How Providence Gave Me a Headache While Reading “Watchmen”

One of the fastest growing series on philosophy that can easily be found in bookstores is from Blackwell Publishers, entitled “Pop Culture and Philosophy.” Titles include The Daily Show and Philosophy, Batman and Philosophy, and Monty Python and Philosophy. The primary target of these books are those fans who enjoy examining the minute aspects of their favorite pop-culture entities. While I was reading one volume, Seinfeld and Philosophy, I was reminded of an experience commonly shared only by Providence students: the Avodah reflection. While often these times of reflection last around 45 minutes, the idea of taking time to examine common cultural phenomenon is something that was instilled in me since my Freshman year at Providence. While I realize that I already possessed the capability of thinking through how pop culture reflects on our own society prior to college, it is quite a unique experience to, as a group of peers, take time to discuss various aspects of our shared experience in culture.

One reason that I believe that these pop culture philosophy books, which carefully examine elements in pop culture, have become quite successful is that there is a widespread desire to understand how movies, television or other forms of mass entertainment connect with us on a deeper level than just understanding why a movie or television formula successfully becomes a “hit.” This desire for understanding how and why pop culture connects with our generation is something that Christians, seeking to be creators in culture, can certainly strive to understand in order to be able to create narratives that can connect with the larger world.

Something often brought up in our script writing class at Providence is how formula does not, or should not translate into creative deficiency. While we can use a three act structure to guide us in creating a script that does not lag or lose momentum, this does not mean that we create cultural artifacts that are simplistic and reduced to a formula; it instead means that we can understand the basic framework so that we can be creative, unique storytellers.

Let me now address how the title relates to the topic of this article. I am in the process of reading Watchmen, one of the most highly acclaimed graphic novels in the form’s brief history and on Time Magazine’s top 100 novels list. The book deals with a variety of heavy topics, the largest of which is the value and place of human existence in the universe. While the profoundness of this topic has connected with readers around the world, I cannot help but feel as if my education at Providence is not somewhat to blame for why I cannot stop thinking about this aspect of the book. What left me with a headache was a quote from C.G. Jung in the ninth chapter of Watchmen: “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.” While before coming to Providence I may have dismissed that quote with a simple, “What a bunch of atheistic garbage,” I now address it in my mind with a multitude of questions: “What does he mean by meaning? What is he referring to by ‘the darkness’ in mere being? How, as a Christian, can I connect with such a phrase in light of total depravity and what God has called his elect to be in that darkness?” Beyond simply being able to articulate and address cultural questions raised in pop culture, there is a deep need in our culture for a visible and well thought out response from those who claim the name of Christ. It is certainly a shame if profound works that raise lingering questions must only come from the minds of those who reject the Creator. Yet, how can we break the mold of being stuck in a world where Christians only function culturally if they create their own separate sphere of creativity? Well, I think I am about to get another headache.