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Monday, July 27 | The Bleat.

Friday we took the piano class show on the road. Gathered up all the keyboards, put them in the parental vehicles, drove to a day care center, set them up, and performed. Huzzah for cars and modern technology; 100 years ago, you couldn’t give a concert at a school unless you spent three days moving the pianos down a rutted road by mule.

They played their greatest hits, including their solos, and concluded with a rousing choral version of “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay. (Really.) Then we packed up again and brought everything back to the school. It was over. I mean, it was all over. Until that day I hadn’t realized that this would be the end of the piano class Natalie had been taking for, what, four years? Five? Same room, every Friday. Same joyous release when class was done, all obligations now fulfilled, pizza awaiting, the weekend about to begin. The recitals, the practices, the battered blue bag in which we carried her music, the same friends – done.

She was sad, but I’m sure I was sadder.

But. We’ll still continue private lessons with her teacher, and the focus will be on composition. Same place, too.

Wonder if we could get the lessons on Friday afternoon.

Saturday we had a eight-girl sleepover. (I thought it was nine, but I was imagining one.) It was a Webkinz-themed party. Yes, Webkinz have returned to occupy the part of her brain previously reserved for Club Penguin, which is now old and forgotten. Just as well:  the chat function was used primarily by internet illiterates. Ah, but I repeat myself. LOL. One of the kids had run into my wife while she was buying the Webkinz Natalie really wanted, and would occasionally say “I know what you’re getting,” with a know-it-all smirk. One of those kids.

It began at four PM. When I finished watching a movie and headed upstairs, 10 hours later, there was still conversation coming from the basement. It was the Best Birthday EVER, although it had some rough moments; 40 minutes into it, three of the planned diversions had sped by, and my wife was wondering what we’d do with them.

Let them be? I almost said. But that would be the disengaged dad approach. No, us modern dads are right in there enjoying every moment, guiding them! Because if you don’t direct the activities, it’s hard to shoot it for the video. Your angles are all wrong, it’s tough to edit, and you’re left with something that just looks like a bunch of kids running around.  The game that chewed up the most time – er, delighted them the most, which is what really counts – was a simple relay race. They had to get water from one bucket to a bucket on the other side of the yard. My wife used the remaining supply of Winnie the Pooh disposable cups, left over from a birthday seven years ago.

Just looked over at her on the swings, wondering how seven years – let alone nine – have passed with such swiftness (they’re greased, that’s why; it’s a special silicone spray) and she caught me looking with that Parental Reverie expression.

“Yes?” she said.


Who watches the Watchmen? I did.  I usually lean into comic-book movies, and cut them slack until they start biting the wax tadpole with such gusto it’s apparent nothing will redeem them, but from the start this one set me on edge, and I can’t say why. No, I can:

1. The heroes  may have no powers, yet  the Comedian has ability to have his head slammed into a six-inch slab of granite, and break the granite

2. The characters. Small point, but I wish the movie had characters I enjoyed. Silk Spectre was awful; Nite Owl was pudgy-dull, with all the gravitas of a hospital administration bureaucrat, and yes I know that’s the point; Dr. Manhattan was interesting, inasmuch as whispering superbeing with cerulean salami hangin’ free is interesting,  but you have to admit it’s difficult to identify with a character who has Mars as his personal chill-pad. The most interesting characters were the most repellant – the Comedian, looking like Nick Fury crossed with J. Jonah Jameson, was a bad, bad man, lighting up his scenes only because of his rogue grin and constant cigar; Rorschach was the best character of the book, and he made the movie.  Everyone else: feh.

3. I dislike any movie that makes me wonder whether that’s a good Eleanor Clift impersonation. The “real” people dropped into the movie made for some amusing moments, but when the Ted Koppel character had an interview with Dr. Manhattan, the program turned into something that Nightline would never become, and everything about the scene, from the reporter’s questions to the surprise guest to the chaos that erupted was just nonsense. But it had to be that way because the comic book was that way, and this was alll about devotion to the source material. Except for the most important part of the end.

