Monday, August 11, 2008

Weighing in on Watchmen

Where to begin? First off, I am very glad that Peter assigned this book. I don't think it's something I would have read otherwise, and it was definitely worth reading. Part of why I say that is because I kept getting pissed off at the book, and I always think that's worth my time, because knowing what makes you angry is valuable and interesting, and it's worth examining.

So . . . let's see. As I said before, I was frustrated with Laurie's character. I tend to be sensitive about portrayals of female characters, and if I get twirked off with how an author (male or female) portrays a woman or women, I get annoyed with the book overall. The best explanation I can give for what annoys me most of the time, and what annoyed me here, was that Laurie seemed fake to me. This was not a real person, let alone a real woman. She was a foil, someone's idea of a woman. Written by someone who apparently has never met a girl. She was constantly in histrionics, yelling or crying or sleeping with someone. Seriously?

On the other hand, I thought her mom was hilarious. "Here . . . take my old comic porn . . . har har har."

I loved the quotes that concluded each section, and the interspersion of articles. I thought they were genius and really added to the overall work. People kept seeing me read it and were like, "I didn't know you read comic books!" and I had to decide whether to get into the graphic novel discussion or debate the finer lines of artwork combined with prose that's part of a complete subset of literature . . . anyway. It's a pretty impressive and seminal work in its genre.

I wasn't really sure what to make of the persistent undercurrents of homophobia in the book - were the authors trying to point out others' prejudice or expressing their own? I found that really unclear. Thoughts?

What else - they kept killing animals, the dogs and the pretty kitty, which was super distracting. I dunno - everyone has their trigger points, and animals is way high on my list. Along with fake people and glaring prejudice. I guess the animals and homophobia could have been included as an intentional commentary on the the overall crappiness of humanity though . . . and maybe the authors thought Laurie represented all of femininity and purposefully made her one-dimensional. I don't think so on her, though, I think they had no idea they were writing her that way, because she seemed like one of the characters they liked and thought was worthwhile.

I thought it was really interesting to see how the city was portrayed - it's definitely a representation of NYC in the 1980s, when everything was going to hell in a handbasket. Kitty Genovese reference and all. And of course all the Cold War references, and the despair people felt in the aftermath of Vietnam and Nixon. I think the sorrow people felt with those events was really just the result of technological advances - tape recordings that made it possible to see the machinations of self-obsessed politicians (the machinations and selfobsession being nothing new - Rome, anyone?) and the videos of actual combat situations in 'Nam (Sherman's March to the Sea? the origin of the word decimate?). Anyway, I always think it's adorably naive when people are shocked by their politicians or the realities of war. Not that we shouldn't be upset and hold people to account - but the shock is a bit silly.

Parallels between Ozymandias taking out NYC to cause peace and Truman bombing Japan in WWII. "Hollywood cowboy" reference to RR. Etc., etc.

Hmm- I dunno. Peter, give us some discussion questions!


Lisa said...



This is my representation of an echo. Jennie, I know you're online, I can see you . . .

Petey said...

Laurie... I was interested in your appraisal of her character because to me she seemed fairly realistic, just not particularly admirable. She seemed to be someone who has found it easy to push all the decisions and reasons for the events of her life onto others, taking no responsibility. Though clearly she actually enjoyed, begrudgingly perhaps, donning the mask.

To me she seemed a little more proactive, a little less a victim when she was masquerading as Silk Spectre. I found that interesting, mostly because I was looking at it from the perspective of the masks, of the superhero identity changing people.

All of the characters had their issues - Rorschach's simplistic black and white view of the world, the comedian's darkly comedic attitude toward society, and moral obscurity, Jon's near total detachment from humanity, Night Owl's helpless attitude and constant undermining of his own worth, Ozymandias' over-reaching grasp and over-estimation of ability (I think.)

Obviously you can go deeper, but I never considered Laurie as not a realistically depicted woman. What would make her better to you?

As far as characters are concerned in this book (because I would argue it's a fairly character driven piece) I think there's a huge sense of how society, with all its evils has shaped these people.

They went out in the world reactionary to the ills they saw, masquerading to create a better place. And now, years later we see how they are still reactionary to the world, and what it has made each of them, in their own way. They couldn't possibly hope to jump into the world as they did and not be changed by it.

The quote about the abyss looking into you seems adequate.

In any event, there are things which made me angry in this book. And I would argue that if you take it as a representative work, there is some sensationalism, perhaps to stir the pot, but they are issues that our society is dealing with - animal cruelty, homophobia, etc. To me it seemed that like it or not, these themes are symptoms of a world that is extremely destructive to its members.

What do you think?

Jennie said...

I don't think it's that people like Laurie don't exist. I think the problem is that she's really the only woman depicted. And (hopefully) very few women like Laurie actually exist. Moore did not realistically portray women in general.

Correct me if I'm wrong, Lisa.

Lisa said...

Hey! I actually I only found these posts a few days ago, good job me.

To really do justice to my Laurie-is-fake-and-annoying argument I would need to run through Watchmen and find a bunch of quotes of her talking. She talks all stupid. But let me see if I can outline her character . . .

Laurie is the only major female character presented in the book. She is in the "good" category as the authors neither off her nor have her murder anyone. She entered the questionable profession of being a masked vigilante under pressure from her mother, and whines about the pressure all the time, but actually loves being a masked hero. I'm sorry, but that's weird. if she likes it, she has no reason to whine about the pressure. Nastia Liukin and the Manning boys do not bitch about being pressured into being professional athletes because a) they like it and b) we all get to make our own choices, hello. So I thought that whole little thing made no sense.

What else - she's in love with/sleeping with an honest-to-God superhero and likes to whine about that too. Yes, I'm sure it totally sucks to date someone who can teleport you to the top of the Eiffel tower and make water out of thin air and let you breathe on Mars. You poor, poor baby.

Then, she freaks out at him WHILE HAVING SEX and within HOURS is sleeping with someone else. Who she has NO history of sleeping with. Um. Yes, I am sure that there are women who can and have done something like this, but the vast majority of us need a little more time. Say - three days. Minimum.

The ONLY significant things she does to effect the plot is to sleep with people or cry. Seriously. That's just insulting. I wish Laurie had blown up New York, I would have liked her better.

Petey said...

Well, she's certainly not fully admirable, by any extent, and she definitely wasn't assertive about her life... I think you've nailed that. But to me that makes her a problematic character, not necessarily an unbelievable one.

I don't truly believe people ever know what they want. And I think the conflict between Laurie's victim-itis and her empowerment/enjoyment in the vigilante persona is, to me, more realistic.

When things aren't going her way - when she's having issues with Jon, or what not, its easy to victimize herself and say she was forced down this path. Pair that with her pleasure in actually doing something constructive, like helping save people in the burning building. I thought it added, though doesn't make her necessarily likable I see - particularly to you lovely ladies. :)

The Jon issue seems more clear cut to me; sure it seems like a dream to have a boyfriend who could do all those things for you, but the reality was that Jon couldn't provide the emotional support that Laurie was craving because he barely had any interest in humanity anymore. A romantic relationship isn't a company merger; its very nature is based on emotional connection and mutual feelings.

I mean, he nearly forgot that she needed air to breathe. Some boyfriend. The sleeping with Night Owl came, in my opinion, as sort of cry for something actually human in a low moment after all these experiences.

There's my argument. :) Such as it is.

No, laurie is a terrible role model and not someone who accurately represents all of women, or an expression of feminism and freedom. I do think she's an interesting character all the same.