“Politics” Andrew Hoberek

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: 

  1. 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)

  2. 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?

  3. 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:

  1. 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!

  2. 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?

  3. 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?

  4. 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?

  5. 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?
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4 thoughts on ““Politics” Andrew Hoberek

  1. 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?

    I interpret “the reader,” in this context, to be a stand in for the average individual who feels s/he does not have any particular agency. Considering Hobrek’s discussion of the relationship between agency and power, the powerful are not necessarily in a position of privilege, but are simply those who are willing or able to view human life not as something that deserves reverence or any sort of protected status, but as “mass” (129). There are moments in Watchmen, particularly Mr. Manhattan’s understanding of life as simultaneous, that suggest everything is predetermined and individual choice is either impossible or pre-ordained; in this case, it is impossible for anyone to truly have agency or power because human’s actions are of no consequence other than what has already been decided. However, there are other moments that suggest individual choice does matter. When Dr. Manhattan is speaking with Laurie about the possibility of war, he admits that he is “not sure. There’s some sort of static obscuring the future” (297). He hypothesizes that he is unable to have a “clear impression” because of “the electromagnetic pulse of a mass warhead detonation,” but perhaps he is unable to know the future, in this case, with certainty because there are still human actions – like those of the readers – that have to take place before the likelihood of war can be determined.

    On the other hand, at the newsstand, citizens who chat about the possibility of war compare it to “doomsday” as described in “the book o’ Revolutions.” Of course, it is the book of Revelations that contains passages interpreted by some to signal a future apocalypse; as the Bible contains a series of prophecies that do come to be, a reference to this ancient text is perhaps suggesting the opposite: that man’s actions (and therefore, the reader’s actions) are inconsequential – or at least, predetermined – and any sense of personal agency is a false one.

  2. Awesome work, Mackenzie! You do a great job at isolating and consolidating some of Hoberek’s convoluted thoughts. I don’t if I’m alone here, but Hoberek’s chapter was, at times, a little hard to synthesize and connect in terms of his interwoven arguments regarding the political paradigm of Watchmen; therefore, I appreciate your organization of his points in your blog.

    With regard to your first question about Moore’s notion of individualism, I’m glad you’ve juxtaposed these two quotes. In a way, I believe you’re on to something about Moore’s comments bordering on the hypocritical. In his chapter, Hoberek even suggests that “Moore participates in and is shaped by a left-wing intellectual tradition that has significant affinities with the Thatcheriete motto ‘There is no such thing as society.’ …Indeed, if one wanted to, it would be easy enough, to produce a Thatcherite reading of ‘Watchmen'” (145). I agree with Hoberek fully, here, and I think it might be why I found his argument to be a little to intricate, and in my opinion, inconclusive. He tries to make sense of a piece of literature which presents itself as a political hodge-podge full of contradictions. Not only would it be “easy to a produce a Thatcherite reading of ‘Watchmen,'” but at times, it seems like the comic encourages us to do so. There are many “proto-liberal” and “anti-conservative” values in “Watchmen,” but there are also strong contradictions which parallel those “liberal” moments in the graphic novel.

    For example, the inclusion of homosexuality is all over the place in this story. There’s the sentimentalism expressed for Hooded Justice and Silhouette whose lives and happiness are compromised by the conservative climate of the time period, but simultaneously, the openly lesbian character Joey (Josephine), is violent and begins beating her ex-girlfriend right before Veidt’s “alien” transports and kills half of New York. There is also a derogatory hypothesis made about Veidt’s own possible homosexuality, on the part of Rorshach, and since Veidt is technically the graphic novel’s antagonist, it’s difficult to really isolate whether or not “Watchmen” gives a positive or negative depiction of homosexuality. It depicts it as a social issue of the 1980s and gives it representation, but with Joey’s irrational behavior and the deterioration of the couple’s love, it kind of sends mixed messages about whether or not homosexual relationships are “healthy;” especially, when it is contrasted with the comic’s main, heterosexual pairing, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre. In chapter 12, on pg. 22, Laurie pleads with Dan to “love [her]. [She wants him to love her] because [they’re not dead.]” Laurie and Dan celebrate life by unapologetically and openly making love in the middle of Veidt’s Antarctic fortress; meanwhile, Joey’s relationship with her ex-girlfriend ends on a really bad note and culminates in the fulfillment of Joey’s wish that she were dead. Essentially, heterosexuality=life and “kiss me, it’s the end of the world” sex, homosexuality=heartbreak and death. (Side note: was anyone else bothered by the censorship of Dan’s penis during the sex scenes? Not that I want to see vaguely drawn phallus, but it was just really inconsistent for Dr. Manhattan’s nudity to be so promulgated, and then for Dan’s to be hidden.)

