Going to the Movies has Become a Political Act

I went to see The Watchmen over the weekend. I did like it overall. The movie successfully captured the visual style and overall atmosphere of the comic, which is no trivial feat. 

I read the comic back in college when I was still a lefty and enjoyed it, so I went into the movie understanding that my evolved and matured world-view would make me appreciate the original story less. However, the movie’s needless deviation from the book merely to make contemporary political points showcased just how profoundly leftism contaminates modern film and art.  Increasingly, this makes going to the movies a political act in support of leftism. 

In general the movie adhered closely, perhaps too closely [h/t Instapundit], to the story line of the original.  I was particularly struck by how well the movie captured the book’s accurate depiction of the overall feel of seedy decay that came over America in the period 1973-1985. Back then, the great cities of the American Northeast had collapsed economically and socially due to the accumulation of decades of socialist policies.  (The TV show Hillstreet Blues was applauded at the time for grittily capturing that feeling of decay.) Back then, everything, even the beautiful women, seemed covered in a faint layer of oily grime.  The Watchmen really captures that atmosphere in everything from Rorschach’s journeys through the back alleys to the upscale restaurants to the dark and claustrophobic townhouse of the wealthy Nite Owl/Dan Dreiberg. 

Most of what I did not like about the movie, came from places where the movie needlessly diverted from the book. Nixon in the movie is a bloodthirsty buffoon. In the book, he’s Nixon but he lashes back at G. Gorden Liddy for suggesting a first strike, and we last see him sitting under Cheyenne mountain with his hands on the “football” with the nuclear launch codes, clearly dreading he might have to use them.  In the movie, he plans a preemptive strike at a specific hour which sets the clock the heroes must race against.  

[Minor spoiler] The other deviation clearly results from the desire of the writers and directors to gratuitously inject present day leftist tropes into the movie for no other reason than political propaganda. In the movie, Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt confronts a group of stereotypical corporate executives (all older white males in business suits) who complain that Veidt’s new energy technology will give away energy for free and thereby disrupt their corporate empires. Veidt castigates them and tells them that he intends to break the world’s “addiction” to oil. Of course, that scene doesn’t occur in the book. Nobody used such a silly  metaphor (do we talk about people being addicted to oxygen?) at a time when the energy crisis had just ended.

More tellingly, in the book, there were no more internal combustion cars! In one the most iconic scenes in both the book and the movie, Dan Dreiberg leaves the home of the original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason and passes by a sign that says “Obsolete Models a Specialty”. Hollis Mason lives above the auto mechanic shop he used to run and the sign is the sign for his shop. In a later flashback, we see Mason at his retirement party in the early sixties. He tells the super-superhero Dr. Manhattan, that he plans to retire and fix cars, because cars are more simple than people. Dr. Manhattan tells him that cars will be even more simple soon because he is using his power to synthesize elements to create vast amounts of cheap lithium which will make electric cars practical. By the time of the book’s present-day, 1985, no one drives internal-combustion engine cars except antique collectors. In the book, the sign refers to the obsolete internal combustion engines. The sign symbolized that Hollis had been rendered obsolete not only due to the rise of the super-powered heroes who made his mere mortal fisticuffs seem ridiculous, but also by the concomitant shift in technology that made his skills as a mechanic useless. 

Hollis is the everyman of the story. When superheroes render him obsolete as both a hero and a mechanic, it shows how they render all other ordinary humans obsolete.

In the movie, no major plot element required the oil “addiction” rant. At best, the writers make a minimal one-line attempt to imply that Veidt is hiding his grander scheme behind an alternative-energy project. So, having Veidt rant about the “addiction” to oil was just a clumsy injection of leftist politics that required tossing out one of the most powerful images of the original book! I winced when I saw this gratuitous and vainglorious mutilation of the original. I knew that Alan Moore was a big lefty, and I expected that the movie would contain the leftist tilt of the book, but I got really disgusted at the gratuitous deviations. They did it for no other reason than the commandment of post-modernist morality to exploit any and all personal power for political ends. They had a captive audience and that created an obligation to engage in a little bit of indoctrination. 

