Remember, remember the fifth of November, the gunpowder, treason, and plot. I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.
These are the words that have accompanied hundreds of Guy Fawkes Day celebrations ever since that eponymous Catholic failed to blow up Parliament in 1605. However, for many millions the world over, the poem is now synonymous with V for Vendetta, a shockingly subversive studio movie that was released 10 years ago. A decade later that film’s flagrant success at celebrating radical political ideas can still be felt by the fact that a movie which glorifies a terrorist action (blowing up Parliament and Big Ben) is considered a classic in many circles, and is routinely viewed at the beginning of every November by movie fans the world over.
It’s almost a fitting bit of irony that the film’s iconic visage of uncivil disobedience—the sleek and sexy reworking of a Guy Fawkes mask on Hugo Weaving’s face—has similarly become ubiquitous with anarchists, counterculture subversives, and online hackers, who all wear the trademarked Halloween piece… that they helpfully purchase from the very corporate-friendly Warner Brothers’ merchandising arm at the current retail price of $8.99 on Amazon.
Nevertheless, the film is always worth remembering on Nov. 5, because director James McTeigue and the Wachowskis’ best screenplay to date succeeded at shrewdly adapting the V for Vendetta graphic novel to the big screen. Alan Moore purists might forever remain skeptical of such praise since by reimagining a seminal anti-Thatcher ‘80s hit-piece, the Wachowskis essentially reworked the entire narrative as a brutally anti-Bush allegory (and reconfigured Weaving’s V and Natalie Portman’s Evey as a surprisingly convincing star-crossed pair of lovers from The Phantom of the Opera mold). And in the process, Alan Moore’s V went from being the poster child for anarchy to a defender of classical liberalism.
But on its own cinematic terms, V combines slick R-rated action movie set-pieces (that are appropriately theatrical for a comic book adaptation) alongside some very pointed criticism of the U.S. government circa 2006, including in regard to the War on Terror and the persecution of minorities in right-wing media (remember folks: as recently as 2004, a president ran a successful national campaign by pledging to make a constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage). The film may have unintentionally also endorsed the use of torture for political radicalization, but that’s neither here nor there.
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Just as sweeping as its brava rebranding of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” V for Vendetta remains a pop culture artifact about the anxieties felt on the left in the waning years of George W. Bush’s presidency. And with it being so specifically fitted to those critiques, it should in theory seem very dated in the final months of President Barack Obama’s second term.
Yet, if one steps away from many of the positive gains in the last eight years and examines the current political climate, it becomes apparent that we are tiptoeing ever closer to the dystopian future that V for Vendetta warned so vehemently against…
A Government for the People That Watches the People
One of the most chilling (and familiar) beats of dystopian hell envisioned in V for Vendetta is the Orwellian presence of a Big Brother. The film’s cartoonish dictator, High Chancellor Adam Sutler, is clearly meant to resemble Adolf Hitler. However, the filmmakers also wisely selected John Hurt for the role of the tyrant who stripped away his country’s civil liberties. This canny casting recalls George Orwell’s 1984 since Hurt starred in the actual 1984 adaptation of that book.
And like that story’s infamous Big Brother, Sutler’s Britain is under constant surveillance by roaming trucks that are cued into eavesdropping on every dinner table, phone, or digital conversation amongst its citizens. Obviously, this is an allusion to the U.S. PATRIOT Act, which provided extraordinary freedom to government agencies to pursue suspected terrorists in October 2001 (less than two months removed from the shadow of 9/11). And its encroachment on civil liberties was as disquieting in 2006 as it is in 2016—after it has been extended twice during the Obama administration.
As a U.S. senator in 2005, Barack Obama spoke precisely about reforming the law: “We don’t have to settle for a PATRIOT Act that sacrifices our liberties or our safety—we can have one that secures both.” Yet, elements of the PATRIOT Act were only allowed to temporarily expire in its June 2015 extension due to the maneuvers of Senator Rand Paul. Meanwhile Obama, a president I greatly admire, continued to run afoul of civil liberty groups and privacy advocates.
In fact, it was during his administration that Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, unleashed a cascade of classified documents that showed the NSA was secretly utilizing a global system of surveillance that was gathering massive amounts of information about the private correspondence of both American and foreign citizens. Initially, the White House’s reaction was to brand Snowden as “not a patriot” (he currently lives outside the reach of extradition in Russia) and to suggest that the American people simply needed to become “comfortable” with the NSA’s mass bulk collection of millions’ phone records.
But eventually, the White House reversed course, first by appointing a panel to quell concerns of “distorted” information in the press about the “drip, drip” and “Big Brother” perception the U.S. government ascertained overnight. And subsequently, Obama pivoted closer to the side of civil liberties (especially after a U.S. federal judge ruled the bulk collection was probably unconstitutional). In June 2015, the NSA lost the carte blanche authority to collect millions of Americans’ phone records via the White House supported USA Freedom Act (the NSA now needs a targeted warrant from the FISA court).
