The Architects of Fearoes
March 12, 2007 9:12 AM   Subscribe

So, spoiler warning, an ongoing, popular TV show has been revealed to have a forthcoming plot point where an act of stupefying terrorism is being engineered in order to unite mankind against the Other. This is a plot point from a seminal comic book, which borrowed it from a seminal TV show, both of which I will name after the cut. Is there an older origin of this story, and who else has been appropriating it recently?

The comic is Watchmen, and the TV show is the Outer Limits episode The Architects of Fear. In both cases, an alien menace is manufactured to get humanity united for its common defense, presumably to usher in a new era in achievement. (As opposed to spurring, say, military spending -- although if we include that in our definition, then we get 9/11 conspiracy theories and at least one season of 24.) The Incredibles did something similar, although the goals were more obviously selfish (an unbeatable robot designed to be beaten by a novice hero, albeit with the subtext that the new hero would be using human ingenuity rather that superpowers). But I know there are other cases in recent culture and pop culture of covert, blame-the-Other terrorism by idealogues with quasi-utopian aims, enough for me to be reasonably certain that the idea is completely overdone. Does anyone else have examples from movie, TV, comics, lit, etc.?
posted by blueshammer to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The Burning of the Reichstag is a real-world example.

(I flagged this post in the hope that the admins move the spoiler to the MI part- I have seen this spoiler elsewhere, but its obvious what it's for and I'd be pissed if I saw it first here.)
posted by mkultra at 9:39 AM on March 12, 2007

There was an episode of The Twilight Zone, called A Small Talent For War.

An alien arrives at the UN (or similar) and tells the assembled humans that he's sick of all the petty wars, and that humanity has 24 hours to sort themselves out or face global extermination. After a day of fevered negotiations humanity finally has the mother of all treaties, bringing an end to all war. The alien returns, has the situation explained to him. Humanity is saved, it seems. Except that the alien wanted bigger wars, not less of them.
posted by veedubya at 9:39 AM on March 12, 2007

This is sort of like the suprise ending to The Village. But there isn't any big Other that mankind is fighting, other than the dangers and vices of the 21st century.
posted by rossination at 9:40 AM on March 12, 2007

Bob Roberts features an assassination attempt that turns out ot have probably been staged to get votes. Not really the same scale, but same basic idea.

The short story "The Toynbee Converter" by Ray Bradbury features all of human society working towards a great goal because a time traveler told them they would reach that goal on such and such a date. The time traveler turns out to be a fraud.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:43 AM on March 12, 2007

I have seen this spoiler elsewhere, but its obvious what it's for and I'd be pissed if I saw it first here.

Actually I thought it was going to be for Jericho.

posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:46 AM on March 12, 2007

Hmm... Larry Niven's Protector (73) ends with the deliberate infection of an entire colony planet to turn them into an army to fight The Aliens... but off-hand I can't think of any better examples.

40s/50s SF assumed that world government was inevitable... the terrorists tend to be the few misguided (rather than evil) holdouts against sense and good order.

You don't really get that level of paranoia about government in SF until you hit the 80s, IMO.

You might be interested in this
posted by Leon at 9:50 AM on March 12, 2007

The short story "The Toynbee Converter" by Ray Bradbury

I think that's "Convector."
posted by kindall at 9:54 AM on March 12, 2007

One very ambivalent "we did it for your own good" novel is John Fowles The Magus... but that's about a single man, rather than the whole planet.
posted by Leon at 9:58 AM on March 12, 2007

In Ursula K LeGuin's "The Lathe of Heaven," George Orr is a man whose dreams become real. He's given a dream-suggestion that he unite humanity, and perversely dreams up an alien threat. This may have even been a deadpan joke by the author, suggesting that the whole "alien threat unites humanity" idea was already a cliché.
posted by adamrice at 10:05 AM on March 12, 2007

The spoiled show name should be on the outside, the spoiler should be on the inside. Saying "here's a spoiler for an unnamed show" will just make people not click through.
posted by smackfu at 10:08 AM on March 12, 2007

Well, the most recent example I can think of is the film version of V For Vendetta in which


the government perpetrates the poisoning of public drinking water and an elementary school in order to consolidate control.