I really resented paying someone to rant hysterically at me about technological matters which they clearly don’t understand. I find myself growing more and more resentful of the way that leftist intellectuals use their power over our culture’s stories to glorify themselves and their ideas while smearing everyone else.

I walked out the theater feeling as if I’d paid for an expensive meal but found it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. The writers and director of The Watchmen whored themselves out to leftist politicians and their art suffered for it.

27 thoughts on “Going to the Movies has Become a Political Act”

  1. The movies, theatre, etc. all now insist on bashing you over the head with message.

    I have a friend who’s a casting director and into lcoal theater productions, always dragging my wife (and thus often me) along to these. At one, a major plot element in a mother of a disfunctional family planning her funeral was the intent to have a “green” cardboard coffin – so as to have as little impact on the environment as possible. Most recently a local company is producing a play about Jackson Pollock. I went to a fundraising event for it and saw a scene that could easily be sketched out be “stereotypical I-am-feminist-hear-me-roar” artist gets upset at “typical-bigoted-male-who-thinks-he’s-superior” in a painfully cliche’d dialog over whether or not he can appreciate her art, which is good – for a woman.


    And don’t get me started on Pollock as an artist. He violates at least one of the following two rules:

    1)If I can do it, it’s probably not art. If my 10-year old can do it, it’s definitely not art.

    2)If you have to explain what it means, it’s not art. It’s not universal symbolism or universal language, it’s gibberish. Worse, it’s a failure to communicate.

  2. Darius, Last week an art historian friend observed that by using the kind of paints he chose, Pollock has made certain he will be st most a footnote. One of her teachers described standing in front of a Pollock at some museum, hearing a popping sound, and looking down to see a good sized chip of “Pollock” on the floor.

    Re. gratuitous political remarks by historians, the obsession with brand names in post World War II literature, the allusions to celebrity: art, culture, scholarship would all be better if people saw their audience as their children’s children’s generation rather than those of their next dinner party. (And perhaps this is yet another way that not reproducing ourselves has unpleasant consequences.)

  3. “corporate executives (all older white males in business suits) who complain that Veidt’s new energy technology will give away energy for free and thereby disrupt their corporate empires”…very common belief among “progressives” and among the alienated in general: the idea that beneficial technologies are being suppressed by corporate interests. Of course, there’s a lot of support for this in business history: for example, the way Baldwin and Alco suppressed the diesel locomotive, so that our trains are still drawn by romantic but smoky steam engines…or the way IBM suppressed the personal computer, so that we are all still dependent on mainframes…or the way the big integrated steel companies destroyed those who wanted to build mini-mills for making steel out of scrap using electric arc furnances (which explains why Bethlehem Steel is now #2 on the S&P by market capitalization)

    With snark mode now OFF, I’d observe that there are plenty of executives who would *like* to suppress new technologies introduced by their competitors…but the only practical way of doing this over a long period of time is through government involvement. The use of government as a weapon in business competition has never been totally absent, but given the current administration and Congress, we can expect to see a *lot* more of this.

  4. T.S. Eliot (who once spent a semester at Chicago) thought that art was made by a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind and sensibility – “too fine to be violated by an idea”. That sounds a bit rarefied. I like ideas well enough myself, but in art they’re distracting and tinny things. Art isn’t the place for dialectical discourse of the sort that ideas call for.

    But here’s a question. Much of the great poetry and fiction of the 20th century, at least in the English-speaking world, has been made by writers who might be broadly categorized as conservative – Eliot, Pound, Lawrence, Yeats, Frost, Faulkner, Stevens, Bellow, Flannery O’Connor, Updike. That sensibility is in the writing, and it’s also in the pronounced opinions. But it doesn’t mar the art.

    Conservative agitprop is pretty rare. But writers from the left can’t seem to avoid mainlining their ideologies – Jack London, Steinbeck, Lewis (Sinclair and Upton), Odets, Roth (some of the time), most of the forgotten writers of the 20th century.

    Why do even the finest spirits of the Left feel the need to buttonhole you and convert you when they write of the human condition? I’m a decayed leftist myself, and part of the reason I deserted the faith was that sense of zealousness in it, precluding either dialectic or art.

