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            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%"
[2| <http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=10084>

      Comments thread on http://www.tvsquad.com/2007/04/24/heroes-07/
[3| <http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=10084>
[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.

         <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_Law>
[5|]<http://www.jstor.org/pss/3792588>

< http://www.jstor.org/pss/3792592>

< http://www.uiowa.edu/~grpproc/crisp/crisp.10.1.html>

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4 Comments

  1. Unknown User (cev3)

        Steve, It's very clear that you have thought out your topic and are ready to embark on it. The parallels between Heroes and Watchmen are intriguing; I've actually never seen the show, so I can't offer any suggestions in that respect, but relating them back to their respective historical context is a great way to combine the historical and cultural spheres (they are always incredibly intertwined anyway).

                One interesting difference about theWatchmen is that the vigilantes and ultimately Veidt himself take it as a personal mission to administer forms of justice- they are working alone, so to speak, without the aid of the government. The government actually targets them, so we have the government trying to "unite" people against the Watchmen and the Soviet Union by using fear tactics. But how does Veidt enter into all of this as a 'lone' operator on the periphery of society?

                With both McCarthyism and the wrongly directed hatred and fear fueled by 9/11, the government was the major player behind the attempts to convince the public of the threat posed in these two contexts- and in a big way, they succeeded. Although Bush's ratings went down, some of the population still believed(s) Iraq was behind September 11th.   This might enter into the exploration about which work is more 'plausible' - consider  the differences in public response!  Alan Moore does seem to imply that the world is born anew after the disaster, and it seems to me that you're saying this couldn't/ wouldn't be the case.

                Also, McCarthyism is probably enough without inclusion of the Nazis- the Red Scare through the Cold War has a more direct influence on Moore's work.

                I suggest using 1984 as your literary reference, if it's needed at all. When you write your paper, make sure not to stray too far away from your original texts Watchmen and Heroes. Although I could see this benefitting the piece, consider whether you need it or not while writing the draft. Mostly, I think you already have many ideas floating around, so in order to keep the paper focused, it needs to not move in a confusing amount of different directions.

                I'm really interested to read this.  Good luck!

  2. Unknown User (jfw3)

         This is very interesting and well thought out. My own interest in Heroes is fairly recent so I don't feel I know enough to comment on those parallels, but the arguments you present are intriguing.

         Using both precepts to Watchmen may be overkill. I think choosing one book and McCarthyism will be sufficient, in fact I think it's more effective because then this plot line isn't derived so much from other works of art, but reality. It makes the statement more provocative, but also proves the theory proposed by Veidt.

         While the changed ending of Watchmen does hold true to Veidt's plan in the novel, I would question its efficiency. The movie continues to say that the world then joins together in piece to save themselves from Jon, but there may also be a feeling of resentment towards the United States. Afterall, Jon is American, employed and used by the American Government. Though not fully dealt with in the film, there is a real possibility of worsening the problem. If you look at McCarthyism within the U.S. along with our attempts to "destroy communism" internationally, you'll find our attempt to unify acting to divide. Perhaps you would like to include a discussion of what these different books are trying to say in contrast to reality.

  3. Unknown User (alt11)

    I don't think that you need so shy away from the Nazism/Hitler topic at all, in fact I think it might really strengthen your paper. I'm not sure if you're farmiliar at all with Maus, but you will be, and that could and should definitly tie in there and offer another perspective.

    It's clear that you've given a lot of thought to your paper so far and I'm really impressed at how structured it already seems. I also think that you've got some great parallels  between the Watchmen and other forms of writing and entertainment. 1984 is a solid comparison and also makes me think that Brave New World could somehow tie in as well, maybe just touched upon since there seems to be a lot going on otherwise.

    I especially like where you're going with the idea that each author uses the means to serve different ends. I think it would be wise to look a little closer at Moore's ending because I'm not sure that I agree with the fact that Allen Moore agrees that peace is possible. Especailly after seeing the movie and the emphasis that was placed upon those words, "nothing ever ends," I got the feeling that Moore was trying to point us toward to never ending and unavoidable persistence of violence in the world. One war was over but another was beginning, revelry in chaos, etc. The fact that we always need a target- whatever that target may be- implies to me that we always need to be fighting, regardless of the identity of the enemy.

    So those are some things to think about. I think that you're idea sounds awesome and you seem to have a great grasp on all of your ideas. I look forward to seeing how it develops.

  4. We've talked about this at some length, and your outline here really looks quite lucid -- better than I recall our conversation sounding!  So I say go ahead with the project as designed.  Perhaps the way you solve the 1984 issue is to include it as part of a survey of works with a similar theme, not just the only text creating a set of expectations.  So to list a few: Philip K. Dick's The Penultimate Truth; the films Seven Days in May or Wag the Dog; the TV series X-Files.  This says less about the paranoia of those authors than the reality of how frequently a pretext is staged to facilitate a war or home-front crackdown: Spanish-American War ("Remember the Maine!); the Reichstag Fire;Vietnam (Gulf of Tonkin Incident); The Gulf War (Nurse Nayirah); War in Iraq (9/11 attacks as Saddam Hussein's doing).  I think Heroes belongs in the paper, not just for its obvious homage/rip-off of Watchmen but also because the issue has been borderline run into the ground with Moore's novel.  You're taking that somewhere else....With specific regard to Heroes and the War on Terror, I wonder whether they might be infusing the show with a bit of 9/11 conspiracy theory(see especially 9/11 archive section) -- haven't watched the show to know.  What say?  One famous essay possibly relevant to your project dates to the 1960s, Richard J. Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" & followed by many others in the same vein.  Hope this helps, but you seem quite capable of taking this out on your own!