Tuesday, April, 14, 09

Yes, Who Watches The Watchmen?

by theradishpress

This is what happens when I wait forever to post something…it loses momentum, or is no longer relevant. Oh well, I am posting this anyway. I was not done with all of my thoughts.

I think it would really be wonderful if attention were taken away from Dr.  Manhattan’s penis and maybe focus were given to I don’t know…the movie. As Kim Voyner points out in “The Big Blue Elephant in the Corner of the Room” why is there such an outcry over Dr. Manhattan’s genitals and not the barely dressed female characters, or the rape scene, or the gruesome blood and broken bones? Apparently naked women is totally fine and expected, but a blue penis, woah! Not that this is news.

I do not want to focus on the need to steer clear of the penis, rather I want to focus on the movie, as an adaptation, as a piece of stand alone art independent of the graphic novel, its politics, social commentary, cinematography, and all of the other things that it has to offer aside from or in addition to a blue penis.

As an adaptation I have to give Zack Snyder serious credit for doing an amazing job of translating the graphic novel to screen. I know, I know, Alan Moore does not approve, but as much as I like him, I do not always agree with Alan Moore, and does he ever give his approval?

Snyder took a complicated story with multiple layers and multi-dimensional characters and created a beautifully sculpted piece of art. The opening credits serve as a background story of who the Watchmen are and how history has played out, including the endless presidency of Richard Nixon and a US victory in Vietnam.

The Watchmen are a group of people who over the years took it upon themselves to serve as protectors, enforcers of order, bringers of justice. Some retired, some were killed, some went crazy. Finally, their vigilante justice was stopped by the US government. The idea of a “regular” person, that is someone without powers like Superman or Spiderman, doing heroic acts and fighting injustice, is not foreign to the world of comics. And Moore seems to have a dislike for vigilantes like Batman, regular folks who take it upon themselves to enforce order, or what they know to be order. Now, I am a huge Batman fan. I have been since childhood, sucked into the Adam West series early on, and I do not know that Moore has a dislike for all regular folks fighting crime, so to speak, but in general finds it to be a bad idea.

After all, it is only people so ego-maniacal, so self- righteous who could possibly think that they alone, or even as a collective – even then this collective is so shattered and often times the Watchmen are left working in isolation – could take it upon him or herself to be a saviour. The only non-crazy member, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), is the craziest member, and the hero and narrator of the story. It is through Rorschach’s memories and present experiences that the majority of the story is told. Rorschach is not so stuck on himself, what he does is not about him, but about everyone. Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) and The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) are certainly self-serving characters. Okay, Ozymandias thinks he is working for the greater good, but George Bush thought attacking Iraq and Afghanistan were for the greater good too. And that is Moore’s point, well one point anyway. Who determines what the greater good is, and why do some people think that they have the right to enforce certain actions, thoughts, and behaviours? And why do we stand by and allow them to? The Watchmen are a complicated group. They fight for what they believe in, but often what they believe in is in alignment with the very system and enforcers who have created chaos. The Comedian and Dr. Manhattan use their power, strength, abilities and so on to help the US government. There is no question from either of them on whether or not that is right, and in the case of The Comedian, his assistance is for wealth and celebrity. Rorschach, on the other hand, sees an injustice, such as rape or murder and acts accordingly. He does not do this for the US or any other larger system. He does it because it is right.

As I watched the movie it struck me that yet again, here are heroes who are all white. The only black character is the psychiatrist Malcolm Long, whose screen time is minimal (and I could not locate the name of the actor who portrayed him), and frankly, he is a somewhat obnoxious and particularly cowardly and ignorant character. Then it got me to thinking – mind you, this in no way justifies the lack of people of color in this movie – only folks in places of privilege would think that they literally and figuratively have the power to save others. So, here are these white characters, several of whom are wealthy, and they have taken it upon themselves to save the world…or at least the United States. And people want to talk about a blue penis! Really? Come on. Here is not one great white hope, but many. They represent the idea of spreading democracy and liberty to people who apparently do not have it, that is anyone who is not from the US and especially everyone who is poor and brown. And those folks being liberated are supposed to be eternally grateful. The fact that the Watchmen are not these unquestioned heroes is what makes it so complex. Yes, Spiderman is questioned, as is Batman, but this story takes things to a whole new level. Batman/Bruce Wayne has his darker moments, but at least as far as the film adaptations are concerned, until Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Batman was presented primarily as a hero, the good guy. I for one, want my good guys and my bad guys to be complex. I want to question their motives. This is why I cannot stand Superman. He is too perfect.

I like my Bruce Wayne with a side of guilt and a pinch of remorse topped off with some revenge.

It’s the 80’s and Nixon is still president. That is just depressing. Almost as depressing as the reality of George Bush Jr. taking office without the majority of votes. The actor playing Nixon (Robert Wisdon) looks like a man in a mask. The make-up is so obvious. Nixon did look like a guy in a mask after all. And the fact that so much attention was paid to every last detail of the film, from the costumes to the make-up to the opening credits, I cannot imagine that Nixon looking so superficial was a mistake. So here it is, the 80’s, an alternative 80’s to what we know, nevertheless a significant mirror for today. Just because there is a new body in the White House does not mean that the US is far from a colonizing empire. Why are we in Iraq and Afghanistan, again? (I say “we” because while I am not there and you are not there, we sure as hell are a part of the system that is there, whether we like it or not). Why does the US have bases around the world? Oh right, protection. Democracy. Homeland security.

Watchmen, like other futuristic or alternative history tales is a reflection of current states and future issues, that is when change does not occur. The 80’s were not exactly as Orwell or Moore imagined them, but that does not mean they were perfect. And that does not mean the current state of the world is perfect either. I think it is easy to see works like 1984 or Watchmen and view them as strictly fiction. The fact that they are not banned proves that the powers that be, or “they,” think “we” are too dumb to realize the truth, that these works of art are not only art but truth. These are not just imaginative worlds and words, but based on fact. Voltaire, Swift, and other satirists got away with their work because it was viewed as humourous and harmless, unable to incite deep thought or riots. That fact of the matter is, there are plenty of us who can see the parallels between the realities we live in the imaginations of artists.

Zack Snyder is not an idiot, nor are his producers and distributors. 300was released at a critical time, when Iran and the US were at each other’s throats. Watchmenis a part of that same world. So, Iran is not the focus, nor is the Middle East, but there is still this supposedly unstoppable EVIL out there (and really, Russia has been getting it bad since the 50’s). The US cannot see its own evil, the Watchmen cannot see their own flaws. Every superpower, whether individual person or government, views itself/himself/herself as on the side of good. Ok, fine, some admit to having purely villainous motives.

I was intrigued by the commonalities between the Watchmen and the government that banned their activities. On the one hand, the Watchmen help people who cannot wait fora  fire truck to show up or a slow police investigation. On the other hand the Watchmen, at least some of them, are employed by a tyrannical government.

I am publishing this. I can’t keep putting it off then coming back.


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