Unmasking the Watchmen

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S1: The following recording may or may not include instances of words being said that the FCC would find me for if their long arm could ever reach its Wednesday October 16th 2019 from slated to just die Mike Pesca.

S2: No I’m a learned man. Debatable but I gotta say I do not know who won the debate. I do not know who helped themselves. I do not know how audiences will react. All the past debates suggest certain lower polling performers should get a boost and yet that never happens.

S3: All of the previous debates to my mind showed that Joe Biden is experiencing cognitive decline but he hasn’t lost all that much support. He’s lost his big lead but that’s more about Elizabeth Warren gaining and all the other debates suggests that any one of these candidates would be a better president than Donald Trump. Although I do not think for instance that say Tulsi Gabbard or Tom Stier would be a better president than William Weld. Of course that last supposition is like Mighty Mouse beat up underdog in that Gabbard or Weld.

S4: That is the stuff of fiction and what fiction it would be. I do have one observation however and I can help you with this observation. I figure if I keep it tight it will have more impact. There is a candidate who a few months ago looked like she could win but does not look like that anymore and she is Kamala Harris. She’s evidently skilled.

S3: She has had her moments while really a moment in these debates and I have in the past criticized Senator Harris for being frustratingly unclear about where she really stands on important issues like Medicare for All and also where she stands on unimportant issues in the scheme of things like allowing felons currently in prison to vote.

S4: Sorry sorry I misheard. Yes remember that. But I think a fundamental skill of Kamala Harris or what’s perceived as a skill might actually be a weakness. So Kamala Harris has this ability mostly based on rhetoric but just charisma in a way. This skill to get people’s attention to give the impression that a big important thing is being said. That attention must be paid and this moment that we are in this is an important moment during last night’s debate. It was her use of drama and rising tension to build to this challenge to the perceived front runner Senator Elizabeth Warren Senator Warren.

S5: I just want to say that I was surprised to hear that you did not agree with me that on this subject of what should be the rules around corporate responsibility for these big tech companies. When I called on Twitter to suspend Donald Trump’s account that you did not agree and I would I would urge you to join me because here we have Donald Trump. Let sixty five million Twitter followers and is using that platform as the president of the United States to openly intimidate witnesses to threaten witnesses to obstruct justice. And he and his account should be taken down OK.

S3: But you know that is a poor point a weird point to spend so much time and the resources of attention staking your claim to that point. And Senator Warren pretty easily dismissed it by saying yeah I’m not here to get Donald Trump off Twitter I’m here to get Donald Trump out of the White House.

S4: Good point. And that reminded me a little bit of a couple of past Kamala Harris moments including and paramount. This one. This was during the Kavanaugh hearings where it seemed like the senator had the then federal judge on the ropes.

S6: Have you discussed Muller or his investigation with anyone at Castle with Benson and Torres. The law firm founded by Mark Castle it’s President Trump’s personal lawyer.

S7: Be sure about your answer sir.

S8: Well I’m not remembering but if you have something you want to. Are you certain you’ve not had a conversation that anyone at that law firm.

S9: Casa es su casa wits Benson in Juarez which is the law firm founded by Mark CASA Wittes who is President Trump’s personal lawyer. Are you. Have you had. Any conversation about Robert Mueller. Or his investigation with anyone at that firm.

S4: Yes or no. And he said I don’t think so and the senator seemed very suspicious and Cut to today.

S3: Kevin was on the Supreme Court. Nothing whatsoever became of this exchange. I remember at the moment it seemed like we were all holding our breath. And what a great prosecutor and oh my God. The other shoe is going to drop. What is what does she know. I guess we can say not much. She created however a moment kicking Trump off Twitter busing in the 1960s and 70s and then when there came time for the substantive follow up. Nothing. Perhaps the former D.A. is too good at arresting our attention and not good enough at making her case on the show. Today I spiel about the national constituency that backs Donald Trump’s actions as regards the Kurds. And there isn’t one. But first Watchmen the seminal comic book from 1986 deconstructed the idea of mass superheroes address the anxieties of the Cold War when it was written and then it was more or less faithfully adapted into a Zack Snyder film that was 10 years ago more or less I say because the comic book Faithfull is extremely exacting. Now HBO has a new series which takes the events of the Watchmen world that we knew from the comic books that ended in the late 80s and brings those events forward into 2019. Damon Lindelof The creator of Lost In The Leftovers sets this new series in Oklahoma. He’s the creator and we’re thrust into a world characterized by racial terrorist backlash after a progressive politician becomes president. You want to know who it is I’ll spoil it a little for you. It’s Robert Redford. Oh it’s not Robert Redford playing role it’s actual Robert Redford who doesn’t play a role. He’s just the president the director of the premiere episode and two others in this 9 episode series is Nicole Cosell who is also an executive producer and Nicole herself joins me next.

