Thursday, June 11, 2009


I've never really liked the concept of superheros despite being a fan of comic books. The idea that society needs a protector, one guy or gal to right the wrongs and protect us from evil seems rather fatalistic. Is this situation supposed to be permanent, how long would someone want that job? Well some people live to be needed by others I guess. Societies succeed or fail by the actions of large portions of their members, not the actions of one or a small group of individuals. If a community is made up of hard working, productive, moral people then most likely it will be successful and no hero is needed. In case the opposite is true, a hero would be pretty busy with little in the way of long term results to show for the effort.

I saw "The Watchmen" the other night with my wife (actually it was a few months ago and it took me a while to finish this post), knowing nothing about it other than the trailers I had seen. Turns out the movie was far different from what was advertised. To give this movie an "R" rating is stretching that category a bit. It probably should have been rated NC17. I can't say I liked the movie. The violence was so extreme it was pretty hard to watch and the sex scenes reminded me of soft core porn. The story did not make much sense, super heroes without super powers operate until they were put out of business by a new law. Apparently acting as vigilantes was perfectly legal until that point.

What makes super heroes without super powers seem silly? In normal superhero story lines, a superhero has powers normal people do not, giving him the ability to fight average criminals with little or no risk to himself and making him the only one capable of fighting super villains. Law enforcement supports or at least tolerates some vigilantism because it has to.

In the Watchmen's universe, only one of them has super powers, Dr. Manhattan. The rest appear to the highly skilled incredibly fit individuals. All have a screw loose and one, the Comedian, is an out and out sociopath. One curious thing, Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian agreed to go to Vietnam and fight for the US. The Comedian was apparently able to join the army and wear his own superhero costume. That must have been an interesting recruitment interview. Dr. Manhattan, a big blue guy who can crush tanks and explode people with his mind can wear whatever he wants which in most cases is nothing.

Despite all it's failings, the movie did manage to ask an interesting question in the end. The whole movie appears to be an allegory of religion, or more specifically Christianity. The world is on the brink of nuclear war and the smartest man in the world who was also a member of the Watchmen decides it is better to kill a bunch of people though much less than the number that would be killed in a nuclear war to prevent an actual nuclear war. He then puts the blame on Dr. Manhattan who in the end accepts it and leaves Earth with the threat that he may return and finish the job if humanity does not get its act together. He then goes off to become a god of his own world some place.

The question seems to be is peace worth the price of believing a lie and sacrificing a relative few to save the many. I guess it depends on your view of the value of human life. If humans are a commodity like cattle then basic math is sufficient to support the premise. My own view is that we are not a commodity. We are not so many units of humanity. We are individuals, each of us valuable to ourselves. Lying to avoid self destruction seems like each individual avoiding their own responsibility in making society work. Maybe this is the key to what I dislike about superheros. Responsibility is taken from the masses and placed on the few.

In a similar way I resent the government. In a lot of ways my life has been more challenging recently. Work is very competitive and I have to run to keep up. Some days I'm overwhelmed and some days I overcome the obstacles in my path. I may be unemployed soon, I may not. On the days when my efforts pay off though, I never feel more alive. The risk of failing makes succeeding worthwhile and I don't want government to take that from me.

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