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Watchmen – What’s up with that ink blot guy?

2009 March 29
by Solomon Lutze

I wanted to write about Watchmen. I wanted to write about someone who was a really interesting, really good example of the intersection of gender and technology. And Doctor Manhattan, Nite Owl, or either of the Silk Spectres would have been great for this. But Rorschach’s my favorite, and even if he’s less perfect for the topic, I think I can produce something more interesting if I’m talking about him.

When compared to his comrades, Rorschach falls in interesting places with relation to both gender and technology. His view of technology is largely utilitarian; the few things he carries around with him serve a very functional purpose, and he’s happy to improvise whatever he doesn’t have on him. I’m thinking of the way he uses his grappling gun, hair spray, pepper, hot oil, a toilet, and a blowtorch as weapons. He recognizes the usefulness of many of Nite Owl’s inventions, but seems largely uninterested with the march of technology as a whole. He doesn’t even seem particularly put off by Doctor Manhattan or his research. Immediate practicality for the sake of defending his binary world of good-and-evil morality is what matters to him, and anything that complicates that he despises or ignores. Even his mask, more symbolic than practical, is for him a way of reassuring that the world does operate in the terms he imagines: black and white shapes, perpetually shifting, never mixing.

Rorschach’s extremely conservative values also show through in his interactions and dealings with gender. He is shown to be homophobic, and though I at first thought that he might be repressing his own sexuality – especially in light of his disgust with women’s undergarments or revealing clothing – I’m now wondering if it might just be that he is so certain in his moral values that such things disgust him genuinely. In any case, doesn’t seem like a traditional chauvinistic conservative who views women as fragile or inferior to men. He doesn’t seem to have any problem with Laurie or Sally going out and beating up criminals, and neither does he show any sign of thinking women need more protecting then men.

Figuring out exactly where Rorschach stands on any issue – or why – is pretty difficult, and usually kind of bad for your mental health. What is it that he really wants? Does he have a vision of a utopia, or does his perfect world necessarily contain an evil element for good to do battle with? The futuristic perspective on utopia that Adrian Veidt offers seems uninteresting to him, and certainly not worth the millions of lives it cost. It seems as though what interests him is the violation of morality and punishing that violation; gender is not a concern unless it relates to crime, and technology is not a concern unless it is useful for punishment. His disinterest in, more than his relation to, both gender and technology makes him quite peculiar among the cast of Watchmen.

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