In the wake of George Zimmerman’s fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, Fox pulled some advertising for its upcoming comedy Neighborhood Watch, in which some overly-vigilant patrolees discover they’ve got an alien invasion on their hands. Now, they’ve changed the movie’s name to The Watch, and released a trailer that suggests the movie is more R-rated comedy than an affirmation of a power grab:
I tend to think movies like these are always somewhat dicey, since they’re built on the proposition that things that in the real world would be extremely dangerous or morally compromised—like getting overly zealous about guarding your neighborhood to the point that you start treating people in threats in ways that can escalate, or, say, torturing people—end up getting the results you want, whether it’s beating the bad guys or eliciting accurate information, both outcomes that in those cases would be rather unlikely. I thought it was problematic, for example, that in last week’s episode of Scandal, Olivia asks one of her employees to torture a suspect, aggravating what appears to be a severe case of PTSD, and then was rewarded for asking him to do this terrible thing by getting the information that she wanted. One bad message, that torture works, was wrapped inside a better one, that asking people on our side to do terrible things harms their humanity.
The Watch could end up validating macho nonsense that does real harm off-screen. Or it could end up arguing that most of the time, the people we assess as threats are no danger to us, and in fact are common allies in larger projects, the people we need to help make our communities better rather than the people we need to fear.