version of the story, the plan takes a tragic turn: the destruction of the city unites America, but the president who was supposed to come to power is killed and replaced by the series' villain.
What does this mean in terms of the writers' respective messages? Alan Moore's ending suggests that peace is possible, although it may come at a horrible price. Heroes' use of the tale indicates otherwise. Although portions of the plot work, the overall scheme fails and leads to evil. Linderman failed to predict all eventualities (in this case, the presence of an outside villain). I find Heroes' version more plausible and more thoughtful. Although Laurie and Dr. Manhattan visit a destroyed NYC in Watchmen, the aftermath of the disaster is quickly swept aside---the end of the novel implies that yes, people died, but it was worth it because it led to peace and stability. Heroes was written in a world that really had experienced a disaster in NYC. It dealt openly with the possibility of death, and what that death would accomplish, in its flash-forward to the future (episode "Five Years Gone"). My conclusion will argue that Heroes reflects a more practical and more complete exploration of what "killing for the greater good" really means.
To review, my basic plan right now covers:
1. Summaries of the "destroy NYC to unite the world" plot in Watchmen and Heroes
2. Exploration of precedents for this plot type
a. McCarthyism and Orwellian literature, for Watchmen
b. 9/11 for Heroes
3. Exploration of what Watchmen and Heroes do with this plot
a. Watchmen implies a happy ending (comes from a time before the US had been directly attacked by Russia)
b. Heroes indicates that schemes like this will turn out badly
4. Why these series could have such different conclusions
i. Watchmencame in an age when the USA had not been directly attacked by Russia---NYC had never really been destroyed
ii. Heroeswas post 9/11. Also had reason to believe that although country unity can come together quickly, it will eventually dissolve (witness Bush's approval ratings by the end of his presidency)
iii. Heroesexpresses difficulty of pulling off such a plan successfully
[1|] Season one episode ".07%"
Comments thread on http://www.tvsquad.com/2007/04/24/heroes-07/
[4| Godwin's Law: The longer a discussion goes on, the more likely someone is going to mention Nazis. The first person to mention Nazis loses automatically.