Sunday, August 16, 2009

Who’s Watching the Watchmen? The Postmodern World, That’s Who!!

In the film Watchmen by Zack Snyder, postmodernism prevails in every scene and through every character. The setting is an alternative universe in 1985 where Richard Nixon is in his third term as President of the United States and all the superheroes have either died or been outlawed through federal law. The Watchmen are disbanded, but psychological character Rorschach, is still fighting crime in the streets of this pre-apocalyptic version of Manhattan. There is Historio graphic metafiction and temporal distortion throughout the film as well as fragmentation, intertextuality, black humor, irony, hyper-reality and paradoxical moments. All of these help with the deconstruction of the comic book superhero and brings forth this new anti- hero to the comic book genre of film. To get a better understanding of these traits of the postmodern text and this film version of the graphic novel we shall take a look at some of the critics of this genre of literary criticism.

Linda Hutcheon differentiates the terms "metafiction" and "historiographic metafiction." She says that "historiographic metafiction, in deliberate contrast to late modernist radical metafiction, attempts to demarginalize the literary through confrontation with the historical, and it does so both thematically and formally" (Hutcheon 289). Two things become apparent in this film with Hutcheon's description of this trait of postmodernism. The first being with the use of this trait in this film gets brought to the level of other literary texts, not just relegated to that of the lower “comic book” genre. Second, it gives the text believability in historical roots, even though the film is fiction. Temporal distortion uses historiogarphic metafiction in this film by bouncing from the past to the present of film. Sometimes the time lines are just hours apart and sometimes years and decades. The other interesting point is the way temporal distortion rids the film of any past we may recognize even though the present looks very familiar. Jacques Derrida’s DiffĂ©rance explains, “Temporalizing….to differ, in this sense is to temporalize, to resort, consciously or unconsciously, to temporal and temporalizing mediation of a detour that suspends the accomplishment or fulfillment of desire or will in a way that annuls or tempers their effect” (Rivkin 283). Watchmen has moments of belief, disbelief, and historical fact turned into fiction. All these make for moments postmodernists dream of.

Derrida also speaks about deconstruction as a way, not to destroy, but to analyze text. He suggests tearing the text apart and studying the parts rather than the whole of the text. Derrida explains, “All reality is textual. The trace structure where one thing depends on others to be what it is , and the referential character of identity” (Rivkin 259). This is especially true in Watchmen. Each scene, part of story or character absolutely depends on the other parts to make the whole. Such as, you can study the character The Comedian. You can do psychoanalysis, a cultural study, ethnic origin on just his character, but without the rest of the plot-line, story line, and characters it makes no sense for him to be there by himself. Don’t get me wrong according to this theory by Derrida it is important to that you “tear something apart” for the purposes of seeing how the parts work. Deconstruction certainly has the notion of “coming apart” wrapped into it, but with a different bent and purpose. Instead, deconstruction is largely about looking for ways in which stories and ideas contradict themselves. The story “tears itself apart” because it says one thing, but does something else. Even if it doesn’t mean to do it.

One of the significant traits of postmodernism is intextuality. Intertextuality is a word coined by French linguist Julia Kristeva, meaning the shaping of texts' meanings by using other texts. Kristeva explains, "The notion of intertextuality replaces that of intersubjectivity" (Kristeva) a popular theory of Mikhail Bakhatin. Bakhtin believed the subject was enough to include within the text. Kristeva however points to the postmodern binary that it needs to be the text, not just the subject of the text that explains the larger picture of the text. There are plenty of examples of this in Watchmen. The use of former President of The United States Richard Nixon throughout the film is a third term president in an alternate reality. There is a copy of Hustler magazine lying on The Comedian’s coffee table. There is the use of the American Flag in the scene where there are riots in the street. All of these examples lends integrity to the scene, even though it is fiction, it still appears to part of an actual existence by having these items of text within the main text.

The next trait seen is Jean Francios Lyotard's postmodernism and the ideas of fragmentation. This is where storyline does not follow a linear progression. Instead it goes from time-line to situation, back and forth between entities such as alternate universes and planets. Watchmen does this all through the film. It starts with character Rorschach stating, “Rorschach’s Diary, October 12th, 1985” and then shoots to that scene. It also does this with scenes within scenes. Dr. Manhattan teleports between locations such as planets, residences and vehicles all within the same scene.