S10: In the pilot episode of HBO his new series Watchmen there is a shot a brief shot where we see the headlines and subhead of a newspaper now Watchmen takes place in an alternative reality. But I think it’s about the present. So it’s good that someone still reading a newspaper and a couple of the sub heads read KKK vandalism closed down Statue of Liberty and Boise squid shower destroys homeless camp kills to quite a world we’re living in this update of the classic comic series I just saw the pilot episode. It knocked my socks off. The director is here Nicole Cosell. Thanks for coming in. My pleasure. So first of all just huge compliments. This was an amazing world establishing pilot so you have to do that right. So it’s not just you come in. You direct the hell out of action sequences you. You get the drama from the actors. There’s a little bit extra right with a premiere or pilot episode what you’re trying to do. Has it show up and the choices you make as a director.

S11: Everything. It’s similar to a feature in that sense that you’re creating. And every decision every element. This is the groundwork. Yeah. And I’m obviously in the pilot we go through different times.

S12: But for 2019 we created a whole history of world rules and we called it the World Book.

S13: And and that was used to be.

S14: They used to be like an out of print almanac.

S13: Exactly. Now we have it for Watchmen the series and I assembled that with input from the writers room and from production design props costumes everything so that the future episodes could refer to it. And we shared it with you know the departments all the way from top to bottom so everybody had their eyes and ears on. These are the rules of our universe right.

S10: In this pilot we can say that there is a rationale for masks not necessarily even masks superheroes people wear masks I don’t want to give too much away the masks of a superhero are the symbol of the superhero and even if they’re not superheroes the masks are iconic Rorschach X mask is iconic but there are many others wearing masks and the masks seem to communicate something. Tell me about those choices and how you made them right.

S13: Well the idea was definitely that cops the cup force has one uniform the yellow obviously is referencing something significant evocative of the happy face.

S14: That’s the ultimate symbol of the watchmen. They say the same tone.

S13: Exactly. And then the detectives get to choose their own costume. Right. And each one has a reason and that reason for our main characters will be maybe revealed. It’s definitely an expression of the self and you know as you think about mass it’s really the analysis of when are you wearing a mask when are you not. Are you wearing a mask when you’re mom at home or in a classroom or when you’re dressed as something up for Cup life. Yeah. And then you know further you know referencing obviously the source in the the Watchmen the Minutemen. They all have their costumes and they got to self select. So that’s really why the detectives in our world get to that’s kind of a right straight through line.

S14: But it does seem that some of the detectives it was this tossed off choice the masks are shoddy. There may be old one guys wearing maybe this chance will become a bigger character wearing just a red ski mask that he’s shoving some food into. When we first see him doesn’t seem to be like the amount of care and attention that Spider-Man 2 put into his mouth.

S13: Exactly. It’s definitely meant to be something just anybody can make it whether it’s a fancy one or just the jumpsuit. What’s that say about his character. You know he just has a red uniform and it’s sloppy. Yeah. Maybe when he’s not a cop maybe he’s in his Gucci and Romani. And then you know even in that work space in the police precinct we imagine what’s what if there’s just a box of mask you can put on when you show up if you don’t have some. Right. So you see the big old panda head. Yeah.

S12: You know and really we wanted the whole world to feel well worn ready.

S11: And and from these characters not it’s actually not superheroes it’s they have no superpowers you know.

S10: Yes. Yeah. So it starts with the Tulsa race riots of 1921 pretty shamefully a lot of people don’t know. Might not know this is real event hundreds died. We don’t even know. I mean it’s the United States is Woods is less than a hundred years ago they couldn’t even put a count on the number of citizens that were dead accurate within 100. So had you directed anything like that before. No absolutely not. Who do you go to for advice or did you just do it visually. Do you talk to someone.

