This short series will examine the rising nihilism of American culture- alongside the rise of president Donald Trump, his crew and his misguided defenders. There’s so much madness to consider, it’s hard to know where to start.
-Song I listened to while writing this piece: ‘This Patch of Sky’ by White shores.
”American Love- like coke in green glass Bottles… They don’t make it anymore.”
Alan Moore, Watchmen
Introduction: The Comedian Never dies
Before the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) plunges to his death, he can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all, ”it’s a joke,” he croaks as the assassin faces him, ”it’s all a joke.”
Finally there’s the awareness of impending void: ”mother forgive me.” A spatter of blood falls down from his battered face. It trickles down on his signature yellow smiley badge stuck to the lapel of his robe. The joke never ends when the superhuman assassin slams the Comedian’s face against the kitchen table for good measure, afterwards lifting him up and throwing through a glass window. The button follows the descending comedian. It’s still smiling when it hits the pavement right next to the comedian’s corpse.
The Comedian’s infamous badge found by Batman from the current Doomsday Clock series.
The comedian has always been one of my favorite characters of Alan Moore’s comic book and Zack Snyder’s much maligned comic book adaptation- which I consider personally as being severely underrated. On all accounts the character is a miserable human being: a murderer, a rapist and a war criminal to boot- not to mention that he’s the illusive Grassy Knoll shooter as well as having covered up the Watergate conspiracy for tricky Dick. But there’s more to his character than the horrors he’s afflicted; there’s the notion that he comprehends the madness of this world, the cosmic joke that is being played on all of us.
Like Sisyphus he’s just rolling with the punches, smiling as he does so. Unlike his fellow superhero compatriots he’s long lost any shred of idealism. Now he’s part of the system, a mercenary for the government. Back in the good old days he was just like the rest of them; just another bleeding heart who wanted to make a difference. This was before the human animal created the capacity to destroy all life on earth, before there was a superhuman deity serving America which frightened those pesky Ruskies. Back in the days when good and evil were simple concepts. You do good and you punch evil in the face- that’s what superheroes are supposed to do. But somewhere along the line, after witnessed so much ugliness within the system and human nature, he lost his way- or become enlightened in the worst possible manner.
Sisyphus’ daily struggle. The only struggle that makes sense to him.
First he was fighting crime, now he’s committing them- but it’s approved by the state so therefore it’s legal. Before the Vietnam war, there was The War to End All Wars, well that didn’t last long did it? If you secretly taped the conversations within the oval office you’d hear the callous manner in which they dealt with the loss of human life, the senseless manner in which they continued the war. In this universe, one of the most putrid examples of the presidency would remain in office for a fifth term- it’s hinted that he would be replaced by a buffoonish actor turned president, a man representing America’s final descent into Corporate-cosmology, named Ronald Reagan.
Don’t you see? It’s a joke, it’s all a joke. Once you realize this, being the Comedian is the only thing that makes sense…
The Comedian in Incendiary comic book form- from Before Watchmen: Comedian issue 5 by Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones.
This understanding that none of it really matters, that the human animal is just locked in their own particular illusions- fostered by either group identity, religion or some misguided pursuit of happiness- is something that I can, in my own limited education and life-experience, understand, perhaps, in a strange way identify with. I don’t mean to imply that I see the world for what it is, because like everyone else, I have my own personal biases and live through my own divested illusions. But sometimes you can’t help but feel like the only sane person as the world invests their intellect and time into all these meaningless things. All of it will fade away like the rest of us. You see people get outraged about the smallest and dumbest things and you’d just want to slap them on the head, hoping to wake them up, to remind them: ”we’re all in this hopeless void together. Why can’t we just play around with each other and move on!”
Same as how I, as with many others, adored the character of Rust Cohle in True Detective season 1- someone who dares to face the ugly truth, reveling in the darkness instead of hiding in the manufactured light like so many others. Everyone had of us probably had those thoughts and I’m sure that even those who dismiss them, occasionally have this little pang of uncertainty, telling them: perhaps there is no meaning to any of this. Perhaps when the lights go out, they stay out.
But something keeps dragging me into the light….
There’s something there, something truthful too. It’s not all dark out there. I can feel this. Perhaps I’m just telling myself this to sleep better- but I don’t see no reason to fight this, especially when things are going so much better with me.
Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) staring right inside your soul in True Detective Season one.
Unlike the Comedian, I do have a moral center and I can’t smile at the savagery of the human animal, it makes me uncomfortable, depending on my courage I will either look away or do something about it. Even though politics can seriously depress me, I keep myself invested in current events. I have faith in democratic institutions, I believe in strengthening them against the gangsters who want to abuse them for their own profit. There will always be equality in this world, wherever you go, it cannot be avoid. But with the right hearts and minds we can create a compassionate regime that is able to help and prosper the lives of our poorest and least privileged countrymen. I am passionate about exposing human rights violations of governmental institutions, in the power of journalism to speak the truth about ever increasing authoritarianism. I’ve fallen in love for about three years now and planning to stay that way.
My favorite quote of the series.
But it’s hard to not be cynical nowadays. As a liberal, I’m disheartened by the particular nefarious brand of progressive-liberalism of today where anyone who questions certain core believes and practices are shunned or insidiously misrepresented. I’ve found myself quite at home with renegade intellectuals, closer to conservatism at times but at least they are speaking out at this aggressive and hateful strand of liberal-progressivism. At the same time, my greatest worry goes to the ever increasing hold of Authoritarian disinformation, whether it comes from Russia, Turkey, China, America, wherever. I’m worried about the loss of objective truth in journalism, about the way we accept the obvious villains of democracy, letting them go about their business as they continue to infringe on our human rights.
And sometimes it just seems so hopeless, like a painful joke. I want to laugh at it, like the Comedian but it’s not as funny for me. Perhaps in time it will be.
In one of my favorite scenes of Watchmen, the naive Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) asks The Comedian after witnessing him beating down several violent protesters: ”what happened to the American dream?”
The comedian answers: ”what happened to the American Dream? It came true. You’re looking at it.”
I don’t believe in the American dream. But I believe in fighting for it.