"The sublime feeling is neither moral universality nor aesthetic universalization, but is, rather, the destruction of one by the other in the violence of their differend. This differend cannot demand, even subjectively, to be communicated to all thought.” - (Jean-Francois Lyotard)

Lyotard bases his definition of Postmodernism on the idea that postmodernist thought questions, critiques, and deconstructs the metanarrative, a story about a story, by observing that the move to create order or unity always creates disorder as well. Lyotard attacked contemporary literary theories and encouraged experimental discourse unbounded by excessive concern for truth. He says,“Let us wage a war on totality; let us be witness to the unrepresentable; let us activate the differences and save the honor of the name” (Rivkin 359). The characters in Watchmen personify this theory. In trying to create justice through vigilantism they instead cause riotous chaos. The Comedian even states in a riotous crowd, in front of an American flag after being asked by Nite Owl, "What about the American Dream?" The Comedian answers, "We are living it right now!" Justice though vigilante chaos doesn't seem to work very well, even with the best of intentions.

G. de Purucker says, “The gods of all ancient mythologies were looked upon as the powers of nature plus consciousness…the gods shown to be the divine causes of existence, the fountains of self-consciousness and enlightened will - guardians of the cosmic law and order. They were the causes of cycles of nature herself, the exemplification of order an time periods” (Fountain). This not the case with the Watchmen characters. They have neurosis (Nite Owl II), psychopathic tendencies (Rorschach), sexual aggravation Silk Spectre II), and some are just aggressive for the sake of aggressiveness (The Comedian). But the main issue with all these anti heroes is the fact they want to fight for the greater good. Even when Ozymandias is playing the villain of this film he is not really encompassing the traits of the villain, he is trying to achieve world peace. he is trying to do it through nuclear war, but still has a greater purpose. Joseph Campbell says in A Heroes Journey that "A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself" (Campbell). This line is quoted from the Vietnam Vets Memorial to small town memorials for deceased persons fighting and dying in the line of duty. One has to wonder, was Ozymandias a hero or simply another anti-hero trying to make the world in his view.

Rorschach's Journal. October 12th, 1985. Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout 'Save us!' And I'll look down, and whisper 'no.' They had a choice, all of them. They could have followed in the footsteps of good men like my father, or President Truman. Decent men, who believed in a day's work for a day's pay. Instead they followed the droppings of lechers and communists and didn't realize that the trail led over a precipice until it was too late. Don't tell me they didn't have a choice. Now the whole world stands on the brink, staring down into bloody hell, all those liberals and intellectuals and smooth-talkers, and all of a sudden nobody can think of anything to say. (Watchmen)

This dialogue from the film is very important in terms of phonology. The dialogue is spoken in almost a whisper yet the intensity of the words spoken is fiercely felt. It strikes fear from the outset of the film. Here is a perfect example of Ferdinand Saussure's views on the arbitrary binaries. The Saussure Essay "A Course in General Linguistics" states that "the linguistic sign is arbitrary and is not related by any inner relationship. There is no natural relationship between the signifier and the signified" (Rivkin 62). The signifier and the signified not be related to get the desired effect. The sign is the same, the spoken words. The whisper tone and the fierce intensity are two different things entirely. Rorschach's dialogue was chosen for this essay because he is the most complex character with his dialogue. Rorschach is a a psychopath with a conscious. His being a psychopath has nothing to do with him also having a conscious. The arbitrary binaries are at work. He has just gone on another killing spree in the prison and after returning to the Nite Owl II's lair. Nite Owl tells Rorschach the truth about himself and instead of the expected response of bashing his head in , he sticks out his hand and thanks Nite Owl for being a good friend. This is not the actions of true psychopath and Watchmen has many twists and turns such as this in the film.

Rorschach: Heard joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says "Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up." Man bursts into tears. Says "But Doctor... I am Pagliacci." Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.(Watchmen)

Rorschach:For my own part, regret nothing. Have lived life, free from compromise ... and step into the shadow now without complaint.(Watchmen)

The things about this film that are most intriguing are the way the story flashes all over the place yet you are still able to follow the storyline. The characters are very complicated but, you are able to make your own assumptions by the way the film is constructed through deconstruction. This film is supposed to be the mother-ship for postmodernism and deconstruction in superhero films. It should be, it has all of the elements of postmodernism with a touch of modernism and formalism just to throw the audience off which would be the ultimate postmodern move. Give them what is not expected or even needed. Who is watching the Watchmen? Everyone I hope.