  5. Why do even the finest spirits of the Left feel the need to buttonhole you and convert you when they write of the human condition?

    Probably because leftism purports to be a total description of reality. For example, Marxism claimed to explain not only economic and political matters but also the totality of all human societies and cultures as well as their history and future predetermined evolution. Other variants of leftism have the same problem. They think everything in the universe ties into the political fad of the moment. They can’t view any part of life in isolation.

  6. In the movie, Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt confronts a group of stereotypical corporate executives (all older white males in business suits) who complain that Veidt’s new energy technology will give away energy for free and thereby disrupt their corporate empires. Veidt castigates them and tells them that he intends to break the world’s “addiction” to oil. Of course, that scene doesn’t occur in the book. Nobody used such a silly metaphor (do we talk about people being addicted to oxygen?) at a time when the energy crisis had just ended.,/em>

    So this Veidt guy, he’s the hero of the piece?

  7. Oops. I posted too soon and screwed up the formatting. Anyway, to redo what I’m trying to say…

    In the book, anyway, Veidt is a madman who eventually succeeds in his plot to destroy Manhattan. (The city, not the character of the same name). Imagine how aggravated you’d be if he had been sprouting propaganda lines you agreed with all the way up to this act.

  8. I sort of like Pollack, actually, and one of my favorite gallerys/spaces at the Boston MFA has a Pollack, a Stuart Davis, a low key feel and windows with gauzy coverings that overlook trees. The whole place is warm and lovely, something to do with the places to sit and the floors, I think. It seems a bit like one of those apartments in 1950s movies, all modern art and a balcony overlooking Central Park.

    I took an art class at the Museum School in Boston under the very assumption that I, too, could do something like Pollack because how hard could it be? Actually, it was pretty hard. Nothing I made looked remotely decent, and it was a collage class! I mean, come on….

  9. Oh, I have to add that I’m a pathologist and I spend all day looking at shapes, colors, ‘textures’ of things (well, biopsies, etc) under a microscope. Visual stimulation is different from verbal, the things that catch your eye and you find beautiful, well, it’s a whole different language, so to speak. I totally ‘get’ an artist having to paint or draw because what the artist wants to express can’t be expressed by words.

    I just like the look of things sometimes, it doesn’t have to make ‘sense’, it just has to be pleasing, and that’s subjective, although, I roll my eyes at a lot of contemporary conceptual art. The concepts are so often blindingly simple and presented as jaw-droppingly innovative. That does irritate me, but still, I go to museums. Something in me is attracted to art, even if it’s not very good.

  10. There are some Pollock pieces that happen to just sorta look cool. And they do. And that is pleasing. And that doesn’t have to be explained. There is actually abstract I like, that requires judgement, etc….

    Actually, the lack of anything resembling representative content in his later spatterwork is why my personal rule#2 doesn’t really apply to him. usually. For that matter – truly abstract art that relies on shapes and colors to be pleasing, disturbing, etc. and evoke visceral emotions can be downright COOL. (The hirschorn is one of my favorite galleries..) I’ve also seen deceptively simple-looking hardcore craft (in all honesty, even in some of Pollocks later work).

    That said, having literally seen 10-year-olds do ‘art in the style of” and not be able to tell the diff between theirs (after an hour or two of geting the hang of things) and most of the “real artists” who were doing “in the style of…” *shrug*

  11. So, darius, I think the lesson here is that a 10 year old could have done better in my art class than I did. Good to know. Not. :)

    thanks, david foster, I do like those. Interestingly, a lot of artists are using images of cells and things like that in their work, I think it’s a kind of trendy scientification of art that’s going on in the humanities.

  12. “Why do even the finest spirits of the Left feel the need to buttonhole you and convert you when they write of the human condition? I’m a decayed leftist myself, and part of the reason I deserted the faith was that sense of zealousness in it, precluding either dialectic or art.”

    Agree with Shannon, but in addition I offer that leftism is so disconnected from life’s realities and “human nature” that when it is interjected it is as a conscious act and it is jarring and just feels artificial and wrong. Conservative sensibilities tends to be more congruent with human nature as it has been understood for many centuries, and it doesn’t have to be injected, it is just part of the story and characters, and if anything increases their believability.