So, all is well that ends well in this particular case, right? Maybe, except Snowden is still living in exile and considered a traitor by many government officials, the PATRIOT Act persists, the aforementioned parts that Paul was able to see expire were reinstated by the USA Freedom Act, telecommunications companies can still stockpile Americans’ bulk data, which the FISA Court allows access to with a secret warrant, and it is so easy to imagine a scenario where a president less constitutionally-minded would not choose to introduce a bill after an intelligence agency was caught with its hand in the wiretapped cookie jar.
In fact, given many of the strongest political winds at the moment, it seems that for every step forward, we’re about to take 50 goosesteps back.
The Spread of Misinformation
Another hallmark of any good dystopian yarn is a state-run media arm that inundates and brainwashes a public via the spread of propaganda. Hence, one of the most exciting moments in V for Vendetta is when the titular anti-hero invades and commandeers what is clearly intended to be a stand-in for Fox News, using their ability to infest every home in England to now instead offer a rousing cry of “vive la révolution!”
Of course, even in 2006 it was unfair to conflate Fox News with being a government-run puppet of the Republican National Party or the Bush administration. In many ways, the tail wags the dog, and V for Vendetta simplified mass media misinformation for the sake of narrative brevity. Indeed, the point about the dangers of media misinformation are only more pronounced now than they were 10 years ago.
As broadcaster Edward R. Murrow once prophesized in 1958, “For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities, which must indeed be faced if we are to survive.” At the time, Murrow was musing about the decline of broadcast news during a period where there were only three channels on television. Today, with the increasingly endless variety of media resources in a post-internet and post-social media world, the dissemination of lies and falsehoods is greater than even the Wachowskis’ paranoia could imagine during the pre-iPhone naiveté of 2006.
With more information than ever at folks’ fingertips, the desire to insulate one’s self in a media echo chamber has ironically become only more desirable for millions.
To use V’s veiled punching bag of Fox News as an example, a University of Maryland study in 2010 found that Fox News viewers were more misinformed about factual information than those who consumed their primary news stories from any other major resource. Also, misinformation is arguably more dangerous to public discourse than even uninformed voters, because the misinformed are often more confident in clinging to discredited information.
Six years later, it’s now a lot easier to fall down the rabbit hole of innuendo and ideological fanaticism (i.e. lies) than it was in the age when cable news reigned supreme. The more people become insulated in partisan echo chambers, the easier it is to create the effect of a brainwashed society hinted at in V for Vendetta—government run or otherwise.
Consider that Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster and frequent Fox News commentator, showcased this bizarre phenomenon and resistance to reality amongst a group of Donald Trump supporters. Preferring a particular political candidate for president is their right, but when Luntz emphatically proved the future Republican nominee Donald J. Trump lied about how many Syrian refugees that President Obama is attempting to bring into the U.S.—for the record it’s 10,000 refugees while Donald Trump falsely asserted it was 250,000—the reaction was apathy, including comments like “he’d let in as many as possible” and “what is in his heart?”
Luntz further found that only three of the 29 Trump supporters sampled believe that Obama is a Christian. One even insisted that he he believed Obama was sworn into office in 2009 on a Quran. Also, the general consensus was to prefer news from far, far right-wing leaning media like Breitbart.com (a site that willfully sided with the Donald Trump campaign over its own reporters, even in an incident of alleged physical assault) and talk radio while anything considered “mainstream media” was to be viewed with hostile skepticism and outright denial.
Additionally, since this article first ran, Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News LLC, was hired by Donald Trump to be his campaign's CEO. Further muddying the waters of collusion between political leaders and the partisan, extremist media they court.
In this current climate of media tribalization, it is far easier for a demagogue like Sutler to lie his way to power.
Persecution of Minorities
V for Vendetta begins with a blunt and on-the-nose depiction of the kind of politics that High Chancellor Adam Sutler and his Norsefire Party represent. Roger Allam’s Lewis Prothero is obviously meant to be a cross between Howard Beale and Joseph Goebbels when we hear his televised voice before even realizing we’re watching Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving’s robed introductions.
From the very first frame, Prothero, and by extension the political party he represents, hisses his disdain for those inherently responsible for all of the problems in the world: “Immigrants, Muslims, homosexuals, terrorists, diseased-ridden degenerates, they had to go! Strength through unity, unity through faith!”
