This is a republished version of a blog post I did originally on July-21-2008 on the FunMurphys.com blog. It’s a meditation on fighting terrorism and creating a common enemy to foster collaboration. Architect of fear has a dual meaning: both the terrorist (e.g. the Joker in the movie “The Dark Knight”) and the scientists in the Outer Limits episode “the Architects of Fear” who try and create a scare crow to stop the nations of Earth from going to war, possibly accidentally.
Dark Watchman vs. The Architect of Fear
Is this the day? Is this the beginning of the end? There is no time to wonder. No time to ask why is it happening, why is it finally happening. There is time only for fear, for the piercing pain of panic. Do we pray? Or do we merely run now and pray later? Will there be a later? Or is this the day?
This is the opening narration for the original Outer Limits episode “The Architects of Fear” where a group of scientists fake an alien invasion in an attempt to forestall escalating international tensions and a potential nuclear holocaust. We took in the Dark Knight over the weekend and this quote could have opened the third act of the film where the Joker is threatening the Gotham City with widespread destruction.
The Dark Knight is a dark film about a city fighting a terrorist. it’s one of the grimmest movies I have seen in a while. It’s not as downbeat as “Seconds” but certainly the “Empire Strikes Back” may be the last mass market film to end on so low a note. It’s very well done but definitely a movie with adult themes.
Heath Ledger’s performance is chilling. His Joker reminded me of Lewis Black on a rant (who they should consider now that this was Ledger’s last role). It becomes clear that the Joker is truly an agent of chaos, his real goal is for the citizens of Gotham City to lose their faith in orderly society (“the hidden conspiracy of goodwill”) and descend into anomie. I viewed It as a cautionary tale for any free society fighting terrorism.
“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
Freidrich Nietzsche Aphorism 146
Batman is challenged to drop his own code of ethics and use whatever means necessary. But in spite of horrific provocation is able to follow his internal compass.
Which is normally translated as “But who will guard the guardians?” and Alan Moore interpreted as “Who Watches the Watchmen?” (more on that in a moment). To locate the Joker Batman engages in a massive invasion of privacy, but does so in a way that he has no personal control over the information gathered or the mechanism he created, allowing it to be destroyed when it’s no longer needed. This is in the face of a villain who is killing any government official who tries to stand against him, and for good measure follows through on his threat to blow up a hospital.
Although I said it was a dark film about adult themes the boys both enjoyed it and we had a long discussion about civil liberty, and the difference between the police, the National Guard, and the Army. And the difference between the way that a free society fights criminals, affording them protection under the law, and enemy combatants who are committed to the destruction of a society.
“The mature man lives quietly, does good privately, takes responsibility for his actions, treats others with friendliness and courtesy, finds mischief boring and avoids it. Without this hidden conspiracy of goodwill, society would not endure an hour.”
Kenneth Rexroth in his analysis of Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You“
Ultimately, when confronted with the challenge to kill complete strangers or be killed themselves, Gotham’s citizens–even its criminals–refrain.
The previews included the new Watchmen movie, which looked outstanding. If you haven’t read the comic graphic novel, it’s an extremely dense and intricately plotted exploration justice, vigilantism, and what it means to be a hero. My personal preference would have been for a 12 episode miniseries, with each episode an hour to 90 minutes long to do Watchmen justice, but that’s probably harder to fund and monetize and it’s taken more than two decades to bring it to the screen as is. It will probably get redone in 30 years as a hypertext movie to do it justice.
Alan Moore was apparently not aware of the Outer Limits episode “Architects of Fear” when he wrote Watchmen, but became aware of it as he and Dave Gibbons were collaborating on it, inserting a reference to it in the last issue.
We watched the the “Architects of Fear” again tonight, and I was surprised and how scary it was and how poignant the concluding narration remains:
Scarecrows and magic and other fatal fears do not bring people closer together. There is no magic substitute for soft caring and hard work, for self-respect and mutual love. If we can learn this from the mistake these frightened men made, then their mistake will not have been merely grotesque, it would at least have been a lesson. A lesson, at last, to be learned.
Note: This is a republished version of a blog post I did originally on July-21-2008 on the FunMurphys.com blog. Another version of the original with just one word in the title changed is available at http://www.funmurphys.com/blog/?p=132
Further Thoughts in October 2016
I had not appreciated how Batman is split into two character who are partners in the Watchmen: Nite Owl and his flying ships and complex paraphernalia capturing one aspect and Rorschach as the true vigilante, unwilling to compromise with evil even in the face of death.
Looking at the stories from the perspective of October 2016 with Russia playing a much more provocative role than any time since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the post-9/11 surveillance state, and the continuing worldwide activities of Islamic terrorists the questions of will we slip accidentally into a war, who will guard the guardians, and how will we thwart the architects of fear all remain sadly relevant.