March 9, 2009

The Watchmen: Rorschach Test

Filed under: Culture and Media — Bob Gifford @ 7:24 pm

You really don’t need to know anything about The Watchmen to see the irony. All you need to know is that one of the characters in the movie, and the graphic novel it is based on, is named Rorschach, as in the psychological inkblot test. That, and that an Objectivist sees in Rorschach an Objectivist hero.

Why else would you create a character named “Rorschach”, except to invite each reader to decide just what it is they see in him?

This is one, but only one, of the fascinations of The Watchmen. (I haven’t seen the movie yet, but just finished reading the novel.) What we believe about Rorschach has more to do with what we bring to it than the character itself. I am sure that someone to the left of me would see a tragically broken man who, through a horribly screwed up childhood, has become a vengeful vigilante full of hate and anger, desperately in need of healing. And they would be absolutely right. Meanwhile, our libertarian friend at Reason magazine sees a noble Objectivist right out of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, or even better, The Fountainhead, ready to blow up any building that violates his architectural principles. And he’s right.

Rorschach’s ability to evoke in us what we want to see isn’t because he is a mushy gray character. There is no ambiguity — his every action, and every action taken towards him, is black and white. But it is the complex combination of black and white that allows us to see in him what is already in us.

Just like an inkblot.

So what do I see in Rorschach? A brilliantly post-modern character, full of good and evil, hatred and hurt, noble moral principle and foolish stubborness. He’s both protagonist and antagonist, horribly complex, humanity’s vices and virtues all in one person. There is no moral to Rorschach’s tale, no heroic example to follow. Nothing but permission to accept that we are all also full of our own contradictions, at the same time both sinner and saint. And that’s enough.

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