Andrew Hoberek observes that Watchmen is a literary critique of the political climate during the Cold War in the UK and the US. He notes that Alan Moore was heavily influenced by his time spent at the Northampton Arts Lab in his earlier years. He quotes various dialogue of Moore, discussing his time working as an artist, as well as his feelings on the political climate of his home. It is evident that Moore was not a fan of Margaret Thatcher (you can find Moore’s writings on this..pg. 146 [Hoberek refers to it as a bureaucratic police state]), yet Hoberek compares some of Moore’s and Gibbons’s creative choices to that of “Thatcherism.”
Hoberek argues that Watchmen “surreptitiously reproduces a key tenet of Thatcher’s own rhetoric, in the process demonstrating the link between the postwar countercultures, literary and social, in which Moore cut his teeth and the emergent neoliberalism of the mid-1980s… Attending to these complications gives us a fuller picture of the politics of both Watchmen and the Cold War intellectual framework from which it emerges.” (120) He continues: “Paik’s account does not, however, acknowledge the extent to which this political framework is itself symptomatic of the ideology that emerged in such places as the United States and United Kingdom during the Cold War…This ideology was organized, I have suggested, around the construction of the concept of totalitarianism.” (124)
*Note: Paik is a critic who Hoberek relies heavily on for evidence through the article.
Hoberek wants to understand “the lack of agency on the part of the seemingly powerful” (127) within the text. He analyzes the following:
- Ozymandias seems to be a figure of complete agency; he literally ends the Cold War, right? False! Manhattan states “Nothing ever ends,” and he has the answer to everything.
(“Veidt’s semblance of agency is false…Veidt possesses not as authentic agency but as will the chief characteristic of the totalitarian dictator central to the Cold War imaginary.’ 128)
- Manhattan also seems to be a figure of complete agency– when Veidt states ‘But you regained interest in human life…” Manhattan responds “Yes, I have. Perhaps I’ll create some.” He can CREATE HUMAN LIFE. Has he the will to do it?
- Richard Nixon – 5th term US President, seemingly complete agency– “seeming abundance of power in fact revealed as imprisonment in a larger system.” (129) He is the face of a system in which he has no power in.
As Hoberek notes, “What distinguishes the powerful from the powerless in Watchmen is not agency but – in keeping with the critique of totalitarianism – a willing to treat human life as a mass rather than an individual phenomenon.’ (129) Rorschach, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre all demonstrate “even less agency” “at the level of world events.” (130) Yet, however they make “profound commitments to individual human lives.” (131)
Where do we go from here?
On 155 he states “As a product of the Cold War 1980s, then, Watchmen is perhaps most accurately understood as expressing a concern about political events beyond ordinary people’s control, due to both the “atomic deadlock” whose seemingly inexorable effects extend beyond the possibility of mutual destruction and, particularly in Britain, the Thatcherite erasure or absorption of local authority into an increasingly centralized state.”
There is a whole lot going on this article which I plan to address in my presentation. For now, I leave you with:
- Thatcher has stated: “‘I am homeless, the Government must house me!’ and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.”
Moore has stated: “It is down to the individual. If the individuals do not like the world that we happen to be living in – and who could blame them? – then I suggest it is up to them to change it.”
Is Alan Moore’s view on individualism more aligned with Thatcher than you initially thought? Is he a hypocrite, or a product of the counterculture during the Cold War? Elaborate on your thoughts seeing these two quotes!
- In Watchmen, Moore and Gibbon’s made the creative decision to have Nixon serving his fifth term as the US president, aware that readers would think of Watergate. Was this a wise choice for their narrative? Could their story have been ore impactful if it was Reagan serving as president? How does this creative choice shape the political readings of Watchmen?
- Hoberek provides us with David Harvey’s understanding of the rise of neoliberalism. (127-8) After, Hoberek points out “From the perspective Moore and Gibbon’s decision to make their main villain a liberal may be seen not just as an effort to defy political expectation but also as a canny insight into this phenomenon.” Do you agree with this observation? Why or why not?
- Moore said in a 1988 interview: “The last line of Watchmen, ’I leave it entirely in your hands,” was directed at the reader more than Seymour. The fate of the world is undecided: everyone has responsibility. What the reader does in the net ten minutes is as important as everything Ronald Reagan does.’”
Hoberek poses this question: “Seymour and the reader, in this formulation, have an agency unavailable to Vedit or Reagan. But what kind of agency is this, exactly?”
What are your thoughts on the readers responsibilities after reading Watchmen?
- This isn’t a part of my presentation, but I think it is an interesting and important question to pose: Did Ozymandias do the right thing? Is there such thing as the right thing in a gritty narrative like Watchmen?