It’s dreadfully boring. For starters.
Viewed artistically, V for Vendetta is simply not there. It’s a reflection. A phantom of better work. In a better world, it would sleep at the bottom of the B-Movie DVD rack. In a better world, V for Vendetta might only be heard from again in some cheap Sunday marathon.
But the point at hand is that we do not live in a better world.
And, as an Anarchist, I am distinctly aware of this. Would that I could address this movie through some lens of absolute artistic criticism. But V for Vendetta was never meant to stand on its own. Borrowed entirely from works such as 1984 and The Count Of Monte Cristo, neither is V for Vendetta an agile surrealist impression.
Instead of ponying up some direct political motivation, the movie occupies an uncomfortable middle ground. One might say it “cops out.” If this attempt to straddle all artistic operandi ever demonstrates a particular agility it is one that smacks of sluggish and defensive fear rather than adroit ability. It fails as a stylish action flick. It fails as a nuanced and loving homage. It fails as a rebellious political film. And most of all it fails as a hybrid.
But it still falls to me to pull off and dissect what gristle remains. I am, as it is unfortunately relevant, an Anarchist. And there’s just no getting around that crimson circle V. The twisted iconography makes this inevitable.
When Alan Moore wrote the original graphic novel (of which, I must admit, I only really read the first half) the alteration was both concise and understandable. Moore wanted to craft a quick English lovesong without the unbounded modern optimism of Bakunin, Goldman or de Cleyre. Moore wanted the droll Victorian conflict of the broken man. His narrative needed the nihilism of oily British sludge under wheel and the fiery passion of an antiglobalist Edmond Dantès. Moore moonlights as a literary fanboy so the alliterary and metaphorical power of the sharpened and inverted (V) was perfect. The balanced and intrepid (A) plummeted to coldest depth, unbalanced, inverted and cast down.
The frigid corpse of Anarchism’s hope.
If one should but for a moment doubt my connection between such a fable and the popularly unwieldy yet historically vast political movement, one need only watch the damn thing. It’s an upside-down circle-fucking-A. The masked protagonist is at his most adept when he’s quoting our beloved dead old white guys. Hell, when Emma Goldman’s infamous ‘can’t dance: no revolution’ paraphrase is used to drive a dramatic scene just about my entire fucking theater groaned. I shit you not.
Let’s not tiptoe around the damned thing. V for Vendetta is gonna live and die on the back of the Anarchist movement.
Though nothing it says may be anyway unique or monopolized by Anarchism, when it comes time to point fingers of analysis there’s simply nobody else at the table. When folks critique the movie driving home they won’t see the geekily preserved afterimages of a literary homage. It’s Anarchism they’re gonna see. It’s images of our violence in Seattle that they will be mentally critiquing.
And let’s be frank. Being no friend of the British political system, watching Parliament get ceremoniously blown to little chunks was a delicious tactile feast for my eyes. It’s worth the price of admission alone. I swear I almost fucking drooled. What was that about our Tea Party you Tory Redcoat sonsofbitches? Here’s your fucking legacy of democracy. Here’s your elitist enlightened European tradition. Eat it. Eat it for fucking tea time you arrogant gits.
Fact of the matter is I’m something of a fan of violence.
And though the recent NY Times article that dotingly labeled Anarchists as simply “Quakers who cuss a lot” had it more or less spot on, we also have a history of believing in the right to fight back. And if the state, the corporatist system … if the very act of holding power over one’s fellow man is to be universally considered an unimaginable act of violence, then burning a few slave plantations to the ground is but self defense.
Of course “Anarchy” proper has as little to do with violence as it does with chaos. But a century and a half of propaganda from both greedy robber baron and power-hungry communist has laid us a rather inescapable bed.
“Propaganda Through The Deed.” How those unfortunate words still ring today. It’s like terrorism except instead of terrorizing “the people” it’s supposed to terrorize the “government.”
Rather than precise and tactically responsive violence, rather than direct resistance, it is the repositioning of violence from the physical to the psychological. Where the act of violence is not initiated to break external chains but to provoke internal reaction. Though, like all evil tactics, it may prove necessary in some situation, it’s important to note its dramatic contrast to regular and external resistance.