4. The source material. Look. I love graphic novels, and this one gets props for upending the Superhero Mythos when it did, but great writing it isn’t, and brilliant insight it lacks. (I much preferred “Marvels,” which came along later, and had better art – the illustration in “Watchmen” never bowled me over, and the coloring was often horrible.) From here in 09 I could smell its 80s roots – dated, sorry, tired politics that lack anything other than sullen adolescent angst and dorm-room bong-session insight.

Reminded me of the Dark Knight comics: Reagan was President, which somehow explained why the cities were such horrid dystopias. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? Some how? Same here: the reign of Nixon (Jeezum crow, Nixon) ties in with urban decay, filth, moral calumny, and all those incidents of debauched decline Rorschack decried as he walked the mean streets. If there’s one thing we know for sure about hated iconic Republican presidents, they prefer a society full of prostitutes, child killers, drug addiction, and other sundry pleasures of modern life.

Uh huh. Imagine someone setting a comic like this in the 90s, with Dr. Bronx and the Jokester heading off to Bosnia to kill Serbs at the request of President Clinton – who’s in his third term, because he suspended the Constitution to prepare for Y2K – and later the Jokester, fresh from killing Vince Foster and Ron Brown, argues with InkBlot over who killed the American Dream, with InkBlot insisting it was supply-side economics. Meanwhile, ominous newspaper headlines note that North Korea has activated a plutonium factory, and the League of Solemn Scientists move the hands on a prop clock.


It’s headlines like these that let you know you’re in an alternate universe populated by people with a poor sense of newspaper headlines. Another:


It’s meant to show you how the world is hurtling towards nuclear war, but y’know, those take a while to build.  ”Soviets move more  mobile nukes to Eastern Front” might do a better job making the audience feel as if things are spinning out of control. Then there’s this:

Yeah, you and what Red Army.

The Worker’s World Worker News might have a headline like that, but not a major US paper.

It’s not fatal stuff, but it goes to the ideas underlying the alternate 1985, and theyre labored and trite – as is the idea, put forth by Ozzie and a few other characters, that the reason for the Cold War is control of energy resources. I think he makes that point when he’s sneering at Lee Iaccoca while “Everybody Wants To Rule the World” plays in the background. I GET THE POINT. Just as I got the point when “The Times, They Are a Changin’” played in the credits sequence, which showed how the times, they were a changin’.” (The opening credits were the best thing in the movie – and they weren’t from the book.)

I may be particularly sensitive to this stuff because I get rashes when the ideas and tropes of the Sixties are trotted out as prima facie truths – as though a reference to Vietnam and a snippet of Simon and Garfunkel is like some scriptural quote I’m expected to swallow without question.

5. The ending was just ridiculous – and it’s a sign of the movie that leaving in the giant squid would have made it less ridiculous.  it wasn’t like the book at all, but had the obligatory show-down in the bad guy’s lair. Leaving aside the AWESOME PHYSICAL STRENGTH of a guy who looks like a high school theater major going through a Bowie phase, the idea that the smartest man in the world would not only call himself Ozymandis, but emblazon the poetical quote on his throne without a note of irony, is just . . . bizarre, unless he did realize the irony, and that was the point, or we were supposed to get the irony, and – oh, who cares.

I’ll give the director this:

Tonight we set our combinations in HELL

Nice little reference to his previous film.

6. One exchange stuck out – by which I mean, it made me roll my eyes so hard I almost tipped the couch over. “What happened to the American Dream?” Owl-guy says to the Comedian, after they’ve dispatched a late-night demonstration demanding more police, instead of masked vigilantes. “It came true!” grins the Comedian, meaning, all the violence and oppression and fear and war.  The dream was always a nightmare. It wasn’t about a family and a place of your own and a car and a plot of land where your kids could play; it was really about pedophiliac murderers in filthy apartments and Nixon’s third term and the repression of alternative energy, and other inevitable consequences of the fascist model masquerading as liberal democracy.

It’s all very deep when you’re in high school and the ‘rents are being total Nazis. At this point, though, no one’s used the term “American Dream” without scare quotes since the second episode of “Laugh-In,” so any piercing insight may ping off the skins of viewers who don’t stamp around the mall glowering at the Phonies. It’s an artifact of the 80s counterculture, an echo of the dyspeptic souls who masked their hatred of humans with high-flown concern for humanity, a bizarre example of reality denial: the war they insisted was an inevitable outcome of the US posture in the 80s never happened, so they remake the era with Nixon at the helm and kill millions to force us to come to our senses so we won’t do the thing . . . that we didn’t do.

