(WATCHMEN SPOILER ALERT)
A week after seeing WATCHMEN I’m still disturbed about the pantextual associations behind the “hate crime” killing of Silhouette, a lesbian superhero from the first generation (the Minutemen) who lives and dies in the opening “Times they Are a Changin'” credit sequence. After wowing audiences with a great V-Day sapphic kiss she’s next seen as the victim of a ritual murder; dead in the arms of her lover, bullet holes in their temples and the words “Lesbian Whores” written across the wall in blood. The incident is never mentioned again until Rorschach(Jackie Earle Haley) hazily recalls that Silhouette and her friend were “killed by their own depraved lifestyle.” In other words, none of the original Minutemen felt it necessary to avenge her death; it was “deserved” somehow.
I looked around on the web to see if anyone else thought this reeked of unconscious homophobic misogyny, and found only one brave soul over on feminsiting.com:
While the film did show the dead bodies of other superheroes after their “fall”, I have a hard time understanding how two superhero(in)es could be killed (and possibly raped) by what appear to be ordinary men.
I personally don’t think Zach Snyder meant to be callous or hateful–the post-WW2 era was fraught with homophobia after all, and the grisly tableau was presumably meant to be another Weegee-like photo atrocity reflecting a violent and intolerant America–we’re supposed to feel sad and not misogynistic but misanthropic, our opinion of the “common folk” and their barbaric Puritan mores sinking further with every passing tableau–but I wonder whether the Alan Moore original (which I haven’t read) is a little more sensitive to misogyny’s many subliminal tentacles: the idea that a superhero’s lesbianism somehow makes her not only vulnerable to, but somehow deserving of, a bullet from some paltry human sex killer subtextually validates lesbianism as a crime against nature. Snyder may be meaning to shock us with the brutality of American conservatism, but in doing so he’s also upholding the status quo, in the typical faux-subversive style of most exploitation. A violent rapist like the Comedian is mourned, his death investigated, but Silhouette’s is just chalked up to Old Testament-style wrath.
As with most of the events in the film, the lesbian murder tableaux has roots not just in American history but in cinematic history as well, most notably the double homicide of the lesbian lovers in Russ Meyer’s BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (left). Much as I love the film, the coldness with which our sapphic lovers are dispatched at the film’s climax seem to me needlessly brutal (especially with the phallic correctional gun in the mouth). Adding to the idea that their murders were “deserved” is the way their friends instantly forget about them once their whiny crippled manager can suddenly walk again, and the ending narration that notes: “Theirs was not an evil love, but evil came because of it.” Huh? They got killed because Lance (Michael Blodgett) wouldn’t put out for Z-Man. Why doesn’t the narration say that “Lance’s prudish heterosexuality caused the death of two innocents”? Crazy as it sounds, that’s much closer to the truth.
In the sexy 1974 Euro-horror VAMPYRES, the lead vamps are a pair of women who are shot down in a similar fashion before the credits, but the idea that they deserved it never really comes across (undoubtedly the film’s European pedigree means it’s a bit more sophisticated) At any rate, they “live” afterwards and wreak plenty of vengeance on the dull Brit swingers who pass their way. But like the girls of BOUND (left), they’re an exception. Even lesbian-produced films like GASOLINE end with the lovers dying violently, as if it’s just “how it’s gotta be.”
Note the subtext in this Vancouver Sun headline: “Apollonia Vanova: Actress with a dark side goes darker still in Watchmen.” What on earth is “darker” about being a gay superhero? Again, we’re clearly in unconscious associative territory. We might be “liberal” but our deep-seated sexual repression still manifests itself in our every word… even in Vancouver!
I know moral ambiguity is part of the point and I don’t mean to criticize WATCHMEN, which I found otherwise inspiring in its post-ironic fascist viciousness. Instead, I’m criticizing the subtext–wherein the straight male audience is pandered to in this hypocritical have-your-cake-and-purge-it-too manner. The lesbian V-Day kiss is for the blue states; the subsequent double murder is like the follow-up pandering to appease the red states (I can see a slavering crowd in Alabama cheering the bloody “Lesbian Whores” tableau the way my fellow New Yorkers cheered the V-day kiss when I saw it in the theater). If we’re cheered up/turned on by the lipstick lesbian kiss, we’re “cleansed” of association with it by the subsequent murder. Contrast this with male gay relationships in films like MILK or PHILADELPHIA, wherein the slings and arrows of homophobia are what makes our heroes stronger, and their deaths serve as inspiration for a new age of tolerance. With lipstick lesbians it’s reversed: we are encouraged to leer away while congratulating ourselves on being so open-minded, at the same time confident in the inevitable “payment due” for these chicks’ rejection of the Almighty Phallus.
Of course “we” don’t condone these killings–we’re horrified by them–but at
the same time we dismiss them; what else did they expect after flaunting their “abnormality”? It’s that sort unconscious association that keeps us mired to the red state dark ages whether we know it or not. Every time we use the word “slut” or “whore” in a negative context we’re reinforcing our own collective sexual strait-jacketing. For all its alleged swinger hedonism, America is still a very repressed place; our puritanism runs so deep that WATCHMEN–despite its best satirical intentions–unwittingly endorses the same reactionary sexual violence it so scathingly critiques.