Why Doctor Manhattan’s big blue penis matters.
November 8, 2019 2:02 PM   Subscribe

Doctor Manhattan has often been defined by or reduced to just his penis and blazing cerulean nudity, like what happened toward the end of this episode. But thinking his nakedness is just a matter of sex is a shallow fallacy. His constant, shameless nudity has prompted deeper conversations among readers about something that seems so superficial. And as we see in this episode, even a gigantic vibrator meant to recall Doctor Manhattan can tell us a lot about another character: Laurie.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (30 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

Companion reading: How Watchmen Designed a Superhero Sex Toy, an interview with the producer/writer who came up with the idear.

(And if you're enjoying The Watchmen, perhaps as a show with more to offer than just big blue dick jokes, please do join our discussion on Fanfare.)
posted by Nelson at 2:07 PM on November 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

tl;dr--the plate is the size of Captain America's shield, and the beans are blue.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:29 PM on November 8, 2019 [8 favorites]

This is the cultural appropriation of Smurf porn.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:35 PM on November 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is a collectible more aligned with my interests than action figures or funkos!
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 2:41 PM on November 8, 2019 [9 favorites]

Easily the best new show of the fall.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:01 PM on November 8, 2019

I'd forgotten this show was coming out.

... I see in the Fanfare threads that people seem to like it, but from an outside perspective, this post makes it sound like they're just trying to troll Alan Moore as hard as they can.
posted by painquale at 3:13 PM on November 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

You know, I had always figured the size of Dr. Manhattan's junk was a nod to the size of the junk on Classical Greek statuary, which is often viewed by modern Europeans as being above all those paltry concerns about size. But the Greeks had their own aesthetic opinions about dick size, too. There's all this argument about what a perfectly neutral dick for Dr. Manhattan would look like, but the truth is that there can be no neutral dick: human bodies are variable, and genitalia are no exception. So there are two things that a character could do if he wanted to make a statement about not caring about his human body: he could manifest precisely the dick he had before he lost his original body, out of convenience, or he can eschew humanity entirely and manifest only the body parts that seem most convenient at any given time. If you opt for the first choice, like "is he cut or not?" suddenly become relevant again, because those kinds of things are shaped heavily by his family circumstances and the time he's born in and so forth. If you argue, then, that Dr. Manhattan did not manifest exactly the same dick he had in his original body, you argue that he does care about the way he embodies himself and the self he chooses to convey with his humanoid body. And if he does care enough to produce precisely the same dick, what does that say about the importance of a body to self-image?

Here's a question: if the character is intended to think himself so inhuman that he is no longer bothered by petty concerns about clothing or genital size, and he has complete control over his own physical form, why bother to have a dick at all? You certainly can't get away with ignoring human opinions with respect to genital aestheticism if you bother to provide them, and you get far more complaints about nudity if you bother having a dick out than if you just remove it from your form. Sure, he has sex, but it wouldn't take any more effort to manifest himself a dick when he's actively ready to use it. Why not manifest different bodily configurations as is convenient? Why not shuck the concept of a human body plan entirely? The only real answer seems to be sentiment, albeit sentiment that Dr. Manhattan himself chooses to ignore and de-emphasize.

The choice that Dr. Manhattan makes to keep having a penis, even as he chooses to flout human cultural norms in the service of his belief in his own godhood, tells you something about the character as he is, too. It tells us that he's not as detached from humanity as he might otherwise like to think, and certainly that his body and the configuration it takes means something to him, despite all protests.
posted by sciatrix at 3:36 PM on November 8, 2019 [53 favorites]

So, I’m not able to watch the show, but I have to give props for the DEVO shout-out in the episode title.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:54 PM on November 8, 2019

The choice that Dr. Manhattan makes to keep having a penis,

Technically this is a choice that almost all of us who start off with one also make regularly.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:27 PM on November 8, 2019 [13 favorites]

Interesting take, sciatrix. I had always assumed it was residual self image a la The Matrix: He mentally thinks of himself as be-dicked, so the corporeal form he mentally assembled has one.
(In contrast, the Matrix character Switch is male-bodied in meatspace, and female in cyberspace, which bases its constructs on the user's own self-image. Switch obviously thinks of themselves as female, thus they're represented as female inside The Matrix.) So that's the size and type of dick he subconsciously thinks of himself as having, rather than a choice.

