'Watchmen' HBO spoilers: Rorschach's followers could be white supremacists
Perhaps you have heard there is a new adaptation of Watchmen coming to HBO later this year, helmed by Damon Lindelof, co-creator of Lost and showrunner of The Leftovers. Perhaps you have also heard this will not be a straightforward adaptation, but instead more of a “remix” or “new testament.” Perhaps you have seen enough of the promotional material for the show to realize this is HBO’s way of avoiding saying it actually made a sequel to the acclaimed graphic novel Watchmen for fear of making the internet very, very angry. You may also have seen Lindelof’s comments from last week, about how the show would avoid “moralizing,” which went over about as well as you’d expect considering the source material is anything but centrist and morally neutral.
Maybe these things have you more curious to check out Watchmen when it premieres on HBO later this year. Maybe these things have made you resolve to avoid it at all cost. Either way, HBO’s Watchmen is happening, and according to a recent quote from Lindelof, it’s going to be firmly rooted in America’s current social climate.
“We talked a lot about racism,” Lindelof said in a recent interview with Empire. “I asked what’s the thing that’s causing a tremendous amount of anxiety in America today? The only authentic answer was race.”
So how is it possible to tell a story that avoids moralizing and makes any sort of worthwhile point about racism, without resorting to bothsidesism?
Elsewhere in the interview, Lindelof seems to backtrack on the idea that the series will avoid moralizing, saying, “I don’t wanna editorialize on whether or not Rorschach was a white supremacist. I don’t think he was but he certainly had what would now be considered some alt-right views.” It’s a weird turn from his previous stance and one that reads as a misunderstanding of Rorschach, who is quite explicitly a conservative character.
While it’s easy to see him as a parody of grim-n-gritty superheroes of the Zack Snyder variety, Rorschach may be best understood as an analog for The Question, a DC Comics character created by Steve Ditko who was known for his adherence to strict Objectivist doctrine. Popularized by author Ayn Rand, Objectivism is widely seen as a foundational element of libertarianism and latter-day American conservatism. (One of its core ideas is that laissez-faire capitalism is the only social system that allows for full respect of one’s individual rights.)
"Lindelof’s approach to the series suggests he thinks that he can have it both ways.
The original Watchmen created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons is an explicitly left-leaning story about the dangers of conservatism, and is openly critical of characters like Rorschach. Lindelof’s approach to the series suggests he thinks that he can have it both ways. He seems to think he can adapt one of the most explicitly political and moralizing comics ever and somehow manage not to get his hands dirty. Presumably, at least part of this stance stems from a fear of alienating its potential audience. Watchmen can’t have been a cheap series to produce, so HBO is going to need all the viewers it can get.
It’s impossible to imagine a story that addresses race in contemporary America without delving into politics and morality. If a storyteller doesn’t recognize this, doesn’t recognize that they can’t have it both ways, perhaps race is not a subject they should be tackling in their comic book adaptation-reboot-sequel-remix thing.
Of course, nobody has even seen HBO’s Watchmen yet. There’s a chance that when it does finally air, all of these anxieties will be for nought. That said, Lindelof’s clumsy words in the lead-up to the show seem to indicate that this will be a Before Watchmen-esque disaster rather than a rousing success.
Watchmen comes to HBO on October 20.