The Un-Ethics of Watchmen, Part 1: A Bird’s-Eye View

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11 Responses

  1. John Tebbel says:

    Hmm, I always thought Moore was critical of the ends justifies the means philosophy espoused by some of his characters and implicit in the final action in Watchmen. He counts on his readers to be able to handle the ethical dilemmas without his narrative spoon feeding you like in the Superman television show. As in much of modern literature, Moore's narrators are often untrustworthy, like Randy Newman's, for example, who doesn't hate short people.

  2. Russ Rogers says:

    Good article. Makes me think. And I can't say that I fully understand the concepts. But I will reread this. And the links to other books are cool, especially the little Amazon Widgets. Will those Amazon Widgets be a new feature of ComicMix articles or was that innovation just Ms. Honigsberg's?

  3. Alexandra Honigsberg says:

    Mr. Tebbel — I tend to be a very literal person and am not familiar with Moore's other work, so I read this cold, at face value, as-is. You may well be right that Moore's using unreliable narrators and hyperbole to make his point, the total opposite of what's presented. Or he may be a misanthrope. Both are valid points of view and points of departure for discussion. When I heard Randy Newman's "Short People," it was so tongue-in-cheek that there was no doubt that he was lampooing prejudice. Here, like the noir of his world, Moore's purpose is not so obvious, at least not to me. YMMV. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. You and other readers make me think and keep me honest. –Alexandra

    • mike weber says:

      It seems to me that Moore is examing the essential fascism of the superhero – that all super heros, essentially embody the "end justifies the means" concept.Another British author, J.T.Edson, whose Westerns i used to enjoy greatly and still can read with some pleasure, presents his heros as The Good Guys, protecting weaker people from The Bad Guys. But the main difference between THH and TBG is that The Good Guys have faster guns, harder fists and Edson likes them; they can and are as dismissive and casually sadistic to those weaker than themselves as some of his villains.Superman and any given John Wayne character are heros and we can enjoy their adventures because they are always right and we know they wll be; either of them, operating as they do in their fictional milieus but without that auctorial gurantee of rectitude would be the type of character Moore presents in Watchmen, and i think that that was Moore's point.

    • Anonymous says:

      I believe the story ultimately weighs down on the "ends do NOT justify means" side of the scale, not because of unreliable narrators or hyperbole, but by the events of the very ending. Note that I do not wish to say your reading is invalid or misinformed; quite the opposite, I find it most insightful and intriguing. However, my own interpretation of the final message is thus…Veidt's plan succeeds in bringing the Nations of the World together, and that means to expose his falsehood after the fact would bring about even MORE death. After all, once the world learned that the "Alien" was in fact the Master Plan of an American super hero, international tensions would likely explode into violence, and the fact that it was all an elaborate deception would do little to help America plead its innocence. That is why Rorschach, who cannot bring himself to brook the kind of compromise necessary to keep Veidt's actions secret, chooses suicide in the end: because his two great goals are to protect the innocent and to expose evil wherever it lies, but in this case, the two goals have been brought to violent collision, because to fulfill the latter would be to directly jeaopardize the former, and yet to maintain the former would mean to betray the latter. Dreiberg and Juspecyzk seem to have their own doubts about Veidt's actions, but as has been constantly shown throughtout the book, they lack Rorschach's sheer, almost psychotic conviction, and so they choose to ulitmately value the goal of protecting the innocent, and themselves, over exposing Veidt's plan. Manhattan too chooses to let Veidt be, but, and this is one of the most critical moments of the book in terms of how I read its final message, he informs Veidt before leaving that "nothing ever ends", in response to Veidt asking if he truly did the right thing. The last we see of the World's Smartest Man is him, alone, silent, and with a deeply troubled expression on his face. Then comes the final page of the book, which reveals that Rorschach's journal, which he maintained up to the point where he had begun to suspect Veidt's plans, is in the possession of a Newspaper publisher eager for new material to print.To me, what the ending says is that the Ultimate Good, the end of all violence and destruction and war, is impossible. We humans are nasty, violent creatures, and nothing can ever truly change that, least of all more violence. Veidt succeeds in uniting the world under a common enemy, yes, but his Ideal World is built on foundations so rotten and uncertain that the slightest push could cause it to fall apart. Once that journal gets published, odds are good people will start asking questions. And once people start asking questions, odds are even better that conclusions will start being drawn. And once conclusions start being drawn, it all becomes a Domino Effect that ends with the very War Veidt tried to prevent. Nothing ever endsm, and the cycle starts all over again. His actions may have succeeded in the short term, but in the long, they're only a stall, and the sacrifice he made is nowhere near worth a mere stall.I freely admit this is my own reading, of course, and Moore's final message may well be very different. Hell, there may not truly BE a final message for all I know. I also admit that there's likely an extent to which I've romanticized some of the events in the book, but the reasons for that are worthy of their own discssion.Suffice it to say, you got me very excited about recalling my own time with "Watchmen", so thank you for that. :)

  4. Alexandra Honigsberg says:

    Mr. Rogers — I listed the books for further reading, which have been included in my classes for years. Mr. Hauman added the widgets, but Amazon does seem to have the lowest prices on these standard texts brand new and the Look Inside function is very helpful, but they also tend to take the longest for delivery, in my students' experiences. Keep readin' and thinkin'! –Alexandra

  5. Alexandra Honigsberg says:

    Mr. Weber — again, you may be correct in your assessment, as I'd said to Mr. Tebbel, though I don't believe that all superheroes are essentially fascists, whether they be of the white or grey hat variety. They are all Other, in some way, so may necessarily embody some extremes, for good or ill. But does an extreme make you a fascist? I wouldn't say so. And an extreme does not necessarily point at an ends-justifies-the-means ethic (note that, in combat situations, some boundaries and rules change — see Medics, EMTs, and triage…but even the most veteran of that arena will rebel against rules of triage, from time to time, and go for the improbable Save All scenario with all their strength and skill, knowing it might be futile and they might even lose more, in the process — but they choose a 3rd option and're driven by human empathy to TRY!). I am an appreciator of the comics and Western genres, but I don't know everything nor Moore, personally, in any way, so I can't speak for him and wouldn't, even if I did. As I've said, I could see it both ways — either he's pushing the extra-moral that we can't understand 'til we get to that stage in our evolution, or he's using stark hyperbole to speak out against any such notion, or presenting both sides of the argument so as to provoke thought and that discussion might ensue (thus prompting relationship, which is, of itself, an ethical venture because it helps to perfect the person). –Alexandra

  6. Christopher Back says:

    That is why Rorschach, who cannot bring himself to brook the kind of compromise necessary to keep Veidt's actions secret, chooses suicide in the endRorscharah doesn't commit sucide, Dr. Manhattan kills Rorscharah to silence him.

  7. Alexandra Honigsberg says:

    Mr. Back — suicide is a relative term, here, of course. Yes, the doc kills him, ultimately (and you could argue self-defense or defense of the weak, there…this whole argument may be more Rossian than Kantian to handle the competing prima facie duties, but no one brings up the 20th C. update of the 18th C. pinnacle of deontology in any of the articles I've read since I posted my first), but Rorschach knows he's walking away to certain death and says so, himself, so…you'll see in my more detailed character analyses in the next installment how I view that. –Alexandra

  8. Giuliana says:

    "then go ahead, have the cajones to do it"I guess the word you were looking for is 'cojones' which means like balls and not 'cajones' which means drawers

    • Alexandra Honigsberg says:

      Well…nice to know that someone with keen eyes has spotted a typo in my article nearly 2 years after it was first published. My thanks.