Works Cited
Hutcheon, Linda. "The Pastime of Past Time": Fiction, History, Historiographic Metafiction." GENRE XX (Fall-Winter 1987).

Rivkin, Julie and Ryan, Michael.Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. 2nd Ed.
Blackwell Publishing: 1998. Difference. Jacques Derrida. Pp.278-299

Rivkin, Julie and Ryan, Michael.Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. 2nd Ed.
Blackwell Publishing: 1998. The Postmodern Condition. Jean-Francios Lyotard.Pp.pp 359

Rivkin, Julie and Ryan, Michael.Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. 2nd Ed.
Blackwell Publishing: 1998. A Course in General Linguistics. Ferdinand Saussere. Pp 62


G. de Purucker. Fountain-Source of Occultism

Watchmen.Zack Snyder.Legendary Pictures. Div. WarnerBrothers.2008.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Welcome to Postmodernism Baby, You're Gonna Die!

Postmodernism has been seen in many forms since after WWII. It has been a fixture in various texts ranging from literature to music videos. It is shown very clear in the video by raucous rock n roll band, Guns n Roses. In the first video filmed by this group there are characteristics of postmodernism running throughout the text. two of these are intertextuality and fragmentation.

The video opens with intertextuality, a word coined by French linguist Julia Kristeva, meaning the shaping of texts' meanings by using other texts. William Shakespeare did this repeatedly in plays such as Julius Caesar, The Life of Henry the V, among others. Kristeva explains, "The notion of intertextuality replaces that of intersubjectivity" a popular theory of Mikhail Bakhatin. Bakhtin believed the subject was enough to include. Kristeva however points to the postmodern binary that it needs to be the text, not just the subject of the text. This video shows the classic "farm boy gets off the bus in Hollywood to search for stardom" stereotype. It then fragments off into a concert scene with the "young man getting off the bus" as the lead singer and central figure of the rock band which is another cliche of music videos suggesting intetextuality. What becomes interesting about this is the next scene which places he and the rest of the band in what looks like a seedy hotel room. The rest of the band seem to enjoy the female attention directed at them but Axl Rose, the lead singer, is staring at four different television screens showing violence, commercialism, police brutality, and international war. This is another clear trait of intertextuality. Previous filmed scenes of disturbance used to illicit response in the viewer.

The next trait seen is Lyotard's fragmentation. It is all over this video. It moves from street story to concert scene to hotel scene to mind control scene to a scene where Rose becomes the seasoned Hollywood resident. These scenes are used for effect and affect. It is used in the earlier scene's to give you the storyline and as an influential vehicle to show the atrocities of the aforementioned clips of war, violence, commercialism, and police brutality. The fragmentation is also part of the under story of how this "nice young man" is mind controlled by these heinous activities to become one of the Hollywood regulars.

There is an argument that music videos are mind numbing drivel and a lot of them are. But, once and awhile you run across one that has all the elements of grit and grime becoming intellectual and sublime. This masterpiece of music video falls into that category. "Welcome to Jungle baby", you might just learn something.

Works Cited

Rivkin, Julie and Ryan, Michael.Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. 2nd Ed.
Blackwell Publishing: 1998.

"Welcome to the Jungle". Appetite for Destruction.Geffen Records. 1987

Friday, August 7, 2009

Ideology of Communism Is Beautiful, The Reality Is Not! (Webct Post)

Let me first state that I do believe Marxism is a beautiful ideology. The idea of
everyone coming together in a community for the common good and
distributing the goods of that community evenly is a noble cause filled
with enormous amounts of integrity and character. For these reasons
alone I respect Karl Marx as much as anyone in history. But there are
some problems that I see with the reality of this.

First where is the accountability for the assets and distribution of
such assets evenly. It says in The Ten Steps of Communism that the state
will handle these affairs. Anthony Garcia, CSUN Critical Theories student,poses the question "Who is watching the watchmen"? Which brings me to my second point.