When one commits acts of ‘symbolic’ violence like say just destroying a statue (if we are to accept for the moment the perception that acts against ‘passive’ matter are violent), the intended action is a direct assault on internalized psychological constructs. It is done to force a mindset on its victims. Whether to supposedly uplift (by breaking mistaken concept that state violence is legitimate, inevitable, or somehow not-evil) or to sabotage and disrupt (by instilling irrational fear in the minds of some horridly oppressive group).
When those ELF kids (ah, yes, I’m afraid it’s time to touch on the great Green Scare) get pumped up and destroy some rich family’s SUV they do so not because it’ll mean one less polluting hog on the road, but because they think it’ll inspire a much wider fear and guilt complex.
It’s in the vein of social engineering and it’s an extremely dangerous tactic because it casts the activist into the very personal role of conspiring to coerce someone else’s thoughts.
Most of the time this pisses me off. Hell, all of the time.
But it’s in this that V for Vendetta is entirely marinated. Though the Dantès must complete his personal vengeance, the overarching story is one of symbolically breaking the British people free from a fascist regime largely unschooled in subtlety.
It’s a story of extreme violence and inter-personal coercion. (Ah, Miss Portman, you’re just too pretty for a real Guantanamo.) And, you know what? As evil as such tactics must be considered, in the situation we are given — with an unrealistically inept fascist government and a rebel intellect with infinite resources — the ends more than adequately justify the means. We’d all assassinate Hitler if we had a chance. We’d all have blow up the Kremlin if it would give the people inspiration to rise against Stalin’s regime. The frightened Republican/Democrat demagogues condemning the movie’s populist violence are either immoral or idiots.
The real danger in V for Vendetta is the indescription of just what these “ends” are that justify the quasi-terrorist “means.”
Getting rid of Saddam was a great ends. And might have justified a few thousand flag-draped coffins. But it wasn’t the only end result of out little invasion. The tactic of nationalistic warfare had a certain inescapable effect upon the ends. Nationalism begets more irrational factionalism. And certain ulterior motives have further secured US imperial power. An ends that I consider at least as effectively evil as Saddam’s concentrated little fiefdom.
When the Black Block mob of darkly dressed citizens magically pours past the riot cops and soldiers there’s no mention of what’s to come. With the oh-so-cute Guy Fawkes masks we are handed a squeaky clean image of rebellion. But such noble revolutions are only as permanent as we make them. It’s no use pointing out what we oppose if we don’t have a positive vision of the future to prop ourselves up with.
That third side of the brashly circled triangle. It must be balanced.
V for Vendetta hollows out Anarchy. It grabs an empty husk of associated tactics and tries to breath life into it with an overly blunt Hollywood dystopia. (Speaking of which, America is apparently embroiled in civil war! The flashbacks say Iraq helped start it! Sooo deep! Sooo radical! Sooo relevant! You can almost hear the shocked magazine editors gushing synonyms for “daring” and “provocative.”)
That’d be okay if the Wachowski brothers didn’t default on the whole making-a-movie thing by trying to very obviously capitalize off of Anarchism’s blossoming presence in the popular conscience. But no, V for Vendetta has become precisely that. Far from Alan Moore’s original geekery, the adaptation for celluloid has seen a bastardization fit for Hot Topic. From a gothic love-affair with everything gloomy and British we’ve reached “edgy” faux political dilemmas posed by a nihilistic stand-in for Anarchism.
Maybe the “it happened here” realism of V for Vendetta’s fascist Britain will help people wake up. Maybe folks will realize that governments have been burning the Reichstag as long as we’ve allowed them to oppress us. Maybe folk’ll finally accept that power is by nature in conflict with freedom. Hell, as long as we’re dreaming I’d like to see a populace that understands the difference between the nihilistic worship of chaos and the hardened embrace of life.
It’s unlikely. Seems to me that V for Vendetta will prove a net detriment to Anarchism. Getting further connected to some inane construct of “Propaganda Through The Deed” bullshit should be damage enough. But maybe, just maybe, the film will have some outweighing positive effects upon the populace.
Even so. I don’t know if it would excuse such artistic and aesthetic terrorism. Because at heart V for Vendetta is just another crappy unfocused movie.