  13. I think that’s right, Marty. I also think that piety is an obstacle. Art and thought are not a confection of bien-pensant platitudes. Some really nice people – most of my best friends, in fact – are liberals or even socialists. You wouldn’t know this until they get onto a subject which seems to call for a moral or political position. Then they just morph into Manchurian Candidate-like automatons, saying stuff that I know to be inconsistent with their actual behavior in their real lives and which an artist depicting their lives would reject as inauthentic.

    The longing to be good is ineradicable and not ignoble, whether in St. Francis or Don Quixote. But art and thought come from more supple types – Shakespeare, Cervantes, St. Augustine, Nietzche.

  14. The only politics that bothered me was the final 30 seconds. For no reason at all a character who wasn’t in the rest of the movie (and was barely in the comic) shows up and takes 10 whacks at Bush. The director might as well have strolled on set, looked directly at the camera, and said “F**k BUSH!”

    The rest of the movie didn’t bother me. Perhaps because it was so, so much less political than “V for Vendetta.” That movie scrapped all but the vague outline of the comic in order to fit in 90 minutes of “I’m talking about Nazis and I’m talking about Bush. GET IT? BUSH IS A NAZI! I’M BEING SUBTLE OVER HERE!”

  15. I really enjoyed the film and here’s why..

    Yes, they added in their inane leftist bullshit, but that’s to be expected….*especially* from an Alan Moore project. But, that being said….Rorschach was really presented as the main character in full…and even they presented his screeds against liberals and “liberal sensibilities” in the movie and didn’t present him as a pathetic character by association of his world view. That combined with him still being presented as the one and only completely principled and non-compromising person in the entire movie was a positive in my opinion.

    What I really find hilarious from liberals who have read the original book and saw the movie is their take on the whole Rorschach world view…his reading of the New Frontiersman…his political outlook…his definately anti liberal view…they found that very distasteful and viewed Rorschach as a cautionary tale…a warning, if you will. I find it ironic that they take issue that an openly conservative news paper, the New Frontiersman, is presented where they openly and clearly state their views but they completely gloss over or miss the fact that it was the liberal outlook which directly lead to the Viedt plan/disasters coming to fruition. It was the blind acceptance of the Dr. Manhattan cancer story, which Veidt was relying on in order to drive Manhattan away that contributed to Veidt’s plan. The fact that a story which was manufactured and fed to the press was digested whole heartedly with no critical examination, because it would damage the US and US power via our “ultimate weapon”, Dr. Manhattan. The very fact that Moore could rely on a device like this in his story, says plenty about the way he viewed the left leaning press. Veidt knew he could rely on that sort of thing, because Moore knew he could…

    My big problem with the film was the ending and how it changed from the book. They should have left the “alien” plot line in the film and here’s why the Dr. Manhattan variation was ridiculous. There are fuckwits all over the world, including right here in our own country that still think that the US government perpetrated 9/11. So now the film makers want us to believe that if the US Government said that Dr. Manhattan…who has been the US super weapon for the past 20 years…perpetrated those attacks…that people all over the world are going to say “oh, ok..Dr. Manhattan did it…on his own…and left….ok, no problem” and everyone is just going to unite and work for peace with the US? Give me a break…

  16. I have not read the graphic novel, and I have to assume it was better-written, but the Watchmen movie left me befuddled.

    First of all, there was so much unnecessary blue penis in the movie, I felt like I had been molested by a big Smurf. That aside, the movie seemed like it should have been interesting, but did not seem to have any (single) philosophy. What was I suppose to walk away with? –Nuclear war is bad? Really smart people are asinine and unbelievably conceited? The Blue Man Group can do anything with their super-powers? The Comedian is funny because he is not funny and he could be your daddy?

    I liked the idea of an alternate America, where people turn against heroes (and some heroes have perhaps abused their loyalty to being virtuous–but of course, wouldn’t that make them villains? I digress…). But I could not grasp the relevance (if there was any) to Nixon being President, to the year being specifically 1985 but all the music being classic rock tunes from the seventies, and the imagery/technology being some weird amalgamation of Dragnet meets Buck Rogers.

