Bystander Apathy

While Watchmen does not provide the full (or correct) story of Kitty Genovese, it does, however, show characters who seem to have been affected by this phenomena. If the Bystander effect, or apathy, were practiced by the main protagonists of Watchmen would hardly be prevailed upon to act in heroic ways. In fact, the entire cast of ‘heroes’ seemed to have formed based upon a reverse reaction to the prevalence of the bystander effect. The apathy shown to allow such rampant crime and corruption in their cities is what leads the characters to take on the masked life.

Still, the bystander effect has its place and practice within the Watchmen, and is even practiced by perhaps the most ‘super’ human; Dr. Manhattan.

(c)1986 Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
(c)1986 Alan Moore and David Gibbons

The implications of Dr.Manhattan being the only Watchmen to be the bystander of a crime without trying to rectify the situation shows his ability to both be the least guided by a strict sense of morality, and right from wrong. The other masked heroes all seem to be guided by the need to help those that cannot help themselves, and to strike back at the prevalent crime of their world.

Compare Dr. Manhattan’s actions with the Night Owls, and it begins to become apparent that mentality of the two characters are very different. Where one feels called to act on a sense of duty towards the general public and good, the other seems to be less concerned with humanity and is more guided by the commands of those in power. The bystander effect is broken when a person is either given a task to perform or acts independently of the societal expectations entirely. Dr. Manhattan is given orders when to step in, but it the characters like the Night Owl and Rorschach that operate based on these societal deviant notions that truly break the bystander effect.

(c) 1986 Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
(c) 1986 Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons