I am fascinated by the fixation people have with superheroes.
A while ago a friend and I visited Six Flags Magic Mountain near Los Angeles, a theme park showcasing a dozen roller coasters. As we strolled around I noticed banners on all the poles, each with an image of a curiously outfitted, finely muscled, sometimes masked superhero. I thought, “What is the deal with this? Why are we so enamored with these peculiar individuals who can presumably rip open our guts in the name of truth, justice, and the American way?”
We’re so consumed by the idea that superheroes are such wholesome avengers that we never think about what it would be like if such persons actually did jaunt about exhibiting their daring-do on our behalf. One such individual did, the quite renowned and enigmatically eccentric Alan Moore, and in the mid-1980’s he wrote one of the greatest graphic novels ever, one that will be released next March as a major motion picture.
I’m speaking of Watchmen, and since the trailer started appearing a few months ago in theaters preceding showings of the latest Batman feature, subversive comic fans have been going ga-ga.
Watchmen is a brilliant caricature of the superhero as savior. It depicts a parallel universe containing all the same historical belligerencies among nations but a President Nixon serving a fifth term of office. The novel weaves a number of storylines through several decades to elucidate the base nature of power, indeed the whole concept of “watchman duty” even as the watchmen are decked in splendidly idiosyncratic crime-fighting uniforms. (The film's trailer can be viewed at the bottom of this webpage.)
I should graciously announce SPOILER ALERT here before I go any further. In a moment, pertinent elaboration about Watchmen’s meaning will require me to address its conclusion, so you are now forewarned. In the meantime, some brief comments are in order regarding the core problem all crime-reduction crusaders must face.
One way evildoing rears its boil-pocked bottom is through economic indices, and the current financial whirlwind provides a fine pretext for understanding law enforcement's prime quandary. A recent Los Angeles Times op-ed by Claire Berlinski was a typical “Here’s what really must happen for everything to be all good again” blab entitled, appropriately, “What the Free Market Needs.” She included an exhaustive list of all the institutional pieces that must be in place for markets to function smoothly. She seems to feel these are provincially derived, but they are universal necessities for thriving economies. By her notes they are:
Really, now. Hmm—ya think? The entire list was there, as if these things are revolutionary ideas. She could have cited one thing and saved a ton of ink.
No lying, anymore. By anyone. At every level of society.
The real question is, how do you get that? What is so silly about Berlinski’s piece is right before she rifles off each item, she says this: “[We do] not need more government interference in the marketplace.” Huh? To take liberty with a certain politician: “What does she expect to use to stop the rampant abuse of those things, spitballs?”
A real-life example of this clumsiness is the case of those particularly despicable super-villains, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. From what we’ve been told these mortgage management behemoths have been allowed to stomp through the crystal shop while everyone gasps, “Somebody save us!”
Lo and behold, there had been someone assigned this duty! The World has a special name for its brand of valiant superhero, they call him “Regulator.”
I can even share with you who this one is! Right here! His name is Jeffrey B. Lockhart III, and he kind of looks like a superhero, don’t you think? He is a bit balding, yes, has poor eyesight, and his outfit is unimpressive—but he’s got a lapel pin!
The fact is he heads something called the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, a $60 million, 200 employee agency (a fine Justice League operation if I’ve ever seen one), and they have one assigned task:
Keep Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in line.
Obviously the watchmen are not being watched very well. Or are they? We just don’t see the deep machinations involved. I don’t think Jeffrey B. Lockhart III is impotent (after all, the White House recently awarded his office the highly prized “adequate” rating). He is just incapacitated by his superiors, who themselves are yanked about by their superiors, who in turn… and so it goes.
Now there is an alternative to this body of death, but I think someone like Berlinski is typical of most who’d brazenly dismiss it because the first half of the title of her latest book is There is No Alternative. The times I’ve heard people sigh, “If not the government, who can you trust?”
Watchmen goes deep into the nature of this intractable problem.
These crime-fighters do their duty, which as you know consists of slapping around the riff-raff of society, including some run-of-the-mill mob figures. That’d be terrific, except they realize it’s all a whack-a-mole game—there’s always someone popping up doing some awful thing somewhere else. And then there’s the politics—these superheroes do such a great job that the police refuse to work. This puts so much pressure on the superheroes that the government bans them. Sheez, whaddya gotta do to avenge things!
Most of Watchmen’s superheroes have no exceedingly unusual powers much beyond a fine capacity for kick-boxing bad guys (sometimes with the help of spiffy gizmos) and I’m sure this contributes to their exasperation about the sustained inefficacy of their efforts.
Two of them are notable exceptions.
One has the title “Dr. Manhattan,” and early in the novel he endures an unfortunate radiation accident that turns him into a kind of nuclear super-being, so super that he can command molecular arrangements with a thought. He uses this ability to manipulate objects, sense impending events, or transport himself or others somewhere else in an instant. The irony here is that even with this phenomenal power—truly greater than any superhero in any other superhero story—he realizes he still cannot alter man’s free will. This brings great distress to those near him who know he can stop bad things but doesn’t... when you think about it, kind of the way people often think about God. I mean, Dr. Manhattan did end the Vietnam War in a week, at least God didn’t do that.
