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Gayscape: Watchmen and the Dr. Manhattan Penis Panic

Thursday 12th March 2009 by Eric Diaz

So Watchmen mania has hit, for better or worse, depending on your feelings on the movie. This isn’t going to be an article about whether Watchmen was a good movie or not, there are plenty of places that discuss that on the internet (like the Geekscape Forums! Join Up Now!! Don’t ever say I don’t do my part fellas). Nope, this article is going to be all about Dr. Manhattan’s Big Blue Penis and the hilarious, yet often sad, reactions to it all across the nation.

To say that America has deep, deep issues about sex is something of an understatement. This country was famously founded by the Puritans, a group of people so stiff they even made the British uncomfortable. As a culture, we are both obsessed and repelled by sexuality. American men consume pornography on the same scale that American kids consume Lucky Charms cereal (your humble author consumes both equally). Sexuality is used to sell everything. Not too long ago, we had a half naked Paris Hilton used to sell Carl’s Jr. Hamburgers. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want my food to be sexy, thanks. And yet, this is the same country that was nearly brought down by a half second of Janet Jackson’s nipple back in 2004. At this year’s recent Wonder Con in San Francisco, Terminator Salvation director McG said he’s currently fighting with the studio to get the movie an R rating instead of a PG-13. The scenes in question don’t involve any of the brutal violence that I’m sure the flick is filled with, but with a couple of topless shots of an actress. The message? Blood and Guts = Good, Boobies =Bad. Or, in the case of Watchmen, glowing penis =Bad.

Now, I’m not one of those people who wants to remove violence from films. I’m a horror, geek after all, and I love me a little wanton violence on the big screen. Nor am I one of those people who think children are mindless zombies who mimic every single thing they see on screen. Good parenting will prevent that from every being an issue. But let’s say I were one of those worried parents, so concerned about Hollywood shaping my child’s precious little thoughts, then the truth would be that I would rather have them see onscreen sex than violence any day. After all, I’d hope they’d grow up to have lots of sex one day, just as I hope when they grow up they never take a meat cleaver to someone’s head.

Which brings us to Watchmen, a movie where one of the main characters, Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) is seen more often than not walking around buck naked, with his CGI penis in full view. This has caused many a commentary to be made on the old internets. What’s funny is that the obsession with Dr. Manhattan’s blue penis is not just coming from giggling insecure guys in the audience, but from almost every critic who has written a review of this movie. Just scour Rotten Tomatoes or Meta Critic, and you’ll see. And again, It doesn’t matter if it’s a review praising or damning the movie. The reviewer in question will almost always make a snide remark about the “gratuitous” big blue dick. In fairness, the sex scene between Nite Owl and Silk Spectre was also called gratuitous by many a reviewer as well, although it seemed pretty tame to me. (It’s just people having fake sex folks. Get a grip) But it was Dr. Manhattan’s glowing blue schlong that got the most press.

But is the lower Manhattan really that gratuitous? I suppose if the camera was focusing on Manhattan’s junk every time he spoke, then it would be. But the truth is, there is a very unsexual nature to his nudity. (Another thing that’s hard for people to grasp: nudity does not always equal sex.) He’s just naked because he doesn’t care anymore. Vanity or shame in regard to one’s naked body is a socialized human attribute (in industrial cities), one that Jon Osterman moved on from when he pulled himself back together after the accident and became a higher life form. Besides, it’s not like he would get cold or hot anymore. Unless he’s at a social function like a funeral or appearing on a television show, why would he even bother with clothes? His nudity, and lack of concern about it, is an important visual character cue.

At the screening of Watchmen I went to (as well as screenings attended by certain friends who told me similar stories of their movie going experiences), it seems there is always some guy who has to loudly yell out in protest every time Manhattan shows up naked. “Aww, nah man, put that shit away!” or other words to that effect. It’s like by letting the audience of strangers know they are protesting this flagrantly offensive onscreen dick, then everyone will know for sure he’s not gay or something. And really, that is what it is all about, the knee jerk homophobia of the young American male.  You might argue it’s just outrage at onscreen nudity, but I don’t remember anyone saying a word in protest when Rebecca Romijn was naked and blue in the X-Men movies. So let’s not pretend it is anything else.

And all of this Dr. Manhattan-induced penis panic has left me to wonder if so much of our society’s homophobia is due to the way male sexuality has essentially been hidden from view for much of the past several decades. Female nakedness (or more often half nakedness) is used to sell everything from the previously mentioned cheeseburgers to car parts. Equally hot and nearly naked men are not used to sell similar products to women in nearly the same measure, even though women are over 50% of the population. The reason is simple; straight men still run the world, and that includes almost everything to do with advertising.  These men aren’t going to push a hot male model to sell to the female demographic. Why remind their wives and girlfriends how hot they aren’t? All this does is reinforce the notion among young men that the male figure is somehow gross and disgusting, (unless it’s their own of course) despite almost 3000 years of classical art telling us otherwise. Well, classical art and Zack Snyder’s other flick 300, but that’s a whole other article.

I can only hope that with the release of Watchmen in all of its big blue glory, some people might, just might, examine what it is about someone else’s penis that they find so threatening, even when it’s blue and rendered by a computer, and maybe someone will catch themselves mid-thought are realize just how ridiculous they are being. If Dr. Manhattan’s dick has any kind of legacy, I hope it is simply making people realize just how silly their preoccupation with it is in the first place.