    Additionally, Rorshach is an incredibly right-winged character and acts as the graphic novel’s primary narrator. When his landlady is interviewed, she reveals that Rorshach keeps a lot of conservative literature in his apartment. He is disgusted by the loose morals of his time period (which might be more so related to his disgust for his late mother’s prostitution), and as aforementioned, he kind of makes a sneer at Veidt’s sexuality.

    While reading through “Watchmen,” it’s truly difficult to isolate a single, absolute political promotion. In his chapter, Hoberek makes mention of Alan Moore’s personal consideration of anarchy, and it could be argued that “Watchmen” gives off an “anarchy vibe.” The graphic novel’s climax resounds in absolute chaos; Veidt’s attempt at Utopia is the result of an absolute lie, and any type of authoritative figure (whether it be fascist superhero, totalitarian leader, or democratically republic representative) ultimately fails to maintain order. However, the graphic novel doesn’t necessarily promote self-government. Rorshach, the most self-governing character, is killed for his attempt at autonomy; meanwhile, Laurie, Dan, and Jon all conform to Ozymandis’s temporary authority.


    With regard to your bonus question, in a matter of personal opinion, I don’t think Ozymandis did the right thing. The nature of right and wrong is very conflated in “Watchmen,” but I’m not a big fan of the “ends justifying the means.” I hold to Absolute Morality and a codified standard of right and wrong, so I, like Rorshach, would have walked out in a hopeless attempt to reveal the truth and “out” Ozymandis’s plan. After all, as Moore points out, it’s “down to the individual.” If each individual chooses to do the right thing and correct the wrongs of society, then the world would be a better place.

  3. Ironically, in this most “realistic” of graphic novels, the use of Nixon as a 5th term president in a world where Dr. Manhattan wins the Vietnam War creates a wider net to ensnare its readers than if Reagan had been included. As MacKenzie noted, Nixon is the focal point for much liberal rage regarding Watergate, civil rights, anti-war sentiment, political corruption, et. al. to the point that even a hardcore right-winger during the 80s could not condone his policies publicly. Using Reagan rather than Nixon would be a needless distraction that would serve only to fracture the audience down political stripes when the point of the graphic novel is that politics is ultimately futile and the individual must be the change he/she wants to see in the world. Placing Nixon in the White House as a paper tiger figurehead while Dr. Manhattan ends the Cold War creates a dichotomy in the story, one in which the alteration of history provides an other-worldliness that shapes our perception of the characters’ perspectives yet is still grounded enough that it provides a sense of verisimilitude that anchors the reader and allows the various plotlines to develop credibly.

  4. 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?
    Mackenzie, your analysis of Hoberek’s article is really good and insightful. I, too was intrigued by Ozymandias motives. Paraphrasing Hoberek, he states that Ozymandias/Viedt’s plan attempts against human individualism; rather, he sees large masses as means to an end. However, Ozymandias’ conviction is wrong. It diminishes the value of each person as an individual, and the potential that might bring into the society. Further, Manhattan (who can see the future) states, ” Nothing ever ends” that means that the action of a genocide cannot be hidden from the public forever and the truth will prevail. Lastly, it is important to question the morality of Ozymandias’ actions, because it seems to surpass and/or destroy everything that his superhero persona (Alexander) ever did. Which leaves me with this question, does Ozymandias intentionally tries to destroy his superhero persona or his sense of humanity?

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