There isn’t any “wrong” view – this is just my opinion, and if someone wants to defend the heck out of it, I’d like to hear it. Seriously: obviously two people can see the same thing and have two completely different reactions, and since this was no small cultural event in the world of alt media, I welcome comments telling me I’m absolutely full of krep. Have at it!

Later today: Matchbook Museum, and something else around 1 PM. See you then.


81 Responses to Monday, July 27

  1. GardenStater says:

    @Irritable Bear: “Irritable Bear knows nothing of Watchmen.”

    Nor does GardenStater. I literally have no idea what any of this is. (Yes, I understand now that it’s a comic book–sorry, “graphic novel”–that was made into a movie. But I never heard of either.)

    Now where do I go to find a good Lance Lawson story?

  2. Kensington says:

    I hope Zack Snyder gets to direct an overly literal Lance Lawson movie someday, and I hope it consists of 30 3-minute black and white vignettes that are almost impossible for anyone post 1950 to figure out.

  3. Josh says:

    First: As a Young Person Under Thirty (barely), I saw the film and the book as a historical document, like a Verne-ian vision of the future as seen from a particular point in time. Not having been steeped in those Deep Thoughts, I could just write them off and enjoy the show.

    Second: The films ending was soooo much better. Dr. Manhattan had to leave, and he made a better outside enemy to unite the nations (ho-hum, I know) than a giant, psychic squid. The threat of his return makes more sense than the threat of another cephalopodian teleportation mishap.

  4. madCanada says:

    Annnyway … Mr Lileks. I’ve not seen “Watchmen” but it seems custom-made to push your buttons. You’re a veritable machine-that-goes-”ping”.

    FYI, I don’t actually think a 3rd Nixon term would have been apocalyptic, just stinky & corrupt in a pretty banal way.

    (Oliver STONE kinda pities Nixon, fer gawdsake …)

    But … if I had to write a truly scary, plausible alternate history, I’d put Prescott Bush in the White House in the 1940′s.

  5. teach5 says:

    Not only the party of Barney Frank, but Al Franken, no less! Hope his senate “work” doesn’t interrupt his watching of Perry Mason reruns. Minnesota must be proud.

  6. madCanada says:

    So as not to seem knee-jerk partisan (a quality I hate) let me also say Joseph Kennedy would have given us a presidency from hell.

  7. Anon Anon says:

    Mr. Lileks
    I have to say that I am much relieved hear someome that I consider centered and sane say what needs to said about this miserable movie.
    From the opening montage, including peaceful, flower-bearers being mown down by a skirmish line of heartless baby-killers, this movie was like a test for screening potential cadidates for the supreme soviet.

    Ozymadias secretly kills a ‘friend’ in the opening scene, also, he gives everyone in a particular building cancer to make a guy feel guilty. Publicly he tells everyone he is working on a peaceful power source to end the cold war. The movie portrays the cold war as all about energy, so, if he actually did that, it would have worked.

    Unfortunately, the smartest man on earth is using this gift to create a weapon to flatten dozens of cities across the earth and blame a god-like fellow super hero (opiate of the masses, anyone?)

    The stated reason for this was to frighten everyone into playing nice so as to fight a common enemy (The Lord Dong Almighty). Not withstanding the fact that he explains this in his THRONE room.

    The character we are supposed to most relate to is the ‘hero’. He and his girlfriend, he stole her away from the giant naked blue guy, get their kicks by attending a prison riot to break a friend out. Prisoners and guards share equally in the beatings they hand out. Their exit delayed while their friend goes to the men’s room to kill a bad dwarf.

    Anyway, he is angry at the deaths, but is persuaded that despite the costs, this was the right thing to do after all. It is important that when you get on board with covering for mass murder, it take at least an hour to persuade you, including the time it takes to kick you @ss.

    The cold war is over because everyone is scared of a guy who really isn’t their enemy and who runs off to sulk over his girlfriend. A highly inteligent, powerful man has an enormously powerful technology in his exclusive control and a willingness to kill millions (did I mention the THRONE?).