Either that, or that it migt be Comic Book Science, based on the experiments with an object's "Intrinsic Field" that created Dr. Manhattan. Assuming that I.F. is understood as some kind of "the shape of this chair, but with all the atoms removed: it's the I.F. that gives it chair-ness, not the atoms".
There's some precedence for this in Comics Science Gibberish, like with the character Animal Man, who can take on the powers of animals (jump like a flea, hold breath like a seal, etc) by "tapping into The Morphogenic Field" of the animal in question, implying that birds can fly because they resonate Bird-ness, not because they have wings.
In that case, Dr. Manhattan can take no form other than his own body's before his atomic disassembly, since the only thing that allowed the reassembly was his original Intrinsic Field.
Or I dunno. Comics! Are! Weird!
posted by bartleby at 4:34 PM on November 8, 2019 [11 favorites]

The decision to be a super-fit giant is right in keeping with manifesting a dick. I would say someone who manifests in such a form is definitely going to be saying something with the genitals attached (or not) to it.
posted by maxwelton at 5:10 PM on November 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

My favorite one-liner from all the penis hubbub back in the day:

"I can see lower Manhattan from here!"
posted by davelog at 6:20 PM on November 8, 2019 [19 favorites]

I do appreciate the question of what it means that Dr. Manhattan is circumcised. The original comic's art really is not detailed enough to be clear on whether he is or not. But Zach Snyder, bless his homoerotic heart, left no doubt that not only does God exist and is American, but he's also American-penised.

But it turns out also that Jon Osterman, the hapless scientist who becomes Dr. Manhattan, is of Jewish origin. (As established in one of the Before Watchmen comics, which I have not bothered to read. Those are apparently Not Canon for the TV show but meh, I'll go with it.)

So what does that mean? A man becomes God, invents an idealized form for himself. Gives himself a nice big dick because hey, why not. But then does he circumcise it to honor a covenant.. with himself? I'm no expert in Jewish law but I think he'd have to actually cut it for it to count; no good just fashioning yourself a pre-circumcised penis. No doubt some Rabbi has worked the details of this question out already.

Back to the original subject of this post; the Dr. Manhattan vibrator. I love that it exists in-universe. They exist in our universe too, albeit in a different form. I love the TV show's sleek design, the smooth aluminum. The ambitious size may or may not be a big deal, vibrators don't require penetration to be useful.
posted by Nelson at 6:39 PM on November 8, 2019 [6 favorites]

Oh, I forgot to contrast the lengthy legacy of the Man-hatt-dong with the short lived tale of the Bat-manhood. That time they published Batman's joint.
posted by bartleby at 9:05 PM on November 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

No doubt some Rabbi has worked the details of this question out already.

Oh of course. And another Rabbi has worked out the details in exactly the opposite way and somehow they're both right.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:13 PM on November 8, 2019 [9 favorites]

Metalander: There can be no neutral dick
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:13 PM on November 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

presumably Veidt had to have one of his Mr. Phillips clones...docked for the role in his play
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:16 PM on November 8, 2019

But thinking his nakedness is just a matter of sex is a shallow fallacy.

I see what you did there.
posted by funkiwan at 9:20 PM on November 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

Was a fanatic for the book, still haven't seen the show. I was very weirded out to learn that Laurie would choose the last name Blake as some sort of tribute to the man who raped her mother (Uh, no?) and now I find out she's apparently still pining for the blue dick of the superman she was already quite done with before the book was over. I mean, it didn't seem like she'd grown to hate him or anything, but they were done. She recognized that he wasn't human anymore, and whatever romantic love she'd had for him was gone. She'd moved on to something much healthier and happier with Dan. They were going off to be mutually supportive partners, fighting crime and having kinky owlship sex in the sky. But, now she's Laurie Blake, banging a Dr. Manhattan dildo? It doesn't just sound absurdly grim, it sounds like the last stuff she'd ever do. It's kind of like finding out that Rick from Casablanca eventually joined the nazis, or that Luke Skywalker eventually became... well, that Last Jedi guy.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:01 AM on November 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Here's a question: if the character is intended to think himself so inhuman that he is no longer bothered by petty concerns about clothing or genital size, and he has complete control over his own physical form, why bother to have a dick at all?

Narritively, the transition from Jon Osterman to Dr. Manhattan isn't instantaneous. It's takes decades, from 1945 to get to the giant blue god of 1985. It's as the quote from Laurie, says, after a while Osterman forgets why something is important on an emotional level (because his emotions aren't human anymore), or realizes it isn't important to him anymore and stops doing it. One of the big things happening in the original Watchmen comic is Osterman realizing that he doesn't really understand human relationships in a meaningful way anymore (long after it's obvious to others he really hasn't for a long time). He is though a creature of habits. Laurie, painfully has to go through the realization that her relationship is much more one of habit for Manhattan than the engagement and love of a partner. He has a dick at this point mostly because that's the habit of hetro couples.