The other has the superhero moniker “Ozymandias”—real name Adrian Veidt—and he brilliantly exploits his illustrious reputation to sell literature and merchandise related to his popular method for health and prosperity. Granted, these “skills” are nothing beyond-the-ordinary, except to the extent that he eventually recognizes there is only one temporal way he can affect true superhero vengeance, and he cleverly uses his billions to employ extravagant new scientific techniques such as cloning and teleportation to achieve it.
Last spoiler alert, for here’s how it all plays out.
Veidt creates a hideous beast so disturbingly foreign expending such immense psychic energy that its sudden appearance in the middle of New York City causes a slaughter so great that the rest of the country rallies to fight this common enemy. The idea: instead of fighting one another, everyone fights the alien threat and this concerted devotion to the noble cause brings lasting peace.
What a concept.
Why again is this so extraordinary?
It is simply because this is the way the highest law enforcer does indeed operate today, extraordinary because so few people seem to know this and so few seem to understand—
There is an alternative.
Pearl Harbor, Kennedy Assassination, Nine-Eleven… You know the catalog, all spectacular dramatic productions to facilitate the chief means for managing a populace wholly given over to evildoing. No one is exempt, all are liars, and the superheroes in Watchmen were deeply troubled knowing that.
In fact, after Veidt murders half of New York to achieve his noble ends, the others resign themselves to the dilemma that faces them. Reveal the truth and destroy the peace that Veidt hath wrought, or hold their tongue because they consider Veidt’s plot the only way to save mankind. One of these superheroes, Rorschach, is so pathologically obsessed with the brutal truth that he’d casually break one’s extremities to get even a modicum of information he needs. Naturally he can’t refuse to expose what he’d just witnessed, and this necessitates his elimination by a conciliatory Dr. Manhattan.
The brutal truth still remains: the highest ranking agents of Cain use the most sophisticated, systematic, and often staggeringly inventive forms of deceit as a matter of duty. It is what they do.
What is amazing about this dynamic is that the Bible speaks of it, most evocatively in the second chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. The entire concept of a “restrainer” is a mystery indeed, puzzling scholars through the ages. Paul makes it clear, however, that those who truly understand and know Christ can see it. All it takes is a reasonably deliberate reading of Scripture and moderately perceptive observation of current events.
Even though the man of lawlessness is charged with restraining evil behavior and accomplishing that with a deftly concocted fantasy world for those who refuse to see truthful things, evildoing still hammers the world. Frequent events designed to catastrophize the imagination are proficient at reining it in a bit, but the real-life counterpart to Adrian Veidt will never eradicate it no matter how well he does his job.
What is troubling to many who even nominally like this Jesus fellow is that Jesus Himself set all this in motion shortly after evildoing began in earnest millennia ago. In this sense God is the big “R” Restrainer using the small “r” restrainer to keep men from destroying themselves for one purpose:
That they'd have a shot at genuinely turning to Him.
All the federal government / banking system / state-church gymnastics are merely part of the show. Those with lots of contracts with the World—I’ve listed them many times before: W-4’s, 501c3’s, Social Security commitments, mortgage debts—they're all just doing a song-and-dance routine. Often enough they get to be a bit player in those necessary catastrophes the restrainer stages.
The most pressing question then is, when the small “r” restrainer is removed and people are free to give complete reign to their abjectly murderous behavior, will they still be so hypnotically entranced by the show that they can’t leave it, or will they have asked the True Alternative to open their eyes to see Him and everything that they’d ever authentically want?
I happened to come across a song by Devo I’d first heard years ago. Yes, Devo, that goofy very early-80’s punk band. The words made me think about the spectacle created for World inhabitants:
Those who faithfully dwell in that culturally dissident underground, the punkers who revel in the Devo-types, the pop cultists who riff on Alan Moore and his stuff—they seem to faintly see the façade for what it is. They just know the World is shitting them and their avant-garde dances are simply visceral railings.
The World God they observe is considered some kind of Evil Genius, tormenting us with twisted perversions of what life should really be. Interestingly this is something the famous philosopher Descartes also thought about way back in the 1600's, and his cogitation produced an intriguing idea about truth.
He said that if God were actually an Evil Genius always deceiving us about everything, then there must be an antithesis of the deception, namely, the truth. Therefore, truth exists even in the face of a lying God. He added that if God was deceiving someone, there is still a someone who is being deceived, an individual existing in truth however he is addressed by a lying God.
Sadly many of these insightful individuals still cower in their existential huts, some even making a god of the torment itself. With so many Jesuses out there, the quasi-savior regulators and financiers and ministers doing the things they do so well, I can see why it can be a challenge for them to step out and even breathe.
One last thing.
I haven’t told you how Watchmen finally ends.
Sorry, not going to tell you here. You’ll have to read it. Or catch the film next March.
But I will tell you that following that tremendous despair, the feeling of repugnant disappointment that the grandest deceit won the day—there at the bottom panel of the last page of the entire novel, right there at the tail end of the most mundane epilogue you could possibly ever endure, buried in the deep recesses of “the crank file,” is truth.
Not quite The Truth yet. With that also comes The Grace.
But it's a start.
At least for those who want to see what is real.
“Why is my language not clear to you? It is because you belong to the father of lies.”
– Jesus, from John 8:43-44
March 14, 2009: My take on the film in the blog Wonderful Matters
This page was originally posted by David Beck at yourownjesus.net on January 24, 2009