    As has been mentioned before, what happened in real life to end the cold war was infinitely preferable. That this movie was made anyway and with soooo much political heaviness, indicates, to me anyway, a level of preferring the triumph of one’s own politics and the defeat of one’s political enemies, over, you know, actual life and peace and the the blessings thereof, and whatnot.

    So, if you are ok with colossal mass murder and the need to shift blame for the deaths (Ukraine famine call your office), so that cold realism and concentrated power wins the cold war and not freedom and the free market, you’re in the club, extra points if you dig puree of reactionary.

  8. Doc says:

    This thread has gotten too screedy for my liking. :(

  9. Dale Mancini says:

    I really like the book, I really like the movie, and can take them both for the slice of “what-never-happened” that they are. I mean, I buy Warp Drive when I watch Trek, and that’s not real either, right?

  10. You seem to write off the cuff and because of that I think you do, whether there is a lot of revision befhorehand or not. You also seem grounded in your interpretation of things and whether or not I usually agree with you beggars the point of what you are doing. I do usually agree, but that’s beside the point. Lot’s of practice makes perfect and you perfectly convey what you mean to say. Well done. Thanks Mr. Lileks. Keep fighting the good fight.

  11. madCanada says:

    Yes J/Lileks, you are articulate, sharp & frequently quite amusing. I agree/disagree with you about 50-50%, but am always gobsmacked by your gift of rhetorical/comic precision … My only question to you is (to quote Louis Jordan) … “If You’re So Smart, How Come You Ain’t Rich?”

  12. Patrick J says:

    Facinating conversation. I am a rough peer of Lileks, and have never been enraptured (or embiggened) by comics, have not seen this film, and am pretty sure I will go to my reward never having seen it.

    That said, I am 100% sure that James’ interpretation is spot on.

    Half of the commenters seem to view the criticism of the film’s politics as an unseemly intrusion. To those poeple I say, “grow up you nerds”. As goofy as it sounds, films like this are the second draft of history. They will set the default template by which future generations interpret our age. To can the ridiculous conspiracy-mongering of the ’80s left fever swamps as “sci-fi-fact” demands refutation. To treat it as trivial is foolish, at best.

  13. Moishe3rd says:

    Nice review.
    I started watching this online just the other day, but the lousy darkness of the movie turned me off. I only got to the opening scene after the credits…
    Not being a fan or even knowledgeable about The Watchmen, I was rather unimpressed (nonplussed too) by the whole “we live in a fascist State” thing. I suspected that the movie was not going to have a feel good ending so, I stopped it.
    Which is why I am pleased that you actually did review and confirmed my worst fears over what the whole movie was about. I hate wasting an hour and a half in front of my computer screen trying to get through dreck.
    (For example, I’ve been trying to watch “Warehouse 13.” I finally gave up in the middle of the third episode. It was just all too painfully uninteresting.)
    And, by the way, I say this as a 50 year fan of all science fiction and a former Marvel comic book collector.

  14. Dr. Bobbs says:

    Did anyone notice a brief establishing shot of Ozymandias’ Antarctic base of operations that looked like a third-grader’s hastily thrown-together diorama for a class project?

    How did such a scene get in a big budget movie?

  15. Nancy says:

    “biting the wax tadpole”
    Heh, we say that (hubby and me). As for this Watchman, I am happily ignorant of it and after perusing the comments—that is not likely to change!

  16. Moltar says:

    Bravo, Lileks! I’ve been trying to explain the nonsense of this comic to geeks for years, only to be told that I “don’t get it.”

    Predictions made by sci-fi writers in the 80′s were TERRIBLE. I’ve read a ton of cyberpunk, and not one author even suggests that the USSR might be gone in the very near future…

  17. bgates says:

    You gave up reaching for the light

    Well, yeah. To fight global warming. What’s all this “reaching for lights” stuff?

    Nice to see a Canadian who considers himself nonpartisan because he hates Americans from both parties. If they wanted a real nightmare scenario, the filmmakers would have had Pierre Trudeau as elected leader of a country that mattered.

  18. madCanada says:

    bgates, Canada is the angel sitting on America’s shoulder. If Canada disappeared, you’d suddenly, finally realize that we DO matter. You’d find yourselves in a very dark place.

    You’re welcome.