S11: Enormous amount of time went into planning that. From reading a book the burning by Tim Madigan. Yeah. When I read the script and told me Tulsa twenty once real life I also didn’t know I didn’t know Bass Reeves as real. Who’s the hero of the silent film. Yeah. And so nineteen twenty one’s real. So I read a book and my assistant director did and that whole team so that we made those vignettes from the book and just did everything as historically accurately as possible. We went to Greenwood and Tulsa and met with the people there the center there. No I’ve never. You know it was 250 people at least incredible number of stunts. I definitely did the research I looked at. You know I remembered reading how Eva DuVernay did the bridge sequence since in Selma. You know how Spellberg did saving Private Ryan. So as a film person I’d been studying those sequences right. And I definitely remember reading that Eva had that set blast and we happened to be filming on the ninety seventh anniversary day when a production was doing day one of the massacre. And we did we had a priest come bless the set in advance we wrote a letter to the entire cast and crew making sure especially background actors and stunt actors heard from us like our gratitude for what we were asking them to do whether they were perpetrator or victim and made sure that letter got to everyone. We just really you know went every step to make sure people were taking care of emotionally and physically. And it was very bonding experience we started. Like I said that day with bringing everyone together and also you know it’s rare to get to rehearse with background but we did the day before or a couple of days before kind of created recreated the street on our backlot and ran sequences with background actors not all of them but a lot of them and then each one would be designated a point person for their little story scene huh. Just. And they therefore knew the assistant director team more closely. Right. And it was just you know really going deep to take care of everyone.

S10: Right. So this is this was so good in there is a scene in a classroom a parent career day scene and we see as many a fourth fifth grade classrooms might have the list of presidents. It’s over character shoulder. It’s a little fuzzy. Luckily I was watching it on something that was rewind about wait a minute. That’s how everyone watches everything these days. And I said wait a minute. Who’s that next to Bush and Reagan. And I rolled back at it was Robert Redford and I said to myself Great joke but it’s not a joke. It immediately comes up and then they talk about a kid mentions reparations but he says it wrong. He says Redford ratios. And I was wondering how much do you think that people will get make the initial connection that it wasn’t just some kid mispronouncing reparations.

S1: Do you think they’ll get it right then and there. Did you. I’m smart.

S13: And so no maybe not. You know his delivery is that it’s clearly an insult.

S14: Yeah why’s that and so exactly evocative of Obamacare. I mean that’s the analogy. Yes that would degrade this thing if again this was like a white kid with with an Oklahoma accent who you might think. And this is by the way the pilot is shot through with white supremacy is the major theme. So you might think that he might come from a family that would degrade reparations is red for Asian.

S13: Exactly. So you know that’s whether or not you immediately put it all together that Redford’s still a president and that he’s been president for a long time if you may not make all those connections right then and there.

S14: Right. Later on we hear it in the background of a radio show they talk about Redford’s 30 years as president.

S11: Right. And the boy. So the tone is clearly insulting and then in the car right after the young one kind of clarifies that it was an insult. Yes. And so we want the audience asking why is that an insult if they don’t already know.

S10: Does Redford show up in the series. No. OK. But you had to get his permission to use it. No no public really.

S13: But you make him a horrible horrible killer I think I mean we’ve of course looked that all up. Yeah. You’re not allowed disparage a public figure.

S10: But but if you said in an alternate history I mean if I were your lawyer I’d argue for it it would just seem to be a little dicey legally.

S13: Oh no we got it cleared. That’s good. And and it’s not a total invention at the end of the source book. They say maybe Redford would run for president. Right. So there’s again that’s a great march to the original.

S10: Have you or Damon or anyone else girded yourself or talked about inevitable comic enthusiast backlash.

S13: A lot. Tell me what do you do. Honestly what do you do. I don’t know.

S14: You know I don’t know if there’s there’s a a rejuvenated script for it. No.

S11: I think what you do is what Damon’s done and that is he wrote that letter. You know in the beginning you know in the spring when we write before we started filming the pilot he wrote this incredible letter to the fans saying I know Europe’s going to be upset with me or wonder why I’m doing this. And this is why. And it’s three pages. It’s a beautiful letter and just so earnest. And it’s basically saying this is why Yeah. So let him he answers that. And you know and then what we’re asking of the viewers is give us a chance please watch the nine before judging and to the diehard fans just know that he agreed it’s not adaptable. So we haven’t adapted it. It’s an entirely different piece of work but hopefully showing it’s a love letter.

