The English department is trying to break me and they’re about to succeed. I’m really goddamn tired… tired of the high-gloss, quick-pick course designs where nothing is allowed to penetrate in depth before we’re jerked off down some new path. The tub is taking on water and it’s all just spilling over the side today. For that, I am pissed. It’s time for a warm bath… and maybe a razor blade.
And with that dramatic introduction, I offer my fully unformed and meandering thoughts on Watchmen…
What is real? Humanity seems destined to confinement within a predisposed genetic identity while we suffer from a past which offers us no control over our environment as children, for better or worse. These things have an impact on who we are, to be sure, but Watchmen demonstrates how “choice” also creates both our identity and our future. Rorschach and Nite Owl feel more comfortable in their costumes than they do within their own skin. Their alter-egos beg the question, is reality simply what is, or is it something we can define and redefine as we see fit? They believe the latter. Eventually, Dr. Manhattan does too.
Rorschach, perceived as a character played by Kovacs, becomes the reality. While avenging a child’s murder, Kovacs can’t stomach the sight after hacking the dogs that were eating the child’s bones. “It was Kovacs … who closed his eyes. It was Rorschach who opened them again” (VI, 21) From this point on, the internal shift to Rorschach is brought to life through outward appearance. Kovac’s natural face and clothes are no longer real. Taking his costume pieces from the alley, Rorschach says, “putting them on, I abandoned my disguise and became myself, free from fear or weakness or lust” (V, 18). Similarly, as the authorities remove his mask during his arrest, Rorschach says, “My face! Give it back!” (V, 28). The transformation eventually evolves full-on, seeming to require no mask. Because he creates his own reality, even his therapist calls him “Rorschach,” unwillingly and without the disguise. As Rorschach says, “Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long” (VI,26). Rorschach is what Kovacs imagines for himself, and thus his existence becomes what he makes of it.
Like Kovacs, Dan is only able to fully experience his identity in costume. While seduced by Laurie, Dan can’t perform sexually, and not for lack of trying. Laurie pegs it when she says, “Y’know your trouble? You’re inhibited” (VII, 13). Once asleep, Dan fantasizes that Twilight Lady’s true identity is Laurie and Laurie reveals Dan’s true inner identity of Nite Owl by peeling back his skin. Only when their true inner identities are revealed do they experience their full sexuality… until they’re nuked (VII, 16). Later, the dynamic duo dresses up and performs a heroic act to find that dreams do come true. After heating things up to full-on flames, so to speak, Laurie asks, “Did the costumes make it good?” Nite Owl answers, “Yeah, I guess the costumes had something to do with it. It just feels strange, you know? To come out and admit that to somebody. To come out of the closet” (VII, 28). Admittedly, the Nite Owl costume is what allows Dan to experience his identity to the fullest, a reality unable to be achieved simply as Dan.
Jon brings Laurie to Mars to discuss his intervention with the possibility of nuclear war on Earth. According to him, the questions and answers are preordained but must be played out in time. Laurie accuses him of being “just a puppet following a script” (IX, 5). Jon replies, “We’re all puppets, Laurie. I’m just a puppet who can see the strings” (IX, 5). After a good old shot of Nostalgia shattered by reality, Laurie’s realization that the Comedian is her father persuades Jon to shift his own perception, to see that life isn’t meaningless. The random collision of circumstance and science that created Laurie’s life was nothing short of a miracle. Jon proclaims, “We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet, seen from another’s vantage point, as if new, it may still take the breath away” (IX, 27). Rather than an alter-ego, it is Laurie’s influence that alters reality, breaking from that which is predetermined.
The message throughout is hopeful. We all have the ability to create change by simply imagining the possibility. We have potential that needs only to be tapped by that imagination and freed from that which binds it. We are not emprisoned by our selected identity, but liberated by our chosen reality and our assertion within it. Taking on an alternate view gives us a more rounded picture of what truly exists. Now let’s all don our costumes and get out there!
I plan to eat a bowl of alphabet soup, shove the can on my head, and tackle the English department of Saint Rose with a vengeance. In just this one week I’ll kick out the Theory Carnival, finish Watchmen, lead my student discussion in Brit Lit AND write the paper due Friday. For Tuesday, I’ll read those two chapters on how to write Flash Fiction, read ten sample stories AND write two of my own. I’ll take on Ezra Pound and all his image map allusions with one hand tied behind my back. And for Stress Management, I’ll put that fucking pedometer on my dog’s collar so I can bang out three miles of walking all from the comfort of this chair – which sports a permanent imprint of my ass. First, I might just hop in the hot tub… razor blade no longer required. Like my new action figure?
So, I’m driving home today (Wednesday, Feb 21) and can’t get this Alphabet Barbie image out of my head. I think I’m going mad. The term SOUPer hero flashes through my gray matter. I totally crack up. Probably not funny, right? Okay, it’s just me.