Revolution #172, August 9, 2009

From a reader

On the Movie Watchmen

The comic book Watchmen was bracing when it came out in 1985.

Finally, a comic book that was smart enough to know that the U.S. government wouldn't exactly welcome strange beings with super powers, unless those beings were under the government's strict control. Watchmen portrayed a world where superheroes helped the U.S. win the Viet Nam war, where Nixon had managed to remain President into the 1980s, and where World War III was very much on the agenda, as it was in the real world while I was reading it.

The story went on for twelve monthly issues. It was very complex, with many side-stories and digressions and flashbacks, and I remember wondering where it was going, how it was going to end.

And I remember my disappointment with the final issue, where it was revealed that the big sinister scheme which had driven the story was an attempt to create a better world by killing half the population of New York City and scaring the rest of humanity so badly that they would start behaving decently toward each other, governments would lay down their nuclear weapons, and so on.

I remember how frustrating that ending was. That's it? Humanity is so fucked up that the only hope is slaughter and terror?

Then, after many years, I heard that a movie of Watchmen was going to be made. I was curious to see what they would do with it. And there were news stories that the ending had been changed, so that was intriguing.

I saw the movie, which came out on DVD on recently, and the details of the ending are different, but the point is the same. And, as often happens in movies, an extra line of dialog was added to make the point even clearer, in case anybody wasn't paying attention.

"I can change almost anything, but I can't change human nature."

Dr. Manhattan says that, and he is so powerful that he knows the past, present and future, everything from atoms to solar systems. At the end of the story he's talking about going to some far galaxy where there isn't any life and creating some. So, we're clearly supposed to take his word about these sorts of things.

Well, I don't believe that. I didn't in the 1980s, and I don't now. My understanding is deeper than it was then, since now I've read Bob Avakian's "Views on Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State, A Radically Different and Far Greater Vision of Freedom," where he talks about how wants and needs are, and have always been, socially determined; and "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity," where he talks about how "human nature" has always changed. That's where he quotes Marx, who said, "All history is nothing but a continuous transformation of human nature."

Human nature does change, and human beings have an enormous untapped potential for transforming the world (and ourselves, and "human nature"), but Watchmen is wrong about how that could actually happen.

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