The stage: An entire nation finds itself underneath apparent, yet unchecked, mass surveillance conducted by its own government. Political pundits shout—constantly shout—about “immigrants, homosexuals, and Muslims” on television. Terrorism is a subtle, yet pervasive threat; the word hangs in the back of people’s minds regardless of where they live. The mask of Guy Fawkes, once an obscure reference, is used as an attempted symbol of justice in a society that has seen too much corruption at the top for too long…
Which world is described here? The one in the epic graphic novel and equally epic film, V for Vendetta… or ours?
If you’re uncertain, then now is the time to pick up the classic story.
While it may seem like an absurd stretch to say our world is like the one in V for Vendetta, which is ruled by a leader with no empathy or remorse, brainwashed by the voice of “Fate,” and ordered by the authoritarian brutality of the Fingermen, keep in mind that when Alan Moore and David Lloyd first collaborated on the graphic novel, they were commenting on their own society: 1980s England. A time and place that saw, according to Moore himself, “unbroken Conservative leadership… the idea of concentration camps for persons with AIDS… new riot police [with] black visors…” and a government that had “expressed a desire to eradicate homosexuality…”
Also keep in mind that when Moore wrote his introduction to the graphic novel in March of ’88, he referred to his country as “cold” and “mean-spirited,” and was even thinking of “taking [his] family and getting out…”
“a nation of people, who let their liberties slip away for too long…”
Yes, V for Vendetta is an extreme case, but it highlights what’s wrong with this world as well as any fictional narrative ever has. It’s a story about V, a man figuratively and literally poisoned by those in power, seeking vengeance. It’s a story about a young woman, Evey, finding out what the difference between happiness and freedom is. But most importantly, it’s a story about people, a nation of people, who let their liberties slip away for too long, before finally realizing that they have none left.
V is the perfect victor, the perfect voice, and the perfect villain for today’s world because he’s not just “a good guy” fighting “a bad guy.” Yes, the Leader and the Larkhill officials like Bishop Lilliman, Prothero, and Delia Surridge, have all committed heinous crimes. But V doesn’t target people; he targets evil. He targets the evil—the laziness, the fear, the acquiescence—that takes a hold of all of us at one point or another. In the graphic novel he gives the people watching him on television at home his most furious speech, claiming that while, yes, “The management is terrible,” it was the citizenry “who appointed these people… who gave them the power to make your decisions for you.” He says, looking right at the people, right at us, “You could have stopped them.”
“‘the only thing in the world that’s worth having.'”
But V does not easily pass as a hero. Even though his attacks aim to strike fear into the hearts of those that form an obscene governmental authority, he is still, by definition, a terrorist. And therefore, even though he has superhuman strength, superhuman intellect, and superhuman willpower, when it comes to his sense of justice, he is still only human.
But his idea is what matters.
The idea that’s gifted to us by V is the same one he gifts to Evey. He takes away everything from her when he locks her away in that cold underground cell, when he shaves her head and makes her eat with the rats. He takes everything away from her to show her the bars around her life, which she couldn’t see before. He takes everything from her so she can find an inch. The same inch that we must find. The inch that is small and fragile and “the only thing in the world that’s worth having.” That inch is our dignity, our empathy, and our hope. And right now, that inch is the thing that reminds us that we have value even when it feels like we don’t; when it feels like voting or protesting may as well be whispering into the wind.
And therein lies the best reason to watch or read V for Vendetta right now. Both the graphic novel and the film subject us to sadness and horror and a dystopian future, but they also deliver, in a powerful way, a message of hope.
We are electing the President of the most powerful nation on Earth come November. Who will be made our leader, who we will allow to have authority over us, will be the result of our actions or our indifference. If we fail in our task to protect ourselves, our sanity, and our liberties, what price will we pay? What will the children, the “poor little mites,” learn from us if we give into, what V says, in reference to all tyrannical leaders in history, is “bullying,” “cowardice,” and “fondly nurtured bigotries”?
It will be our responsibility to fight against those evil forces that wish to usurp authority over us, and it will be our responsibility for the fallout if we elect somebody who is self-serving, conniving, and ignorant. And while any one of us is only a tiny fraction of the force V is, each one of us can still do something to stop that brewing madness on the horizon. If we all act together—vote, speak our minds, and protest peacefully—we can come together to be more valuable than V. We can be more visionary than V. We can be more venerated than V. More viable than V! More valiant than V! More venturesome and vernal and vibrant than V! Even more victorious than V! While at the same time being much, much less violent.
The film, which was adapted for the screen by the Wachowskis (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) and features a stellar cast that includes Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, and John Hurt, is streaming on Netflix now. You can also probably find the graphic novel at any local comic book shop, although be careful with it: you never know when the Fingermen will come looking for a reason to lock you up.
But if you’re thinking “Sucks to the Fingermen, I’m going to tell people what I think,” then speak your mind regarding V for Vendetta and how it parallels the current political climate. Are we headed for a bright future lit by people-power, or a long turbulent period strained by unprecedented inequality? Make your mark in the comments section below!
Images: Warner Bros. Pictures