Rorschach – A character in fiction who speaks to me.

18 Oct

Kitty Genovese. New York. March 13, 1964. Stabbed. Attacked for over half-an-hour in the lobby of her apartment building.Thirty-eight neighbours heard the whole thing. No one called the police. No one helped. No one heard. No one saw.

Night I heard 38 people did nothing was night I put on this mask. Never wanted to see face in mirror again. Ashamed to be part of Human Race.” – Rorschach – Before Watchmen: Night Owl #2

38 people did nothing.

You are intended to be surprised, but you’re not, are you? Not really. You’re not surprised because, odds are in my favour to predict this, you are one of those 38 people.

You were not a Neighbour to Kitty Genovese when, in 1964, she was stabbed to death in the lobby of her apartment building…but

You ARE one of the 38. There will have been a time, more than one I’d wager, when you have seen something terrible, something that perhaps you could have even prevented. You did not. You walked away, you held your silence, you heard nothing and you saw nothing. You are one of the 38 people in Kitty’s apartment building…and

So am I.

I did nothing.

I did not see.

I did not hear.

More on this later…

This post started out a long time ago; I heard this audioboo from Nick Holloway (@NickHollowayVox) and it got me thinking…

There are lots of characters from literature that speak to me, but there is one whose voice I hear louder and clearer than all the others. His name is Rorschach, from Alan Moore’s superb graphic novel, The Watchmen.


For those of you who haven’t read it, The Watchmen takes place in an alternative and highly distopian 1985, where the planet stands on the brink of nuclear oblivion as the Cold War threatens to heat up. In America, masked anti-heroes have taken up the cause of justice as the state fails in it’s response to increasing levels of civil unrest and anarchy.

Amongst these ‘masks’, The Watchmen, is Rorschach, so-called because of the constantly shifting ink blots that form his mask.

Those of you who are familiar with moore’s work are forgiven a little surprise at the fact this is the character I would cite as speaking most to me. It is fair to say that he has some personality quirks that I do not share:

  • Rorschach is about as Right Wing as it’s possible to be, while I’m a bit of an unrepentent Lefty;
  • Rorschach is antisocial to the point of self-imposed issolation, I have been known to quite enjoy the company of others; and
  • Rorschach is violent in the extreme, while I always seek to avoid conflict wherever possible.

At this point it is worth addressing a commonly repeated slight on the character of Rorschach, which writes him off as a sociopath. We humans like our labels, but this label seems too harshly applied to a character a lot more complex than that. There are certainly several aspect of Rorschach’s character that would single him out as having an antisocial behaviour disorder – at one point other characters recall he throws a deluded, but innocent, man down an elevator shaft – but other elements, that would suggest otherwise. Sociopath or not, he still speaks to me. At the heart of the reason for this is compromise…

We all compromise, it’s part of our humanity. Our innate capacity for compromise makes us adept and effective at collaboration. Collaboration is a good thing, it’s largely how we better the whole species. Sometimes we compromise too much; at the expense of ourselves, at the expense of others, we become like Kitty’s neighbours, because it’s easier to do nothing. It’s easier to hear nothing. I compromise too much, I always have. Rorschach knows nothing of compromise.

Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon. – Rorschach, The Watchmen

*Spoiler Alert*Even though Rorschach knows that Ozymandias’ plan, to foster a world peace by providing a common threat for the leaders of the world, will be highly effective, he will not compromise his beliefs. Rather than accept the brave new world created by Ozymandias, a world that his masked comrades are willing to accept, however distasteful, Rorschach cannot. There is no doubt in his mind when he steps from Veidt’s antarctic lair into the snow that his destruction, at the hands of Dr Manhatten, is assured…

The panel of Dr Manhattan disassembling Rorschach, leaving him nothing more than a smear of blood and deconstructed bone on the antarctic ice, still affects me every time I read it. It’s powerful, such sacrifice. Rorschach becomes a true hero in my eyes…We compromise too much, but we don’t need to. Whether we recognise it or not, there is a little bit of Rorschach in all of us.

I’ve always been drawn to them. Drawn to those people who stand out from the vast sea of our collective compromises. They stand up, they shout out, they attack what they believe is wrong. Often they are overlooked, marginalised, fragmented, disassembled and even killed. They know this is a possibility, a likelihood, but they do it anyway, but themselves at risk, in danger, rather than compromise their beliefs. Never compromise, not even in the face of armageddon.

For too long I’ve been a neighbour of Kitty Genovase. I have seen nothing. I have heard nothing.

No more! I’m making a concerted effort to be more Rorschach-like.

I will be bold…

It’s started already. Here’s something that I wrote recently: On The Abuse of Power.

The City is afraid of me,
I have seen its true face. – Rorschach


4 Responses to “Rorschach – A character in fiction who speaks to me.”

  1. Richard Veevers October 22, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

    I was going to comment on the rather excellent and provocative Camp-Camp post. Then I saw the name Rorschach and found myself posting here. My favourite line in Watchmen is one of my favourite lines in literature

    “None of you seem to understand.
    I’m not locked in here with you,
    you’re locked in here with me!”

    taken in context, it defines an attitude and approach to life that is to me, unfathomable yet deeply aspirational.


    • paulcoxon81 October 22, 2012 at 11:32 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, beautifully put: unfathomable and deeply aspirational, I totally agree.



  1. Rorschach – A character in fiction who speaks to me. | weeklyblogclub - October 21, 2012

    […] Rorschach – A character in fiction who speaks to me by Paul Coxon. […]


  2. The answer to life, the universe and everything? | weeklyblogclub - October 22, 2012

    […] I am not very familiar with The Watchmen but I suspect the focus of Paul Coxon’s post  – Rorschach – A character in fiction who speaks to me – would not have looked out of place at Lindsay’s Zombie run (though whether he would have […]


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