S10: I’d say to the source and in the nods that are made and post story wise and visually yeah if someone wants to nit pick if a huge fan a Watchmen super fan what’s an epic Why is that character not in there why is that character’s headpiece you know different. Fine put it aside but I guess what Damon is essentially doing is saying well I pulled out is what I think is the essential DNA of the Watchmen right. It’s not every detail. That’s not how DNA works right. You’re that though the how a feather is modeled on a bird might be different even if they have the same DNA. But I’m pulling out the DNA and I’m I’m remixing it. I’m working to create a new Chimera with that DNA I guess you can make the case well you’ve got the DNA wrong or you left out a huge strand of the DNA. That’s what you open yourself up to.

S13: And how would you answer that your loss. Sorry.

S11: You know you can’t win everyone you know you just you know honestly you make work for an audience but while you’re making it you have to just be true to yourself and those closest to you.

S10: Nicole Cosell is the director executive producer director of three episodes of The Nine and the premiere pilot episode of watchmen on HBO and executive producer. Great to meet you. Thanks for coming in. Thank you so much.

S4: And now the spiel one of the hot effects of the Trump era isn’t just noting that our president is an unqualified cruel clownish horror show. And it’s not that you can strenuously disagree with his policies or his methods or his competence you know so often in politics we say well is this really a debate about policy or process. I mean are you getting at his motivations or his branding. It’s all of them. It’s all of them with Trump they’re all execrable. But there is this very odd effect that you might not notice until you go back into the past and think about how things played out before Trump. And it turns out Trump’s not even though he does this too. He’s not even engaging in a dis honest debate and he’s not just taking the wrong side of a third rail issue. He is redefining what the supposed controversy even is in political science which I studied. This is why I call myself a learned math.

S3: I learned about the concept of cleavages in public opinion and how this concept goes is that it’s a smart idea especially in a two party democracy a well functioning two party system will naturally organize around cleavages in public opinion so take an issue. Immigration right. Some Americans want less. Some Americans want more. So the parties basically organize that way. One party represents less one party represents more in America. I was a little more functional.

S15: It would be like the Democrats would say we want generally more immigration but not totally unlimited immigration and we’d have some laws. And the Republicans would say we want less immigration but no we want less immigration but not a total lack of immigration. And we’d want laws and they’d be fine. I mean there would be some amount of dishonesty and demagoguery and those things are of course bad but we’d have a legitimate enough debate where the two political parties the two sides of the issues were organized around pretty much where the split the cleavage in public opinion is. All right. It seems there’s a bunch of things where our society is organized this way. Right. One party is more nationalistic one party is more into to say global citizenship just like the people are. One party believes in diplomacy first one party not afraid to bomb if you have to. It’s pretty much where the public is is pretty much where the parties are. And you know which party sides with which side.

S4: All right then there’s Trump. Trump has the effect of staking out a position that’s either way off the grid or just an incoherent mishmash. But then what happens is because there was no cleavage in public opinion the cleavage becomes with Trump or against Trump. The issue doesn’t dictate the stance the President a politician takes. The president dictates where the public has to debate.

S1: Let us take the Kurds. Let us take the Kurds who are now getting slaughtered by the Turks in Syria Syria or as Tulsi Gabbert calls it a regime change war. So Barack Obama chose not to intervene in serious. There were there there were some in his own party who said he should. There are many in the other party who said he should in the public itself sort of disagreed but that was Barack Obama’s chance. But then in 2014 this wasn’t in Syria this was Iraq but close to Syria. And as part of this overall effort there was a situation. You remember this the Yazidis the minority ethnic group were being slaughtered on a mountain in Iraq. And the Obama administration which had chosen not to intervene in that general theater intervened and they saved by conservative estimates or they helped save tens of thousands of visitors lives. ISIS before this were slaughtering the UCD they slaughtered more maybe some say than the Obama administration could save. But the important thing here is that very important to this effort the United States chief on the ground partner the United States was dropping supplies from the air and some bombs on ISIS positions. But the main force saving the lives going in there extracting these people from harm’s way were the Kurds. And if there was a break or cleavage in public opinion about this issue it maybe went like this. While most of us can agree or almost all of us can agree yes if we can we should save the lives of the Yazidis. It is possible for the U.S. to be pulled further in and we don’t want that to happen. Obama definitely agree with it. There was another vocal chorus who is a constant consulate criticizing Obama saying of course we need to save the Yazidis but you know this really is a mass of Obama’s own making. We needed to be aggressive earlier. I’ll play you a clip of Lindsey Graham on the floor of the Senate making the case that Obama’s non intervention is what imperiled the Yazidis.

