Rorschach's Masculine Mask and The Moral Vigilante: Analyzing Masculinity in Alan Moore's Watchmen

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Laura McGrath
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Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen depicts five leading men, each performing masculinity differently. Through the eyes of media criticism scholars, there are five traits to hegemonic masculinity: power in physical force, occupational success, daring romantic/adventurous outdoorsman, patriarchy, and heterosexuality. Through this lens, the five leading men in Watchmen can have their masculine performance dissected and analyzed to the end of determining positive/heroic and negative/destructive attributes about masculinity in America.
While each of the characters share in performing traits of hegemonic masculinity, one character—Rorschach—depicts traits that are admirable, as well as tendencies that are destructive, when masculinity performed wholly. It is important to view Rorschach in the context of his environment and other characters to show why he in particular demonstrates masculinity in a way that can be admired.
The admiration for characters like Rorschach stem from an American affection for vigilante tradition: an authority that is subversive, powerful, yet uncorrupted. America still has affection for masked vigilante heroes, as seen in comics, and their depictions of masculinity reflect mediated norms.
Looking at how these vigilante men in Watchmen perform their masculinity, it becomes apparent that the same action can be performed with two different ends in mind and the action becomes definitively moral or amoral. Watchmen characters reveal that performed masculinity is more like a mask or role, but there is a specific morality that must drive performance in order to make masculinity either heroic or destructive.