Laurie is one of his last mooring points to being even notionally human. Would a Dr. Manhattan of 2045 look human anymore? Maybe so, maybe not. But I will certainly bet that he loses the habit for it at some point.
posted by bonehead at 7:37 AM on November 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

I purposely did not click on any links or do any Googling because I wanted to see what I could figure out from just this page alone, having no ancient or recent connection with the Doctor.
Not too much, but I guess I'm going to have to consume some Watchmen in one medium or the other if it sparks such a discussion.
posted by MtDewd at 8:19 AM on November 9, 2019

If you're new to Watchmen start with the original comic; any published version of it is fine (except the annotated version, which is not in color). The Absolute Edition is very nicely printed. If you really want video, the motion comic adaptation is OK. The other choice to start is the Zack Snyder movie from 2009. I liked it myself but it leaves a lot out and most fans hate it.

Anyway, the original comic is a masterpiece and worth enjoying on its own merits. The TV show is shaping up to be excellent but seems to be much more rewarding if you already know the original characters and story.
posted by Nelson at 8:31 AM on November 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Alan Moore has got to regret the whole blue dick thing like, so much by now, if only because it seems to be the #1 thing most people remember

Yeah, Alan Moore is all "Look, I did a scene where children are raped for larfs, why cant people focus on the stuff I like?"

Honestly, focusing on Dr. Manhattan's big blue penis is probably heathier than talking about any of the creepy times Moore has written about sexuality.
posted by happyroach at 1:57 PM on November 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

I lost touch with Moore's work sometime in the 90s and when I've checked out his newer stuff it just seems incoherent to me. I have no idea what the raping children thing refers to. But I'll stand by Watchmen, as a work of art in general and for its depiction of Laurie in particular.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:10 PM on November 9, 2019

You could say that the new Watchmen show is nothing more than a dick-measuring contest between Damon Lindelof and Alan Moore, right?
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:17 PM on November 9, 2019

Maybe? Moore is famously hostile to anyone doing anything with the Watchmen property and is still angry at (he feels) being cheated out of the rights to the characters. Many fans side with Moore and were mad about the Snyder movie and the Before Watchmen comics. But maybe not this show, it's too early to tell. But Lindelhof understands the drama and wrote a really excellent letter to fans where he conveys his respect for Moore and the work. Not just in words, but also in the way the letter is written and demonstrates his deep knowledge of the comic. It worked on me at least.

As for Moore and raping children, I suspect that in part refers to his graphic novel Lost Girls.
posted by Nelson at 5:25 PM on November 9, 2019

Nah, I'm talking about League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It says something about a writer when you can say "No, his OTHER novel featuring child rape."
posted by happyroach at 8:38 PM on November 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don't know Moore's work at all, but if there is indeed an issue with child rape, that makes his creation of a giant character with a giant penis who has sex with women of normal stature look a lot like child rape in disguise.
posted by jamjam at 2:02 AM on November 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Watchmen comic is really not like that. It definitely features rape, it's a key plot point in the books, and some folks have a problem with the way that plot line is resolved. But it's a thoughtful and adult treatment of sexual assault and not in any way played for titillation. Doesn't involve Dr. Manhattan either, and his partnership with Laurie is depicted very differently from some child/adult thing. In many ways Dr. Manhattan is the naive one, with no clue what is going on in their relationship (mostly because he's stopped caring about humans). Laurie's the best written character in the books (IMHO) and can definitely handle herself.

Lost Girls is problematic. The whole book is a series of sexual fantasies involving adolescent girls, characters from fiction like Wendy (Peter Pan), Dorothy (Oz), and Alice. It reminds me a bit of a certain kind of gay men's writing about pederasty from the early 20th century. It's a smarter book than that, Moore isn't just writing a wank fantasy for himself and his wife-illustrator. There's more going on, but it was kind of lost on me. I read it once and found it kinda creepy and haven't revisited it.

I haven't read League of Extraordinary Gentlemen so I've got no idea what's there, but ugh.
posted by Nelson at 6:53 AM on November 10, 2019

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but is when they discover the invisible man, he's lugging in an all girls boarding school and trapping the girls in a regular basis. It's been a while, so I can't remember, but he's thigh if in a religious context by the petite who run the school and have no idea of who he is. It's made to seem amusing in a horrible Victorian sort of way, which is how a great deal of the humor is intentionally crafted.

Spoilers after this:

The invisible man later dies due to bodily harm he experiences while being the victim of sexual assault. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be his comeuppance, for this or later things he does, but it is something that struck me as he was introduced as raping teenagers and leaves the narrative as the victim of rape.
posted by Hactar at 6:06 PM on November 10, 2019

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