Drawing a parallel between the nativist bigotry represented by V for Vendetta and the current disintegration of the Republican Party is like tracing with a ruler. While V for Vendetta’s fears about the persecution of the LGBT community turned out to be thankfully unfounded in the Obama Years with “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” repealed and gay marriage now the law of the land, everything else Prothero espoused hatred for is again in the national conversation… except with even less nuance.
It would almost be redundant to bring up how Donald Trump—the preferred candidate of David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the KKK, and Neo Nazis everywhere—suggested last November that we should ignore the Constitution and founding tenets of this country by creating a religious litmus test for entry while banning all Muslims. So, let’s just focus on what the man who once inferred he did not know what the KKK represented also said in 2016 about minorities. While on CNN in March, the GOP candidate said, “I think Islam hates us.” For the record, this also insinuated merit to Anderson Cooper’s question about whether Trump believed Islam was “at war with the West?”
Let this sink in: a man with support from at least 42 percent of American voters is insinuating that a religion of 1.6 billion people (that’s roughly 23 percent of the global population) is at war with the United States. It certainly gives his voters a boogeyman to fear in the shape of nearly three million fellow American neighbors.
V for Vendetta features flashbacks of Sutler rounding up British Muslims, and gay and lesbian citizens to be taken to camps. While Trump has not suggested anything quite that drastic for Muslims, he’s starting to get pretty damn close when talking about illegal immigrants. After beginning his campaign by suggesting a majority of undocumented migrants are “rapists,” it is hard to imagine how his rhetoric could be more disingenuous. Yet even if he never becomes president, he has awakened a very ugly strand in American society, as demonstrated when a mostly white Indiana high school waved Donald Trump signs at a mostly Hispanic rival school, chanting, “Build a Wall.”
One imagines that if Prothero was a real person, he’d have been in the bleachers right next to them, talking about how he also agrees about shipping off minorities in a “humane” way to a place where they’d be “happy.”
“He’s Completely Single-Minded and Has No Regard for Political Process”
Ultimately, however, the easiest way to glimpse our ever growing flirtation with Sutler’s future is to see how parts of our culture already march to the sound of the fictional character’s bark. Midway through V for Vendetta, V surmises that Sutler’s career began with “a deeply religious man and a member of the conservative party. He’s completely single-minded and has no regard for political process. The more power he obtains the more obvious his zealotry, and the more aggressive his supporters become.”
Obviously, the Wachowski Siblings, as well as Alan Moore before them, were revisiting the rise of Adolf Hitler in a modern context. I would not suggest that it is a 1:1 comparison, but so much of how V describes Sutler could be used at this very moment to detail the popularity and rise of Donald Trump.
In terms of political process, one only has to look at the Republican nominee’s woefully dishonest plan to round-up illegal immigrants. Ranting and raving about how he plans to immediately deport 12 million people living in America, Trump plays willfully ignorant to due process. Even Bill O’Reilly called him out on the fact that under the Constitution, anyone detained on American soil (i.e. not just crossing the border) has the right to be processed in our judicial system—a harrowing (and impossible) feat if it is to be immediately implemented around 12 million times. Yet, Trump just shrugged the facts off, repeating, “They’re here illegally,” as if repetition and magical thinking will make it constitutionally sound or at all humane.
Then again, Trump’s entire rhetorical approach has already been documented as operating on a fourth grade reading level, and it is as effective as the emphatic leader of V for Vendetta’s fictional conservative party. Increasingly, folks cheer when he suggests attacking cornerstones of American life like the freedom of the press. Much like how Sutler reacted to a political TV parody that made him look the fool, the Donald let his thin skin show when he suggested, with the utmost earnestness, that one of the things he wants most is to “open up libel laws.”
Even if the Supreme Court settled long ago in 1964 that you need to prove an organization reported inaccurate information it knew to be false with malicious intent, Trump would like to be able to sue “The New York Times [when they write] a hit-piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit-piece. We can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning, because they’re totally protected.”
His whining about the press suggests a chip on his shoulder worthy of when Sutler had a late night comedian disappeared into one of “Creedy’s black bags.”
Yet these are applause lines for supporters who are indeed embracing V’s visions of a dystopic 21st century where the more power Trump receives, the more aggressive they become. With almost every Trump rally during the heated primaries, there seemed to be another attack, another beating, and another protest devolving into chaos. In January, Trump told an Iowa crowd, “There may be somebody with tomatoes in the audience. If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you?... I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.”
Two months later in North Carolina, a black man was sucker punched by a Trump supporter as he was being escorted by police out of the facility, and it was captured on video. Despite visual confirmation of an unprompted burst of violence from a white supporter toward an African-American protestor, Trump lied to his supporters when he said, “It was a guy who was swinging.” He then condoned the violence by saying, “I thought it was very, very appropriate… that’s what we need a little bit more of.” He then later would not refute the allleged attacker’s claims that the protestor was a member of ISIS.
