Study Guide

Watchmen Technology and Modernization

By Alan Moore

Technology and Modernization

“This atomic science. This is what the world will need! Not pocketwatches!” (IV.3.5).

Einstein disagrees. Moore’s in on the joke, too. Flip to the end of Chapter IV for the punch line (IV.28). Warning: it’s not funny ha-ha.

“How this almost unbelievable development will affect the race in weaponry and space technology has yet to be assimilated” (IV.13.4).

This scene is brought to you by a televised news anchor. The question is why?

“The streets smell of ozone rather than gasoline. Flat, intangible blots of gray slide across the summer sidewalks, the shadows of overhead airships (IV.24.4).

Thanks to Doc Manhattan, oil is obsolete. Moore celebrates this environment-friendly triumph with some of Watchmen’s most poetic language.

Children starve while boots costing many thousands of dollars leave their mark upon the surface of the moon (Chapter D.I).

Pretty harsh indictment of NASA, if you ask us. What about astronaut ice cream? Yeah, it’s pretty good, for like half a bite.

The technology that Dr. Manhattan has made possible has changed the way we think about our clothes, our food, our travel. We drive in electric cars and travel […] in clean, economical airships (Chapter D.III).

Sounds like Utopia, although Watchmen’s alt-1985 is anything but. This seems like a good time to consider the possibility that Dr. Manhattan’s name might not just reference the heart of NYC, but also serve as a shout-out to the Manhattan Project.

“No matter how black it got, when I looked through these goggles everything was clear as day” (VII.9.9).

Technology that connects, we can stand behind that. Hey, are those Google Glasses you’re wearing?

“See: there’s the south pole [of Mars] beneath us now. […] Would it be greatly improved by an oil pipeline?” (IX.13.2).

Dr. Manhattan is definitely a member of the Sierra Club. Is modern life always bad for the environment?

This new line is to be called the “Millennium” line. The imagery associated with it will be controversial and modern, projecting a vision of a technological Utopia, a whole new universe of sensations and pleasures that is just within reach (Chapter J.3).

On one hand, the new millennium = optimism for the future; on the other, there turned out to be a whole lot of Y2K anxiety.

“Computer animations imbue even breakfast cereals with an hallucinogenic futurity; music channels process information-blips, avoiding linear presentation, implying limitless personal choice” (XI.1.2).

Try explaining the Internet to someone who’s never used it before. Now imagine Alan Moore explaining the Internet before it even existed.

“War aside, atomic deadlock guided us downhill toward environmental ruin” (XI.22.1).

This is a bleaker than bleak look at technology. How do we break the deadlock?