If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Watchmen: Pop Nihilism or Nietzche meets the Fantastic Four

Yesterday afternoon my wife and I went to the movies to see Watchmen. My wife was repulsed by the violence of the movie. I was hoping that maybe by the end of the movie there might be some redeeming message behind the film's graphic depiction of violence. There was none.

My quick summary of the film, based on Alan Moore's graphic novel, immediately after it was over was that this was Punk philosophy rewriting superhero mythology. Or better yet, Nietzche meets the Fantastic Four. It would be similar to Nietzche creating his own dynamic duo, √úbermensch (Superman)and Dr. Will-to-Power as Marvel comic book characters. And that was the reason that the movie had no redeeming message. It was Nietzche goes Marvel, pop nihilism for cynical, postmodern, comic book (excuse me, graphic novel) fans.

In theWatchmen Alan Moore seeks to deconstruct the whole superhero mythology. The "superheros" of Watchmen are far from the humble, goody-two-shoes superheros of Marvel comics. They are even darker characters than the Dark Knight,. The Comedian (Edward Blake) is no one to laugh at. He is a mysogonistic womanizer, rapist, murderer, and vigilante. Not your typical Marvel comic superhero. In an effort to quell a riot the Comedian takes the opportunity to kill protesters in cold blood. In Vietnam he shoots dead his pregnant girlfriend. For him the human story is just a joke. Armegeddon will be the punchline. Since humans are basically savages, he has no qualms about raping Silk Spectre (Sally Jupiter or Jucspeczyk), a female superhero.

Dr. Manhattan (Jon Osterman), named after the project to develop the first nuclear weapon, is, in my view, a cartoon of Nietzche's √úbermensch and his Will to Power philosophy, as well as symbolic of U.S. nuclear technology and ideology. Dr. Manhattan is humanity turned into amoral superhuman with a dispassionate, Vulvanized, nihilistic worldview, an ethereal blue man with a symbol of the atom on his forehead. His presence, which like nuclear radiation causes cancer, is the deterrent to nuclear conflict between the U.S. and Russia.

Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt), another "superhero," is an incarnation of just war theory and utilitarian ethics blown up to nuclear proportions! His "superhero" is Alexander the Great. He justifies the nuclear destruction of millions of people to create peace for the rest of the surviving world. His plan also sounds freakishly similar to Vulcan morality (e.g., utilitarian ethics): "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

Rorschach (Walter Kovacs), whose masked face and personality reflect his name, is an abused child of a alcoholic, prostitute mother, a psychologically twisted antihero who exacts vengeance upon other deviants "who deserve it" with sick, brutal, gorey violence. And yet, he and the Comedian are the only ones who do not go along with justifying mass destruction for the "greater good." How ironically absurd! The most immoral characters are in the end the most moral!

Silk Spectre 2 (Laurie Jucspekzyk) and Nite Owl 2 (Dan Dreiburg) seem to be the closest to traditional superheroes. I said "seem." Laurie's father was the Comedian, who raped her "superhero" mother. Like Superman, the Nite Owl 2, who is sexually and otherwise impotent, seems to believe in "truth, justice, and the American way." I'm guessing the "American way" was being enforced when he and Silk Spectre 2 brutally beat up a gang of thugs, who deserve their "justified" wrath.

By showing the superheros not simply as flawed human with "superhuman" abilities, but as deviant, immoral, amoral, and representing the darker side of humanity, Moore seeks to deconstruct the superhero mythology which projects virtues of truth, justice, the American way, and moralisms like "with great power comes great responsibility" (e.g., Spiderman)onto a large screen. He brings superheros down to earth, no, down into the dirt and filth of humanity.

The Watchmen vomits human, and particularly Americanized, violence into the faces of the audience without redemption, not even offering us the myth of redemptive violence as the final solution. "Justified" vengeance (Rorshach), just nuclear war theory, which is an oxymoron, the lesser of two evils and utilitarian ethics (Ozymandias), and even "an eye for an eye" violence (and maybe a broken arm and leg or two or three from Silk Spectre 2 and Nite Owl 2) seem to be critiqued in a very oblique manner in the film. But, in the end all that can be offered as the final solution to the violence of the world, at least as it is presented in the film, is a stalemate of power, which is basically the philosophy of nuclear deterrence. And I am not sure that Moore's intent is to even offer this as a solution to the world's violence.

The dark thread that runs through the film is nihilism. It's pop nihilism, but nihilism nonetheless. Punk philosophy for the populace. Friedrich Nietszche for the comic book crowd. Anarchism. Cynicism. Deconstructionism. Relativism. Amoralism. Defeatism. Darkness. Bleakness. Violence. Armegeddon. A happy face with blood spattered on it. No God. No hope. The end.

*This article can also be found at: http://www.jesusmanifesto.com/2009/03/the-watchmen-pop-nihilism-or-nietchze-meets-the-fantastic-four/

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