S16: I want to hit them before they hit us. I want partners I don’t want to fight this war alone. Now on keep the war over there. And it’s coming here. And no matter what you do it may come here anyway. But we’re allowing them to come here quicker and faster than they should be allowed to come here. We’re allowing them to stay strong or longer than they should. And in the wake of this foreign policy debacle you’ve lost an entire group of people called the Israelis have basically been wiped off the place of the face of the planet.

S1: Graham ever the hawk wanted a stronger intervention but at least the Kurds were bearing the brunt of the fight. Right. He would say that the Obama champions would say that there are even a bunch of non interventionists maybe on the far right but also on the far left who would also say this is this is bad. You know what the one good thing is that we don’t have to do the messy work. Thank God the Kurds are bearing the brunt of the fight. That’s the one good thing that we could rely on the Kurds when we say we can rely on the Kurds what were we relying on them to do. The U.S. dropped supplies the U.S. dropped bombs and the pesh merga and the People’s Protection Units and the P.K. Kay broke the ISIS siege on that mountain. The Kurds who by the way all this time had actually been buying the Yazidis out of slavery from ISIS. OK. So intervening to save the Yazidis who are a different group they are of a different relieved religion. They were still assisting in this and in the case of the Sinjar Mountains it was the Kurds who were the forces that shepherded the Yazidis away from harm maybe fifty thousand of them were saved. Now at the time you didn’t hear anyone say well you know the Kurds they’re only fighting for their own self-interest. There were in there at Normandy. No they were there for us to do this thing that almost every American agreed should have been done. The cleavage was some wanted it done more. Some of the cleavage on the other side was let’s not go too far. There was no cleavage where one side of the argument was. And the Kurds should die. But now Donald Trump comes along and on a whim he’s turned his back on this erstwhile ally and it seems there’s the confounding thing. It seems like there is a debate because I watch the news urge Senators Rand Paul and Kevin Cramer going on the Sunday shows putting out the idea that selling out the Kurds is in our interest allowing the Kurds to die fits in with some established longstanding American political belief the House just passed a resolution condemning withdrawal in Syria by a vote of 364 to 60. I’m surprised they got 60. But you know the house often passes resolutions which put on binding statements forward the House voted overwhelmingly to condemn the Saudis for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi but there are plenty of members of the house. Most members of the House who in fact still regard the Saudis as an ally. But you got to say something when they do a bad thing they’re problematic but they’re an ally. This is different no one opposes the Kurds. There is no appetite to slaughter the Kurds to allow for the slaughter of the Kurds and by the way the other side of it acquiescing to what Turkey wants.

S4: There is almost no constituency for that either. And yet Donald Trump does it. And that’s where the line of debate becomes his dangerous ill considered notion automatically takes the form of a policy where we can agree or disagree. No no. This shouldn’t be the case but it is. We have all these people going out there of members of his own party defending this as this was an idea in anyone’s mind before Donald Trump specifically embraced the idea and the people defending it are not just loser dead enders like Corey Lewandowski not even just the aforementioned senators who supported in interviews. There are many others who bless it through their silence or the fact that their vocalizations of dissent are tepid at best. Even a dissolute presidency. I mean it just does go to show that the presidency does have a lot of power not just to make policy and to commit troops or D commit troops but it has this way of defining political reality. And in this case it also has the very real effect of dooming a people who are once allies and allies who everyone could agree on. And that’s it for today’s show that just was produced by Daniel Schrader who if he were a member of the watchmen.

S17: Would be known as the auto tour an era based version of roar shack. His test is one of those hearing tests we all took in the fourth grade. He’d have the machine and the mask and everything. Another just producer is Cristina de Rosa who as a member of the Watchmen would be known as the prop comic. She’d be an updated version of the nihilistic comedian only she wouldn’t be an agent of the CIA. She worked for DARPA’s so she’d have this whole box of tricky gadgets and sometimes they’d work but sometimes they would fail in hilarious ways. I am describing Inspector Gadget. The gist My watchman name would be Skylark unlike Gaza Mandy is named after the Percy by Shelley poem of that name. I would not be named after the person by Shelley poem to a skylark which of course begins. Hail to the blithe spirit no I would be named for a 1991 Buick Skylark and my superpower would be I did not care if I wrecked my 1991 Buick Skylark so I’d back it into bad guys like 35 miles an hour for a dapper duper and thanks for listening.