That might very well be in the original (sorry for my ignorance of not having read it yet, yes, I know I'm a bad person for it) as well, which was also Alan Moore, so, there you go. Same plot point for two of his stories.

I've seen this in other movies and tv shows as well, but sadly I can't think of any direct examples just now.
posted by smallerdemon at 10:11 AM on March 12, 2007

It's the basic idea of the comic The American Way. Super bad guys are invented by the government, as are Superheroes, all to unite the country against commie pinko bastards.
posted by god hates math at 10:12 AM on March 12, 2007

From the realm of conspiracy, "The Disclosure Project." (It's mentioned at some point in the national press club video linked on the front page, but it's been a few years since I've seen it, so I can't point you to a specific spot in the video.)
posted by textilephile at 10:15 AM on March 12, 2007

The first take on this I know of is Theodore Sturgeon's "Unite and Conquer", in "Astounding Science Fiction", Oct. 1948, currently in print in The Perfect Host: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, Volume 5.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:16 AM on March 12, 2007

Kindall: I think that's "Convector."

Dang. Yes it is. I plead faulty memory.

posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:59 AM on March 12, 2007

And if you're further afraid of spoilers involving Watchmen, do NOT read the front page of Metafilter right now.
posted by poppo at 11:16 AM on March 12, 2007

Response by poster: Of course, poppo, it's the same spoiler.

Another example would be a subplot of Kingdom Come, a somewhat overrated DC title from about a decade back.
posted by blueshammer at 11:31 AM on March 12, 2007

Of course, the parallel to 9/11 is unavoidable, where a major attack on the homeland was used by the Executive Branch to initiate a couple of wars and several effective policy and legislative changes to shift balance of power to the Executive under the aegis of helping to usher in a "new world order" in the Mideast and elsewhere.

Also in Star Wars where the...


...Clone Wars are used by the Chancellor to get the Senate to give him Imperial powers.
posted by darkstar at 11:32 AM on March 12, 2007

Sorry poppo. I was not as crafty as this thread's phrasing and reveal.
posted by dig_duggler at 11:35 AM on March 12, 2007

So, what is the current TV show?
posted by Megafly at 11:36 AM on March 12, 2007

I don't understand. Are you saying that your question was also about Watchmen and the TV show in the subject of the FPP on the blue? I see only you mentioning an Outer Limits episode. If this was some kind of a veil for that other TV show, then good job, at least I didn't catch on over here. Unlike the crystal clear explanation over there.
posted by poppo at 11:38 AM on March 12, 2007

You don't really get that level of paranoia about government in SF until you hit the 80s, IMO.

Doesn't read much PKD, do he? ; . )

Another historical parallel is the (alleged, and rather weakly supported by anything in the way of actual evidence) decision by FDR to let the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor unfold as planned. The idea being, again, that only an offense of this magnitude could unite a "slumbering," isolationist USA behind joining the Allied effort.
posted by adamgreenfield at 11:39 AM on March 12, 2007

Response by poster: poppo, the creators of Watchmen have not been shy about crediting The Outer Limits/The Architects of Fear as their inspiration. (I'm pretty sure there's a shout-out in the text itself.) The modern TV show that is the subject of this question is the same one on the MeFi FPP.
posted by blueshammer at 12:37 PM on March 12, 2007

Mystified. What is the current TV show?
posted by A189Nut at 12:40 PM on March 12, 2007

ah i see how I misread your question now (i incorrectly connected "an ongoing, popular TV show" in the first paragraph with the Outer Limits reference in the second, when it was clear that it was "a seminal TV show" that should have referred to the Outer Limits)
posted by poppo at 12:48 PM on March 12, 2007

Response by poster: Megafly, A189Nut, if the current show isn't clear from the title of the post and the tags, then you probably aren't watching it.
posted by blueshammer at 1:09 PM on March 12, 2007

posted by nomisxid at 1:10 PM on March 12, 2007

Here, nomisxid-- have a cigar!
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 1:13 PM on March 12, 2007

