‘Othered’, Suppressed, Banned The dystopian cultural shift and ‘ahistory’ in V for Vendetta
V for Vendetta is a film by James McTeigue, based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore that highlights a dystopian ‘near-future’ society in England that reveals the corrupt practices of governments against their people. The disruptive nature of the terrorist ‘V’ in the film has been symbolic historically, presently, and assumptively, futuristically. The society depicted in the film is one suppressed and controlled by the government, deceived by the government, and in effect, terrorized by the government. The anti-hero ‘V’ seeks justice for the people, and repeatedly delivers it through non-traditional means. Part of the government’s ability to keep the people suppressed is its restriction of art, literature, and history. The dissemination and interpretation of these things essentially keeps the people in line.
To explore this idea in more depth, some historical outline is necessary. The character V dons a Guy Fawkes mask throughout the entirety of the film to connect the story back to the early 17 th century. Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up parliament due to the religious wavering of King James I. The Catholics believed King James would show more leniency and religious freedom, but James held firmly to Protestant beliefs and the Catholics continued to be persecuted in England. Guy Fawkes did not act alone, and was in fact a rather minor player in what became known as the Gunpowder Plot. When a group of conspirators, including Fawkes, placed barrels of gunpowder underneath Parliament with the intention of blowing it up while in session, a member of the conspiracy tipped off the government, and Fawkes was one of the individuals found in the basement. Although Fawkes was not the only conspirator executed for the attempt at assassinating King James, he has become the most infamous. In all reality, Fawkes was a very minor character, but as the film boldly proclaims: “We are told to remember the idea, not the man” (V for Vendetta). This symbolism of Fawkes in the V for Vendetta film is a very definitive choice. V says in the film: “Alone a symbol is meaningless, but with enough people, blowing up a building could change the world” (V for Vendetta). This rich political subversion has been adopted by our own society in the disruptive and hacking group Anonymous. They don Fawkes masks in honor of V and the original Fawkes for bucking the system. The future presented in V for Vendetta is a dystopian representation of governmental suppression. What is interesting is the link between history, literature, and art in dystopian fictions. There is a tendency in post-literacy to rely too heavily on technology
or failures of the past which takes a progressive society and in turn suppresses it. This is due directly to a lack of literacy or importance placed on literature. History and literature are tied up together irrevocably, and often the government in depictions such as the one in this film, attempt to change or revoke the history of the past. In this particular case, these are tools used to destabilize the people’s environment.
Mindlessness and consumption are often put forward in these post-literate societal depictions. Literary examples of this same phenomenon can be found in, Fahrenheit 451, Super Sad True Love Story, The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Cradle, The Selection series and the Matched series. In Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, society is deprived of literature and has become ‘ahistorical’. Their intense technological progression has left them bereft of true cultural progression. The society has become nearly illiterate. In Ally Condie’s Matched series, the ‘Society’ is allowed to have possession of only 100 Poems, 100 Paintings, and 100 Stories. These were all picked by the ‘Society’ as they delivered the propaganda they deemed fit for public consumption. History was also banned as it was considered dangerous and a false history was created instead. The Selection series by Kiera Cass portrays a very similar society. Books and journals are banned, most individuals have never seen a computer, and history has been re-written. There are no longer text books but simply oral history that is passed down so that no one can pinpoint any exact falsehood because no one is in possession of the whole truth. Rebels in the novel steal literature to promote rebellion. In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, books are banned and firemen are required to uncover collections of banned books and burn them. Instead of putting fires out, firemen now create them. Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle likens writers to drug salesmen and in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, women are not allowed to write or read. She sheds a new light on ‘penis envy’ by having her protagonist state over and over: “Pen is envy” (Atwood) in her great desire to write. In some of these literary examples, art and history are seen as blood-sucking monsters of society, displacing its advancement in marketing, sales, and modern inventions. However, there is a cultural link of repression by governmental controls in taking away literature or banning certain films, religious texts, or sculptures. In V for Vendetta, both V and Evey’s boss Gordon Deitrich, have hidden stashes of art, literature, and valuable goods that denote the human artistic culture. These are capital crimes. But why strip the population of this cultural history? To further their control and manipulation. Literature tends to empower and provide freedom, escapes, and knowledge to further causes. Without these texts, something of what makes people people is forgotten. Evey’s father told her that: “Artists use lies to tell the truth” (V for
Vendetta), yet what does the government do? The manipulation of what the government does and how it changes Truth is very telling. History tends to be destroyed by governments in the wake of what they consider to be a better or improved society. To
this end, in the V for Vendetta film, the government is revealed to have released a virus on its own population in an attempt to destabilize and rehabilitate it. It resulted in 100,000 deaths in its own nation.
