41

In The Watchmen movie, during the scene where The Comedian and Nite Owl are clearing a group of protesters the Nite Owl says:

"What the hell happened to us, what happened to the American dream?"

The comedian replies:

"What happened to the American dream... It came true, You're looking at it"

Can someone elaborate on this? What did he mean?

  • 3
    Being a person of non American origin, I've seen somewhat differing views here about "The American Dream". – Lok'Tar Ogar Sep 28 '14 at 16:48
37

Essentially, it's an expression of his nihilism. We tend to think of the "American Dream" in terms of helping others, supporting Truth, Justice, and the American way. But fears such as the Cold War mean that the majority of citizens support the government in squashing those who speak against the current regime.

To borrow one explanation of the quote:

The unintended consequence of liberty is that eventually society becomes so free that even the slightest infringement on liberty is seen as an aggregious (sic) affront to freedom. Machiavelli knew that the only way one could avoid civil unrest entirely was to repress the people. The American Dream, the idea that democracy and a sovereign people is realized in a society, means that unrest will eventually foment, even for the stupidest reasons. The freer we are to allow human nature to surface, the uglier it manifests.

Another interesting interpretation is that The Comedian is referring to the older meaning of "The American Dream", that of the self-made man, that anyone can work their way up to their full potential. The Comedian is a self-made man. He's not superhuman. His origins seem to be humble. And yet, now he is a hero, someone who wields great power. In that aspect, The Comedian is a dark example of the self-made man, someone who has worked their way up to great power over others.

In 1931, James Truslow Adams wrote: "The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

....

Thomas Wolfe said, "…to every man, regardless of his birth, his shining, golden opportunity ….the right to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him."

The Comedian is a self-made man. A horrible one, maybe. But he's made his own choices to get where he was in his world. His eyes were open. Dan is a little bit more of a Martyr-figure. He would have like to have made other choices in life, but didn't.

  • 5
    the older meaning of "The American Dream"..."anyone can work their way up to a position of power" - [citation needed] – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 26 '14 at 22:34
  • 1
    True. I mixed some things up in my head. Revising. – FuzzyBoots Sep 27 '14 at 3:55
  • Thanks for the detailed interpretation, appreciate it – Lok'Tar Ogar Sep 28 '14 at 16:40
58

The Comedian is passing comment on the fact that the police are on strike and that no-one is enforcing the law.

Arguably, the only thing that prevents that average American from genuinely realising their dream of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" is the fact that their actions are quite closely controlled by the government.

In the absence of a police force, anarchy rules on the streets. He considers this the purest expression of the American dream (and he thinks that's damn funny).

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  • 2
    I think I like your answer better, but I'm all out of votes right now. – FuzzyBoots Sep 26 '14 at 18:57
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    I'm not. The dream is best characterized by a desire for individual freedom to live without undue societal interference. In the literal extreme, this is anarchy, which is exactly what is breaking out. – phs Sep 26 '14 at 21:36
31

Alan Moore's Watchmen is a treatise on the state of society, particularly if it believes a utopia is possible by increasing the controls of government over individual social freedom. This is one of the most complex and complicated themes being addressed in this work but surely not the only one.

The statements taken out of context have almost no meaning. To frame them in a brief way, I will include the entire clip from which the words are taken.

The two adventurers arrive on the scene of a protest, we aren't told what they are protesting but Nite Owl indicates a police strike is in progress. As they attempt to disperse the crowd, there are several things to note:

  • The crowd are afraid of the adventurers; they don't welcome their arrival instead they back away from The Comedian immediately upon landing. He is armed to the teeth but they could overwhelm him with numbers.

  • His immediate response is to attack the protesters and a few feebly struggle before retreating. He and Nite Owl are both on the ground when their conversation about the state of the country takes place.

  • The Comedian is a nihilist and former soldier, he believes ultimately the country has achieved the American dream of total control of our destiny, as long as people aren't actually free to protest how that future is achieved.

  • Nite Owl is an idealist. He likes to believe what the Watchmen accomplish improves the freedom of the people and this includes their right to protest things they don't like. But he knows, just from watching what happened, that the Watchmen are now as much a part of the totalitarian control system as the police state they are currently replacing.

  • 3
    If there were total control, how could there ever be such violent protests? In the clip, it looks like there is a total lack of government control; "individual freedom" is on its extreme (satirically exaggerated) peak, with the result that everyone (the Comedian included) does whatever they want, even if that includes extremely violent behaviour. Which exactly matches what we are seeing in the video clip. – O. R. Mapper Sep 27 '14 at 6:35
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    Exactly, and hence, in that vacuum, the American Dream of total individual freedom (and, in this case, chaos), came true. Nite Owl, as an idealist, expected the total fulfilment of the American Dream to lead to a desirable place, whereas, the Comedian expects and accepts that the ultimate culmination of that individual freedom are the violent riots they are seeing, and thus he happily participates in that "American Dream come true". – O. R. Mapper Sep 27 '14 at 8:17
  • 1
    Your video is unavailable :( – Gallifreyan Apr 21 '17 at 10:24
  • 2
    @Gallifreyan A video featuring subversive discussion about government control being taken down due to 'government' action. That is pretty ironic. – Jeremy French Apr 21 '17 at 10:52

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