In George Orwell's 1984 it's strongly suggested (if not outright stated at some point - been awhile since I read it) that the attacks on Oceania are in fact perpetrated neither by Eastasia nor by Eurasia, but by Oceania itself in order to keep the people in a state of fear and thus willing to accept the totalitarian government.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:27 PM on March 12, 2007

You don't really get that level of paranoia about government in SF until you hit the 80s, IMO.
Doesn't read much PKD, do he? ; . )

Interesting. No, I don't - loathe his stuff, although one day I'm going to get around to The Man in the High Castle. But isn't his (literary) paranoia about the nature of reality, rather than the nature of government?
posted by Leon at 1:55 PM on March 12, 2007

Leon - Leon? -

There's a difference? From where I sit, those are merely different facets of power/knowledge.

An example of early PKD rocking this general theme: The Penultimate Truth (1964, IIRC), in which the majority of humanity dwells in subterranean capsule cities as shelter against a nuclear war that in actuality ended years before.
posted by adamgreenfield at 2:10 PM on March 12, 2007

I watch heroes and I still don't see the parallel to Watchmen, Architects of Fear or similar story lines.

Unless the "huge" recently released spoiler regarding Linderman had something to do with him being Ozymandius.
posted by Megafly at 4:50 PM on March 12, 2007

Oh crimeny!! Linderman has the paintings and knows about New York. he doesn't seem to be doing anything about it. He could be Ozymandius.
posted by Megafly at 4:57 PM on March 12, 2007

That's it in a nutshell, Megafly. And his manufactured "event" is - since we're already well in the land of spoilers here - the NYC explosion.
posted by luriete at 5:01 PM on March 12, 2007

(he's not just not doing anything about it - he's engineering the event, or so he claims).
posted by luriete at 5:01 PM on March 12, 2007

The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996, Geena Davis, Samuel L. Jackson) featured a government agency running a "fundraiser" which consisted of killing some civilians and blaming it on muslim terrorists.

Hmm, I guess that doesn't completely fit, but it's the same general idea.
posted by ODiV at 6:22 PM on March 12, 2007

Ah, I recall a very old sci-fi novel in which there was a similar conspiracy to convince humanity that there were aliens living in Jupiter, under the crushing depths of the atmosphere, trying to kill us. Damned if I can remember the name.
posted by adipocere at 7:37 PM on March 12, 2007

Another version of this tale is the short story "The Executioner of the Malformed Children" from "Shatterday" by Harlan Ellison. It's been a long while since I read it, and I couldn't find a synopsis online to confirm this, but I think the plot goes something like this:

A world very much like our own starts getting occasionally attacked by crab-like aliens which come through small rips in the space time continuum and cause localized mayhem. Luckily, around the same time the attacks start occurring, there suddenly develops a small minority of humans who have the power to fight off the aliens and seal the breaches in the universe. They kind of become unofficial cops and the majority of the population is grateful to have them around. One of these special people, who has recently discovered his powers, grows suspicious that some other people, a woman in particular, always seem to be somehow involved with the appearances of the aliens.

Punchline: it turns out that there is no alien threat. Instead, there just spontaneously mutated a bunch of people with amazing mental powers, and in order to prevent society from rising up against them and killing them, they invent a threat -- the aliens -- so that they can be the good guys who fight against it and are thus highly valued, instead of hunted down. To protect themselves, they kill the protagonist at the end of the story.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:43 PM on March 12, 2007

Operation Mongoose
posted by phrontist at 9:56 PM on March 12, 2007

I also seem to recall that Machiavelli spoke about this. Basically (and correct me if I'm misremembering him or misattributing someone else's doctrine to him - it's been a while) that a ruler needed an external threat to justify the standing army and an internal threat to justify the internal police. And that if he didn't have those threats inherently, he would need to manufacture them so as to justify the dicta of his rule.

Sentiments which, in the aggregate, were also espoused by Goebbels, I believe.
posted by darkstar at 1:44 PM on March 13, 2007

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