There is a very exposing scene when Evey wakes up in V’s lair after he rescued her. She is in a bed and she is surrounded by mountains of books. There is a certain intimate link in this imagery. The written word in this scene is overpowering. Evey stumbles around V’s hallways to discover art adorning the walls in rich colors and hues, and even watches a film, The Count of Monte Cristo, with V. V and Evey have a discussion and quote Macbeth, once more emphasizing the importance of literature on culture. Not only is there artistic repression and intolerance, there is religious and sexual intolerance rife throughout the film. These ideas of intolerance typically stem from ignorance, and when not allowing the public to openly educate themselves and to freely make choices, this ignorance permeates while acceptance stagnates. Soon everyone accepts what is imposed upon them, or as V so knowingly states: “If you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror” (V for Vendetta), but he does not wholly condemn the public, saying instead that the government has “coerced your conformity” (V for Vendetta). Gordon Deitrich is even arrested/executed for airing a television show that was not censor-approved.
The height or culmination of the power within the written word is twofold when Evey is held prisoner by V (unknowingly) and is smuggled the story of a former female prisoner who was taken for her homosexuality. The government had outlawed same sex relationships and used those arrested as test subjects for the virus they would unleash. There is something very moving in that the gift of storytelling is what kept V going while in prison, and in turn kept Evey afloat in the same situation. It was a direct declaration of the suppression of ‘othering’ the people, in this case for homosexuality. And it was communicated in a banned format. And as V so aptly puts it: “Words will always retain their power” (V for Vendetta), and that is exactly what the government is so in fear of. V seems to attain immortality through the anonymity of becoming an idea or an ideal. Evey opens the film with the following speech: “I’ve witnessed firsthand the power of ideas. I’ve seen people kill in the name of them, and die defending them” (V for Vendetta), this is a direct power declaration. Through V’s alliteration and adoption of the Roman numeral five that adorned his prison cell, and the lyrical use of words beginning with the letter V, he creates a persona for himself firstly. The wearing of a mask further dehumanizes. It seems he becomes an idea that is itself anthropomorphized. While V was imprisoned he felt he became anonymous and no longer knew who he was. This was his transformation from a person to an entity or idea. The film often makes him appear almost supernatural in his fighting abilities, his knowledge, his almost omnipresence, and his inability to be defeated. V also defines himself by his character instead of his appearance, which speaks volumes to what his meaning or purpose is, versus what he represents to the eye.
V’s idea empowers the people and allows them an outlet, a medium through which to revolt. The news anchor Lewis Prothero reports: “Immigrants, Muslims, homosexuals, terrorists, they all had to go. Strength through unity, unity through faith” (V for Vendetta). The strength attained through governmental control and intolerance creates a unified society in that they are all under the thumb of oppression, and their faith or belief in the government to look after them. Signs bearing these words are often visible in the background of scenes in the film. The Nazi-esque symbolism portrayed in High Chancellor Adam Sutler’s rise is shocking. From the colors to the bold symbols and the speech given, it harks back to an era of brainwashing and fear. And V tells Evey calmly that: “Then you have no fear anymore. You’re completely free” (V for Vendetta). The artistic ways in which V wreaks havoc on his enemies also speaks to the artistic and literary repression of society. He even calls himself: “A musician of sorts” (V for Vendetta) before blowing up a building. There is an almost transparent degradation of the public, media, and development of society because of the repression of all creativity and freedoms. No expression of the public was tolerated. To be a well- breathing, healthy society, this suppression had to be overthrown. V’s statement: “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people” (V for Vendetta) is truly the thesis of the entire production and serves to represent just what the population is capable of, and just what humanity means.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. N.p.: n.p., 1985. Print.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. N.p.: n.p., 1953. Print.
Cass, Kiera. The Selection. N.p.: n.p., 2012. Print.
Condie, Ally. Matched. N.p.: n.p., 2010. Print.
Shtyengart, Gary. Super Sad True Love Story. N.p.: n.p., 2010. Print.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Cat’s Cradle. N.p.: n.p., 1963. Print.
V for Vendetta, film, 2006.