Greed will eventually rear its ugly head. Greed is a natural instinct
born into every human being . Sharing with one another is a learned
behavior and inevitably someone will want more than their share. What do
we do in that case? Keep starting over and over and over? I said in the
outset that my opinions are cynical and a bit dark. My experience has
been the selfish cream always rises to the top and as much as it pains
me to say, at least if we know the selfishness is out there we can keep
an eye out for it. The motto in a capitalist society is, " he who has
the most wins the game!" At least right now we know what game we are
playing. In a Marxist or Communist society the rules of the game can
change at any moment, but where will the referee be to call the foul?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Monty Python and the Holy Commune

In this satirical film clip we see the Monty Python crew tackling a very serious subject; Arthurian Monarchy vs. anarcho-syndicalism. The people in the clip have no idea they are under a repressive dictatorship. They believe they are in a government that by Marxist standards distributes power, work, and goods evenly. The only problem with the Marxist point of view is that there is no state to determine the distribution. The peasants talk about this by saying,"We're living in a dictatorship. A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes--" (Monty).The old woman states, "Oh there you go, bringing class into it again"(Monty)."I told you." Dennis retorts, "We're an anarcho-syndicalist commune". "We take turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week". "But all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting" (Monty). Dennis' explains all this to King Arthur who no way wants to hear it.

We see in satire where Dennis feels he is being repressed by King Arthur, "Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! HELP! HELP! I'm being repressed" (Monty)! During the Bush-Cheney administration we saw much Arthurian repression of civil rights without being allowed to challenge that repression. With a Republican Congress and Republican administration such items as The Patriot Act, Free Speech Zones, and unwarranted wiretapping / surveillance were allowed to go on without fear of reprise (Lyons). It was considered a constitutional right to racially profile anyone the government felt was threatening to this New America(Lyons). Karl Marx and Frederich Engels wanted a better way of not only distribution of goods, but also distribution of political power. But again they wanted it run by state.

In The Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels want to take all small communes and governments such as this and combine them across nationalities to overcome the bourgeois and monarchies. Although this clip is from a time long before Karl Marx and The Communist Manifesto, it is a perfect example of the oppression of monarchy and the bourgeois. The ideology of Marxism is wonderful, but we see in this clip there will always be someone to take the power from them.

Works Cited

Rivkin, Julie and Ryan, Michael.Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. 2nd Ed.
Blackwell Publishing: 1998.

“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” Monty Python Enterprises By Terry Gilliam
Performer “John Cleese, Terry Gilliam” BBC Televison Film,

Lyons, Matthew N. Is the Bush Administration Fascist?.New Politics. William Patterson University of New Jersey.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Looks That Defamiliarize!

This photo is a group of demonic men ready for a satanic ritual. The candles are very cryptic as is the room where this is taking place. The skulls are victims past. The smoke billowing from beneath them is a devils cauldron. They have sword drawn at the throat. There is a Satanic pentagram on the wall. The demeanor of the men is aggressive and violent. They are trying to frighten the victim with their gaze. The next step is sacrifice.

Semiotics at the Devil!

This photo with it's pentagrams, skulls, swords and cryptic black candles, by symbolism alone,is evil according to Northrup Frye's "Essay on Myth". To Frye there are many signs and symbols that tell the story of the demonic in this photo. First there is the pentagram, which today is seen as a sign of Satanic evil. There are also skulls on lances which signify victory according to Shakespeare's Macbeth. There are also cryptic black candles. The black again signifying the dark or the evil. According to the signs alone there appears to be a victorious celebration of evil.

The Ferdinand Saussure Essay "A Course in General Linguistics" states that "the linguistic sign is arbitrary and is not related by any inner relationship. There is no natural relationship between the signifier and the signified." (Rivkin 62) Sometimes advertisers will link that relationship to sell products. Sometimes it is done to capture a moment in time. Whatever the reason; language and linguistics, according to Saussure, doesn't put the two together. We do that after the fact.

Works Cited

Rivkin, Julie and Ryan, Michael.Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. 2nd Ed.
Blackwell Publishing: 1998.

