Friday, February 6, 2009

Show and Tell: Rorschach

Today, for show-and-tell, I brought in my Rorschach figure, just released as a tie-in to the Watchmen movie. I bought this figure as a meditative tool for when I write about heroes as they are in our culture. Like the inkblot test that adorns his mask, Rorschach reveals to us our own attitudes about heroism.

Originally, I wanted to buy this to rub it in Alan Moore's face while I appropriate Rorschach for my own purposes; it's no secret that Watchmen is his takedown of superheroes in the real world, claiming that they would be "nutcases." He's also said some pretty nasty things about Ayn Rand and Steve Ditko, claiming that they stand for a type of fascism. It should also be noted that he's for anarchy himself, as he claims in an interview about V for Vendetta:
Anarchy is, and always has been, a romance. It is clearly the best way, and the only morally sensible way, to run the world. That everybody should be the master of their own destiny, that everybody should be their own leader.
Well, I agree with the last sentence, although I sometimes sympathize with him on the first, when I see the shenanigans in our government. But Rand is no fascist, nor Ditko, who Moore attacks for his "black and white/no shades of gray" stand via the Mr. A character, on who Rorschach is based. But if Moore believes what he does about anarchy, it's strange that he would come down so hard on vigilantes and Ayn Rand, when she wrote that would lead to vigilante "justice"...I do sympathize with Moore's warning about vigilantes and superheroes being about power-lust (not the idealized superhero, but superheroes as they have been presented so far).

Hrmmm... I'll leave Moore to work out his own contradictions. But back to Rorschach: Moore's made a joke about Steve Ditko, upon hearing Ditko's reaction to Rorschach. Supposedly Ditko said, "Oh, yes, Rorschach, he's like Mr. A, only he's insane," to which Moore responds with a "knowing laugh," as if to say "Steve, you missed the joke, and you're the punchline." And yet, Rorschach did get away from Moore enough to steal the story; even if Moore thinks he's "mad," he does admit to his popularity being based on his "ferocious moral integrity."

Moore does have some praise for Ditko, despite his misgivings, noting the "tormented elegance" of his work, his nine-panel layout, and his incorporation of the landscape into the story itself. But it seems that Moore's "love of Ditko" centered on the more disturbing aspects of Ditko's work, the paranoia of the characters, the way that they "always looked highly strung...on the edge of some kind of revelation or breakdown." But Moore is not (totally) wrong; these things are all there, and from the stories about him, were probably there in Ditko himself. A highly secretive and private man who has broken (most, if not all) ties with friends, his Marvel work, and society, he has taken Rand at her word and, for all intents and purposes, has went "on strike." (Whether or not this is "martyrdom" or "self-sacrificial" is for Ditko to decide for himself.) Hrmmm....

Now, as far as I know(!), Ditko has never killed anyone or broken fingers while eating sugar cubes. But his characters in his post-Marvel work have no compunction about extreme justice. But I don't know that his characters ever went so far as Rorschach! It is Moore's interpretation that for someone to be that morally certain, one must be a traumatized child wearing a mask, like the psychotic versions of Batman, reliving the past over and over and over...and yet, Moore does believe in morality, based on the quote above about anarchy. So one has to ask, how far would Moore go in defending his morality? Hrmmm....

But at the same time, I do sympathize with the notion of accountability; who watches the watchmen, indeed! (I stress accountability, not to society in general, but to the principles that make society possible, meaning objective rules for society.) I, like Ditko, am an Objectivist. I do believe in self-defense, and heroes as protectors of "what is right." But without an objective basis for liberty, "right" becomes "because I said so," or "because God said so," or "because the State said so," and so on. And even if it can objectively proven that one is right and the other wrong, freedom does require that we leave others to make their own mistakes, as long as others aren't infringed upon.

Earlier, I said that Moore was attracted to the "creepier" elements of Ditko's work. But, to be fair, and because this is a good segue for what's next, I should add another quote from Moore:

I at least felt that, though Steve Ditko's political agenda was very different to mine...I would basically disagree with all of Ditko's ideas, but he has to be given credit for expressing these political ideas.
Moore has stated that he doesn't want people to mindlessly agree with him, but simply "to think" about these things. To that, I say, great. And that's what makes Rorschach a great character; not the actual Rorschach, the tragic figure, abused as a child into psychotic vigilance, but the "question" of Rorschach himself, the "questions" asked of him that make you think. The character of Rorschach, through the lens of Moore's take on Rand and capitalism, is just another fascist, imposing his will. He is what Moore sees when an inkblot of Ditko/Rand is presented to him, and what Moore sees is a psychopath. But that is not the only possibility. When I see an inkblot of Rand, I see achievement, purpose, productivity, creativity, defended by moral certainty that one's life is one's own, no apologies for living. And yet, I have seen what Moore is talking about; one isn't immune just because he calls himself an Objectivist. If I don't see it in Rand, or maybe not it Ditko, I've seen it in other self-proclaimed "Objectivists" who would straddle the border between defender and vigilante, or "radical" and "psychotic."

