The politics of Watching…Posted: March 6, 2009
Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be discussing several of my personal readings of Watchmen – perhaps the best (and worst?) quality of the book is multifaceted nature. First things first, I’d like to discuss the meta-politics of Watchmen.
Anyone who has read any bit of biographical material on Alan Moore knows that his politics are “non-traditional”. My take on him – after reading a large bit of the corpus of Moore’s work – is he’s a leftist anarchist. It is, of course, important to remember the context in which Moore wrote Watchmen. It was during the “dark ages” of Thatcher England – a time that has left scars on the work of a lot of British writers (Moore, Ennis, Ellis, Delano). To many leftist Britians the world had pretty much fallen to shit – the right controled both America and Britian, Cold War tensions were hitting a new high, social intolerance was on the rise. It is important to note that the traditional left and liberalism failed in his period. It helped create the conditions for the rise of Thatcher/Reagan and failed to stop them. For Moore and those like him it was not a heroic time – for the left or the right.
So Moore writes a work where all of the heroes are failures or – worse – sucesses that leave destruction in their wake. If you look at the heroes of Watchmen from a certain place you can see them as standins for political and social ideologies of the mid-1980s.
Rorschach is the easiest to identify: he’s the right-wing crime obsessed nut who sees things completely in black and white and reviews any social change from the days of Leave it to Beaver as an abomination. And as much as Rorschach is “pure” in his moral vision he’s just a fucked as what he seeks to fight. The Comedian is also easy to pigeon hole as a stand in fascist militarism – violent, nihilistic, and misogynistic. It is interesting that Rorschach’s and the Comedian’s relations with women are a parody of the rights traditional attitudes towards women: for Rorschach women are either whores or Deborah Reed; for the Comedian women are as after thoughts and objects for release of his frustrations.
Good old Ozymandias is a parody of an extreme meritocratic technocrat – who’s so smart that he knows what’s good for everyone. Only someone as smart has he can see the “real” big picture and make the “right” choices for the human race – no matter the cost. Of course, as brilliant as Ozy is, he’s intelligence is still human – and deeply flawed. Doctor Manhattan is science as an ideology – obsessed with the broader scope of the universe and able to see beyond human foibles but at the loss of being able to understand or see the majesties of humanity.
The Nite Owls stand in for liberalism. Nite Owl I is the liberalism of the 1940s and 1950s – well meaning but oblvious. Unable to see beyond itself and its times (racism bad, but homophobia ok!). Nite Owl II is a bit better – less oblvious but more impotent to do anything about the problems he sees. The Silk Spectres stand in for feminism. The elder Spectre attempts to use her sexuality for empowerment but ends up just used and abused. The younger is a sexually liberated woman who still ends up defined by her relationship to men (her father and her lovers).
Viewing things this way shows that Moore is arguing that all ideologies are deeply flawed – even the ones he’s sympathetic to – the liberal and the feminist end up fucking as the world burns. The politics of Watchmen are negative – Moore doesn’t have a positive ideology here beyond a deep humanism. He is warning us that the ideologies embodied by the heroes of Watchmen are useless to humanity – they are either twisted, destructive, or useless.
The fundamental message of the politics of Watchmen is – I think – that if we stopped this ideological struggle and focus on our relationship to our fellow human beings the world would be a much better place.