…. Eventually, this is going to devolve into something truly tragic and decidedly reminiscent of the 1930s. It also obviously doesn't help that Trump is now insinuating the election is rigged and shook our Constitutional system to its core during the third debate where he refused to say he'd concede the election if he lost. He really is leaving America, as well as the foundation of this country, in murky suspense.
How is this happening right now in a country that actually has seen a growth in job creation, GDP, and access to healthcare while a decrease in the deficit and unemployment over the last six years? There is an obvious racial and deplorable component for a number of voters in this country from the David Duke mold. Still, there are also reasons for justifiable anger with a cataclysmic income inequality gap and stagnant wages, the undeniable stench of money in politics, and the ever modern and unending anxiety of the new century: the threat of terrorism. But demagogues like Sutler and Trump are exploiting these fears and frustrations with such ridiculous ease, it seems almost fictional.
But if you think all of this is slanted, partisan hooey, watch V’s impassioned plea for the people of England to set aside their fear and face an ugly reality inside their culture. Then admit that it is not prescient for the direction of the 2016 presidential election and potentially the country’s future.
So yes, Americans are closer than ever to achieving the dystopian future imagined for England in V for Vendetta. That’s something to remember, remember for the upcoming fifth of November. And the Tuesday after it.
This article first ran on March 17, 2016.
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1984 And V For Vendetta Comparing And Contrasting Essay George Orwell’s 1984 and the movie V for Vendetta both have similar views on how society is being run. Since The book 1984 was written before V for Vendetta, so perhaps V for Vendetta may have based some of its ideas on this book. Both 1984 and V for Vendetta have similarities like the way the themes and how the male protagonists are the one in charge of overturning the government. The first similarity between 1984 and V for Vendetta is that the society is being run by totalitarian rule.
It is the government that controls the lives of the people and how the society should be run. In 1984, ‘Big Brother’ aka the Inner party, is the figure that keeps an eye on the people and uses telescreens to watch their movement while in V for Vendetta; ‘Leader’ aka Adam Susan, is in charge of England, its people and the Norsefire party. Another thing is that both factions have secret police. The jobs of the secret police in 1984 and V for Vendetta are basically the same as they spy for the government and try to capture people who are against the government.
The people are being controlled by the leaders of their country to make sure they behave themselves and not try to rebel. The contrast between 1984 and V for Vendetta for the totalitarian rule are a bit different. In 1984, the government, more specifically the inner party, watches every move of the people and check carefully what they do while in V for Vendetta the government, more specifically the Norsefire Party, is a bit more lenient as they don’t set up cameras on the houses of every people but still set up cameras on public properties.
The secret police are quite different in 1984 and V for Vendetta as in 1984, the secret police are deeply loyal to the inner party and don’t express their behaviours like in sexual desires unlike the secret police in V for Vendetta as in page 11, the secret police tried to attempt rape on Evey. Also in V for Vendetta, there are also normal police forces unlike in 1984. Freedom of speech, freedom of your owns thoughts and actions, the right to happiness. In our society today, we have all these rights, but imagine if we id not. 1984, written by George Orwell, and V for Vendetta, directed by James McTeigue, both paint accurately scary descriptions about the government in the future and the dystopian society. 1984, written in 1949, was intended to be a portrayal of the future and V for Vendetta, made in 2005, shows Britain in power in 2038. Both of these pieces of literature were not far off from their description. As every single year passes by, our own society starts to reflect images from these books.
When the government has this much power over the people, the people rebel, but can they be a success or not? 1984, written by George Orwell, illustrates a perfect example of a dystopian government. The setting is in Oceania, Britain. The government is full of spies and secret police that carefully watch the common people for any mistake they might make that can harm the government in any way. As shown with Winston Smith, the protagonist of the novel and many other citizens in Oceania, the government manipulates these characters into their pawns.
The government asserts their power over the people in many ways. They have large telescreens in the people’s houses. The telescreens show the government what people are doing at all times. It can be dimmed down, but can never be turned off. Although Oceania is well off in money, the government rations food. The government’s philosophy is that if the people are given too much to eat, then they will learn to think for themselves and will see all the atrocities that the government commits and rebel.
All the records of the past have been omitted and destroyed and created all over again to fit the government’s beliefs and to show that the government is always right. Big Brother has its own secret police, the Thought Police the themes were similar but there were many differences as well. for example, the resistance in 1984 was subtle if it existed at all while the resistance in v for vendetta was violent and actively opposing the government through force. the themes were the same or similar in that corrupt governments that stifle the people’s thoughts shouldnt be tolerated
Author: Brandon Johnson
1984 and V for Vendetta Comparing and Contrasting Essay
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