  19. Jim Kakalios says:

    Wonder why my comments on Watchmen have not appeared. You did solicit positive takes on the film, after all.

  20. EMD says:


    I sincerely thank Canada for not being Mexico.

  21. Fivehead says:

    Lilicks gives Watchmen One out of Five-heads. Mean, nasty cartoon movie didn’t regurgitate his world-view for him. This sounds like Lilick’s rejected pitch to his RiffTrax buddies to do commentary on the movie; however, it’s neither funny or insightful and the RiffTrax people are screening his calls and drafting a request for a restraining order.

    This is so pathetic they wouldn’t sell it at Target.

  22. [...] One quote from a fascinating take-down: [...]

  23. fizzbin says:

    madCanada…”Canada is the angel sitting on America’s shoulder.” HA HA HA HA HA, etc.!!!! That explains the runny dookie on the back of America’s shirt. Don’t get me wrong. I think most Canadians are just fine…with the right sauce. As for Canada disappearing, don’t worry madC, vee haff plans!!

    Before the launch of Invasion #3, I’ll ask Irritable Bear to send you some Charmin…and some BearNair.

  24. Jerry Ray says:

    It seems like there are a lot of folks in this thread who are just happy to have their uninformed (never read it, never seen it, only watched the first 5 minutes of it, etc.) opinions validated by one reviewer’s opinion.

    Whatever you think of the movie (I think it was alright) or the politics of the comic, you really can’t deny the remarkable skill that went into the telling of the story in the comics. That alone makes Watchmen worth reading and studying, especially if you have any interest in the craft of comic book storytelling, and seeing how the director tried to emulate those storytelling techniques (some of which are strongly tied to the comic book form) in a different medium made the movie pretty interesting to me, and I’m the furthest thing from a film geek most of the time.

  25. wombat-socho says:

    Bolonium is from the Simpsons? I never knew, Doc. I don’t know now whether to be happy that my kids introduced that word to me, or appalled.

    As for you, madCanada, my grandfather left PEI in 1919 for the States, and none of his descendants, even the bleeding-heart Democrats, regret it for a nanosecond. I hope you get a Tory majority long enough to undo all the nonsense and thuggery the Grits imposed on you during Trudeau’s reign.

  26. DensityDuck says:

    Jerry Ray: I guess if you consider it a mark of merit that the movie took someone else’s vision and someone else’s art and reproduced it exactly…then yeah, the movie had merit.

    I mean, what we got was basically the same thing as the first Harry Potter movie, only with different source material.

    Oh, and for the record: Slow-mo is not “technique”, and neither is digital grading.


    As for the ending: It’s an amusing way to turn the message of the comic book entirely upside-down. In the book, humanity is banding together in the face of an external threat–”we must all hang together, or we will surely all hang separately”. In the movie, they’re cowering under the blankets because they’re scared of God.

  27. Scott says:

    Just FYI – the colors in Watchmen were intentionally chosen to look that way. Moore and Dave Gibbons gave the book a largely orange-green-purple palette, to subvert the typical comic book red-yellow-blue palette. Made it kind of ugly at times, but there was thought behind it.

  28. Jim Kakalios says:

    Actually, someone else on the thread corrected me – it’s from Futurama. Related to Simpsons,
    but not the same. If memory serves, Prof. Farnsworth’s clone, Cuebert, uses the term to describeone of the Professor’s inventions (the drive for the space ship?).

  29. DensityDuck says:

    Oh, by the way: Rhorschach in the movie is Jack Bauer with a mask on.

  30. Luipaard says:

    If you understand The Point about Nite Owl, then you hopefully also understand this: that the original comic book (and hence the movie) was intended to be a deconstruction of DC Comics superheroes. At it’s core, Watchmen is supposed to be about ordinary people playing at being superheroes. If you keep that aspect in mind, then I think the movie/comic book makes more sense.

    Watchmen was written to be controversial, to inspire discussion, and make people think. Moore takes potshots at Nixon, a.k.a. the Right, but his true targets have always been fascists in the style of Hitler.

    The characters are more symbols then anything else, which is probably why you found them to be so drab.

    I can go on about Watchmen, if you like.

  31. Erik says:

    Lileks is a (obscenity removed by admin) fascist. That’s all.

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