Let me begin by saying that I admire Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a lot. She’s not my representative, but I wish she were. So it was discouraging this morning to see the freshman Congresswoman from the Bronx quote the proto alt-right comic book vigilante Rorschach, from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ influential DC Comics series Watchmen on Twitter.
On Friday, civil rights lawyer Cristobal Alex shared a Politico piece with the headline “Exasperated Democrats try to rein in Ocasio-Cortez,” with praise directed towards Ocasio-Cortez (commonly abbreviated “AOC”).
“Let me try and save folks some time here,” Alex tweeted, “You cannot rein in Latinas. They rein you in. #YearOfTheLatina #FutureIsLatina”
AOC responded, quoting Rorschach from Watchmen:
“To quote Alan Moore: “None of you understand. I’m not locked up in here with YOU. You’re locked up in here with ME.” 🤣”
The quote comes from a little more than halfway through Watchmen, both the comic and Zack Snyder’s 2009 film. Rorschach — a brutal, masked vigilante who never fit in with his generation of crimefighters — says the quote when he’s locked up in prison and threatened by the same criminals he put away.
Because Rorschach is Rorshach, he violently beats them as a warning, burning one prisoner with hot soup. That’s when he says the line. The comic and movie differ in this regard: In Snyder’s film, you see Rorschach (played by Jackie Earle Haley) shout out the quote, but in Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’ comic, it’s revealed via a third-person account.
Honestly, it’s a badass line, and Ocasio-Cortez continues to show off her nerd cred (she’s previously revealed herself to be a big Star Trek and League of Legends fan). But like some other comic book fans, Ocasio-Cortez has demonstrated an apparent failure to grasp the meaning and nuance of the text. It’s also kind of bad optics, as AOC, a democratic socialist, basically evoked a character who was functionally alt-right decades before the internet helped united a new generation of xenophobic far-right conservatives.
I mean, as an example, here’s another quote from Rorschach in the comic:
“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.’”
Let’s not dwell on this so much. Really, this is less on AOC and more on Snyder, whose 2009 Watchmen is a beautifully shot, woefully misguided grasp of Moore and Gibbons’ original material. Then and now, Watchmen is a harsh critique of the superhero myth; that if Batman and Superman really existed, we should fear them, because people are flawed and broken and anyone who take up the responsibility to “save us all” are not to be trusted.
And Rorschach is the worst of them, although that’s hardly an exact measurement compared to other characters like the Comedian. Still, the Comedian didn’t drop off his journal onto the desks of what was basically a print newspaper version Breitbart at the end of the story.
That was the original message in Watchmen: Heroes are fallible in the most dangerous ways. But Snyder’s movie made all of them look as cool and badass as possible, as the majority of superhero movies tend to do, with little self-awareness. Also, he ruined Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Politics and comic books are historically intertwined; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s cool AOC is willing to get nerdy on Twitter, but with regard to this minor bump in the road, there’s another Watchmen quote I’m reminded of.
“Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.”