Frye Lecture. Wexler, Steven, Semiotics and Frye. 07-21-09. Major Critical Theories.CSUN

Frye, Northrop . Anatomy of Criticism. 1957.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Seeing Aristotle’s Available Means of Persuasion in "Boston Legal"

Aristotle describes rhetoric as "the ability, in each particular case, to see the available means of persuasion." In the Season 2, March 14, 2006 episode of Boston Legal entitled, “Stick It” attorney Alan Shore, associate at the fictional Crane, Poole, and Schmidt, uses Aristotle’s three appeals; logos, ethos and pathos to try and sway the jury during a freedom of speech case in which his client has decided not to pay her taxes as a form of protest against the federal government.. He uses each appeal or a combination of each to prove his point throughout his summation. He uses logos to prove the logical, ethos for credibility or ethical proof, and pathos to draw on the emotions of the jury. He does this with great courage and skill much like Mark Antony in the persuasive speech William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Though Mark Antony’s speech was all pathos due to the fact that he was playing to the audiences emotions, or as Aristotle put it, “the appeal to the audience’s sympathies and imagination” (). According to Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Aristotle defines the rhetorician as someone who is always able to see what is persuasive.” This is what was had with Shakespeare for Mark Antony and four hundred and nine years later we see it in a YouTube video from a courtroom drama.

Mr. Shore begins his summation, {Alan Shore} “When the weapons of mass destruction thing turned out to be not true, I expected the American people to rise up. Ha! They didn't” (Boston). This is where the first combination of pathos and ethos is seen. He uses the word “Ha” (pathos) which constitutes sarcasm. He is trying to elicit that feeling from his audience. He stated fact to begin with which sets up that through ethos his credibility with the jury. The next appeal is seen through logos, “, if the people of this country have spoken, the message is we're okay with it all. Torture, warrantless search and seizure, illegal wiretappings, prison without a fair trial - or any trial, war on false pretenses. We, as a citizenry, are apparently not offended. There are no demonstrations on college campuses. In fact, there's no clear indication that young people seem to notice. ” (Stick). The reason for assumption of logos is because he makes a logical assessment. Aristotle would have put it this way, “If the U.S. Government lies about a series of events that are harmful, and no one pays attention when harmful things happen, then it appears that no one pays attention when the government does harmful things.” (This a far stretch, and maybe not the best example, but for the length of this paper let’s use it.) Shore uses this type of logic to convey to his audience, his truth that he wants them to believe.

Throughout the rest of his summation he uses pathos to explain why his client did not pay her taxes, he states emphatically, “Well, Melissa Hughes noticed. Now, you might think, instead of withholding her taxes, she could have protested the old fashioned way. Made a placard and demonstrated at a Presidential or Vice-Presidential appearance, but we've lost the right to that as well. The Secret Service can now declare free speech zones to contain control and, in effect, criminalize protest. At a presidential rally, parade or appearance, if you have on a supportive t-shirt, you can be there. If you are wearing or carrying something in protest, you can be removed”. (Stick) “Stop for a second and try to fathom that”(Stick). For dramatic effect he uses this pause, again Mr. Shore uses pathos even when not speaking to effectively play to his audience. Then another emphatic line that plays terrifically to his audience, “This, in the United States of America! This in the United States of America! Is Melissa Hughes the only one embarrassed” (Stick)? The pathos in Shore’s summation is reminiscent of Mark Antony in that Antony builds the crowd through emotional content into a frenzy of distrust against Brutus and Cassius. Alan Shore effectively takes the jury to a point of agreement and distrust of The United States of America through his emotional and patriotic testimony, “I object to government abusing its power to squash the constitutional freedoms of its citizenry. And, God forbid, anybody challenge it. They're smeared as being a heretic. Melissa Hughes is an American! Melissa Hughes is an American! Melissa Hughes is an American” (Stick)! He concludes with a quote from Adlai Stevenson from 1952 which gives his summation that added ethos that it needs for the jury to take back and decide fate, “It's far easier to fight for principles than to live up to them" (Stick).

One of the positive things about rhetoric is that it can be used to describe why someone has broken a law. It can used to explain that the person thinks that law is unjust and we don’t like the way a government branch is running OUR country. It is nice to know that even though Alan Shore is a fictional character, there are real attorneys to turn to who will pick our flag and through Aristotle’s Appeals wave it for us. This may seem idealistic, but some of us still believe that right should win even if a corrupt government deems us wrong.

Works Cited

Murray, Penelope and Dorsch, T.S. “Aristotle’s Poetics”. Classic Literary Criticism. Penguin Ltd. New York, NY.Reprinted 2004. Pp 57-97

“Aristotle's Rhetoric”. Stanford University Encyclopedia Philosophy. May 2, 2002. Stanford University

“Stick It!” Boston Legal. By “David E. Kelly”. Performer “James Spader” ABC Televison Season 2, March 14, 2006