    Why was Nixon so grotesque, too? The real Nixon was not much to look at, to be sure, but the guy portrayed in Watchmen (the movie, anyway) could never have held that office. He was a caricature, and not even one of the real Nixon, but rather a caricature of the way one might caricature the real Nixon.

    And maybe I am too critical of my stories, but the gratuitous and pointless use of nudity was on both gender sides. I do not take issue with a love scene or sex being portrayed in a movie, but I feel it must be relevant to the story. If the story can be told without showing me some woman’s boobs, then you are doing nothing more than insulting my intellect. (And yes, I like boobs as much as the next guy; I just want them to be there for a reason other than the assumption of male stereotype).

    In a nutshell, aside from visual eye-candy, I saw nothing of relevance or importance in the movie. I saw stuff that looked like it was going to be important or insightful, but then…nothing. Here’s some blue penis.

    After 22 bucks for the tickets and 21 bucks for the snacks, on the way out, my wife said, “If we had blown 43 bucks on sushi, we would have been home an hour earlier and felt much more satisfied.”

    I had to agree.

  17. Michael,

    First of all, there was so much unnecessary blue penis in the movie…

    In the book, Dr. Manhattan’s progressive shedding of clothing indicates his increasing alienation from humanity. He starts out in the 60’s with a full body leotard and then as the the years go by it shrinks to just a speedo and then nothing. By the time he’s walking around a military base with his dangly bits out he’s just really doesn’t give a damn anymore.

    But I could not grasp the relevance (if there was any) to Nixon being President…

    In the book, the Comedian kills Woodward and Bernstien and prevents Watergate. Dr. Manhatten wins the Vietnam War so Nixon is viewed as a successful President and he goes onto 5 terms. The movie very briefly mentions the killings but doesn’t expand on it. The book was largely about how the existence of superheroes altered history and society. The movie doesn’t really touch on that as much.

    More importantly, I think Nixon was supposed to represents the western side of Moore’s squabbling children narrative, in which Viedt, as the super-leftist, uses his super intellect to trick the children i.e. the Western right and the Soviets, into getting along.

    I liked the movie but then I really enjoy well done eye candy. I really don’t regard film as a serious medium because it is so hard to tell in depth stories in such a short time and with no means to see characters internal dialogs. Consequently, I have low expectations for all movies compared to what I expect for novels or, hell, even comic books.

  18. K. J. and Shannon, I’ll go further with your description of the leftism problem. Leftism does not merely pretend to describe reality, it pretends to create reality. To a leftist, reality is whatever he wants it to be at the moment. By throwing out objective reality, leftism transforms itself into a candy-store religion, where every believer is their own god and nobody ever has to wait until dinner time. It promises everything, and in exchange demands only unquestioning loyalty, which its believers were already prepared to give anyway. It’s the heroin of political philosophy.

    Of course, the biggest problem with this form of leftism is that it is merely the reverse side of the coin of nihlism. And I maintain that, using nihlism’s own logic, I can mount an irrefutable argument against nihlism thus: “Nihlism sucks!”

  19. Dave, your refutation of nihilism isn’t far removed from that of the great Dr. Johnson’s refutation of Berkeleyean idealism/solipsism. When Boswell pointed to a large boulder and said that Berkelely would tell us that it existed only as a phantasm of our minds, Johnson gave the rock a mighty kick and, almost falling down from the recoil and wincing in pain, pronounced, “Thus he is refuted.” Johnson’s rugged common sense and understanding of our human limitations is what makes him a patron saint of all conservatives.

  20. >>By throwing out objective reality, leftism transforms itself into a candy-store religion, where every believer is their own god and nobody ever has to wait until dinner time. It promises everything, and in exchange demands only unquestioning loyalty, which its believers were already prepared to give anyway. It’s the heroin of political philosophy.

    “leftist” has rather broad scope. When you say “leftist” or “leftism”, do you mean mainstream progressive or left-liberal i.e. someone in the center of the Democratic spectrum like Obama, or someone on the left, like Russ Feingold? Or someone on the activist left like Naomi Klein?