It is the question of Kira in Rand's We the Living, that makes her say to her Communist foil:
I loathe your goals. I admire your methods. If one believes one's right, one shouldn't wait to convince millions of fools, one might just as well force them. Except that I don't know, however, that I'd include blood in my methods.
It is the question of Rand herself, who, in a revised edition, removed this section entirely, except to say "I loathe your goals."

Rorschach, like the inkblot, is a test for what we want and choose to see: do we want to protect what we value, or destroy what we hate? Do we fight because it's necessary, or because we take delight in breaking our enemy's fingers and spirit? Do we regret the battle, or relish the death of our enemies?

So, in the end, I didn't buy this figure to "rub it in" Moore's face, but to serve as a reminder that heroism is a choice, one that brings great power and one's self. The responsibility to NOT become the very thing that we set out to fight. To not lose sight of the purpose of heroism: not the fight, but the defense of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." What do you see in Rorschach's face? That's for your own "show-and-tell" to reveal.

(Alan Moore as Lego)


Naumadd said...

This is the first I've heard of Alan Moore's associating Rand with "a sort of fascism" - a comment to which she would of course laugh and then philsophically carve Mr. Moore a new ass. Rand was and her philosphy of objectivism are as far removed from fascism as is likely ever to get. Not knowing Steve Ditko as detailed as I do Ms. Rand, I cannot speak to his philosophical or political views, however, I suspect Mr. Moore is far off base there as well if he's grouping him and Rand together. They must apparently share some views in common which, on preliminary consideration must mean Steve Ditko is pretty cool guy.

I have to agree with Moore on the basic ideas of anarchy - little to no government at all - and Rand would agree on its wisdom IF it were true that there are never disputes among human beings. In her view, human relations ALWAYS give rise to disputes and, although she likely detests the need of government, she made it quite clear it is absolutely essential for one purpose only - to put the authorized use of physical force in one place - government - in order to safeguard individuals from its use otherwise. In other words, government may use physical force to restrain those who would turn peaceful relationships into violent ones.

At any rate, I suppose all of this is merely preaching to the choir here. I just thought it appropriate how hilarious Rand would find any association between her and fascism and how likely she'd eat Mr. Moore's philosophical lunch if they ever were in the same room together ... or the same planet. It's perhaps fortunate Rand is no longer living. Of course, there are plenty who understand her philosophy all too well who are more than capable of handing Mr. Moore his intellectual hat ... as it were.

Landon Erp said...

Joe I have to thank you for being able to write the piece that I myself haven't been quite capable of doing. I've never gotten past a few lines like "Rorschach is more like Travis Bickle than Howard Roark." This is a great piece and thanks for having it in you.

Also Naumadd, Steve Ditko is an explicitly Objectivist cartoonist and Moore made it very clear that he was attacking specifically that with Rorschach. A number of Ditko's stories had an Objectivist bent to them and unmistakably Objectivist dialogue (except in cases where someone like Denny O'Neil deliberately watered it down).

By contrast Moore ran with the idea that "if you're a conservative you're evil" and had Rorschach call a rapist a hero because "he served his duty to his country" and did other things like having him be far more obsessed with drug dealers/users and prostitutes than violent criminals which flatly goes against everything Ditko himself wrote.

Other than that I really liked your comments and I'm personally glad to know that there will no be one more person out there ready to hand Mr. Moore his intellectual hat.

I had the misfortune of this work being my first exposure to Objectivism, and I feel bad for all the people

Joe Maurone said...

Thanks, Landon and Naumadd.

Naumadd, the actual quote from Moore re Rand and fascism:

"I have to say I found Ayn Rand's philosophy laughable. It was a 'white supremacist dreams of the master race,' burnt in an early 20th-century form. They seemed to be the kind of ideas that people would espouse, people who might secretly believe themselves to be part of the elite, and not part of the excluded majority."

Mike Vardoulis said...

EXCELLENT work, Joe! You've outdone yourself! Summed up my own thoughts about Moore and the Watchmen (and V for Vendetta- much more my thing than the Watchmen) very nicely. Can't stand that people like Moore... still... mistake Rand for fascism. Annoys me to no end.

Joe Maurone said...

Thanks, Michael. If you think Moore's bad (and he is), you should have seen Stephen Colbert's Toohey-esque performance last night. Goddamn bastart just proves he hasn't actually READ the book...

Naumadd said...

I saw that and left a comment at another site who thought it was "awesome". I have to agree, Colbert seems to have no real understanding of what Rand is attempting to teach. As I mentioned on that site, in my experience, there are two kinds of people who react poorly to her ideas - those who have little to no genuine understanding of what she supports and opposes AND those who genuinely believe they have a right to the property of others without just compensation on the mere basis of personal want or need. If I had to guess, the numbers of the former are outnumbered by those of the latter kind. You'll probably agree - "Need" is insufficient warrant to take what does not belong to you.