    Or do you mean all of them i.e. your analysis applies to anyone not on the political right?

  21. Seanf, I’m referring to the philosophy itself. There are people on the left who adhere to it to greater or lesser degrees. One of the tenants of leftism is that internal consistency isn’t a requirement even within its own system, thus leftists are free to pick and choose among the bits of leftism that appeal to them. All that’s really required is the loyalty. Thus a leftist can take a centrist or even right-wing position on specific issues, and still be a leftist in good standing.

    From what I’ve seen of Feingold, he has bought into it pretty far, as has Howard Dean. (The differece between Dean and a lot of other leftists is that Dean is very up-front about what he believes in.) Clearly Maxine Waters regards herself as one of its high priestesses. John Edwards is more of an a la carte leftist. Bill Ayers has bought into it so far that he came out on the nihlism side. In a way, that’s also true of Obama; although he obviously doesn’t share Ayers’ propensity for violence, I get the sense from watching him at work so far that he holds the cynical attitude towards the human race and existence in general that leftist-nihlism encourages. And I think that could explain a lot of what’s going on with his adminstration so far; there are a lot of places where Obama is just going through the motions, because he really doesn’t give a damn about most policy matters.

  22. I meant to add that there are liberals who dodn’t hold to leftist philosophy at all. They are kind of scarce these days, though, and the Democratic Party has forced most of them out of positions of influence. Mickey Kaus is a pretty good example. Non-leftist liberalism doesn’t necessarily mean classical liberalism, although I suspect most of them are in fact classical liberals.

  23. SeanF,

    Or do you mean all of them i.e. your analysis applies to anyone not on the political right?

    Political behavior exist along spectrum. We’re talking about beliefs that grow stronger as you move towards the extremes.

    Take the belief in the efficacy of political decision making. People just to the left of center believe that the political system makes better decisions a little more often than voluntary actors. Say, they believe that the politicians make better decisions 51% of the time and that voluntary associations produce better decisions 49% of the time. Someone on the center right would reverse those numbers.

    As you move to the leftward, you the numbers pile up. So Obama, based on his voting record before he assumed the Presidency, would believe that politicians make the better decisions than voluntary associations 80% of the time. By the time you get to someone like Ayers, your talking about someone who believes that politicians make better decisions than voluntary associations 100% of the time.

    What were talking about here in this thread is the cognitive reasons that people believe that decisions made by the real world political system and enforced by the violent power of the state are better than leaving people to sort things out without the ever present threat of violence.

    The core reason that leftist do have so much faith in violence enforced political decision making is that they have so much faith in themselves as individuals. They believe that they understand all the vast complexity of the world to such a degree that they as individuals can morally direct the violent power of the state to enforce their will upon others.

    So here in writing of The Watchmen we see a trivial expression of this intellectual hubris. When your absolutely correct you have the moral obligation use whatever power comes your way to impose your will on other people. In this case, having the loudspeaker of a 150 million dollar movie means the leftist has a moral obligation to wreck part of the original story just to inject some english majors view of energy policy into a work of art.

    If you want to spot a leftists, look for intellectual hubris. The more a person believes that they have detailed predictive knowledge of how the economy, society, culture, technology etc all fit together, the more likely it is that the person is a leftist.

    (In case your curious, libertarianism is based on the presumption of a lack of knowledge on the part of the individual and the political collective. It is a doctrine of humility.)

  24. Cousin Dave,

    Sounds like you’re saying that while leftism is broad, 2 defining features of leftist philosophy are a lack of internal consistency along with a required loyalty to the leftist movement overall. And that this is indeed shared by most left/liberals with a few notable exceptions such as Mickey Kaus (who you consider liberal, but not a leftist).


    And it sounds like that the defining feature of leftism as you see it is an unwarranted hubris – a belief that since leftists have the answer, it is appropriate to use the coercive power of the state to foist their beliefs on the public at large through the political process.

    Thanks for the detailed explanations – it’s helpful to get the context, otherwise it’s easy to misunderstand what you guys are saying.

Comments are closed.