04 September 2006

V for Dissociate

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

I finally saw the movie version of V for Vendetta last night, based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore, David Lloyd, and Steve Moore. At a moment when President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld are all preaching about the evils of appeasement and the need to resist fascism, and when images of the war in Iraq and news about terrorism are used to instill fear in Americans as a means of controlling them, the subject matter could not be more timely.

The movie version of V for Vendetta is entertaining, indeed better than I expected. It is not as good – as discomforting or stark – as the original graphic novel, and I suppose there are good reasons for author Alan Moore to have tried to dissociate himself from the film, as The New York Times (among others) reported when it was released back in March. The filmmakers have updated the story (the novel dates to 1989), to make it fit with current events, and at times it reminded me a little too much of the excellent remake of Shakespeare’s Richard III from 1995.

But the problem with the movie is just that: it is entertainment, and the power of its message is lost amidst the pyrotechnics and Tchaikovsky’s rousing 1812 Overture. As Times’ critic Manohla Dargis wrote in her review, “The more valid question is how anyone who isn’t 14 or under could possibly mistake a corporate bread-and-circus entertainment like this for something subversive.” The story, about a vigilante-cum-terrorist who fights and decapitates a fascist English government, should make audiences think – by which I mean, not just think about how much it cost to make the movie, but think about why Hollywood and the corporate movie-making powers-that-be would even consider giving audiences a film in which the charismatic anti-hero evokes one’s sympathy and support for his murderous designs and his (posthumous) destruction of Britain’s Parliament.

Well, duh: Hollywood thought it would make money.

The problem with the movie is the problem with our society: we Americans have ceded our revolutionary spirit to the idea of being rebellious, minus any action. Instead, we dissociate: we go see a movie, and we miss the irony of watching a movie about an increasingly-repressive society that justifies its repression as necessary in order to fight being repressed by someone else. We miss the irony of the fact that this is the society in which we live, a society where things like the repressive, civil-liberties busting USA Patriot Act, or secret (completely unconstitutional) warrants, are “necessary” for our security, a nation where closed-circuit cameras watching us are more common than public restrooms, a country whose leaders speak in stark, fear-instilling, black-and-white, us-and-them terms.

We have handed over any sense of rebellion to the ideologues and demagogues of the left and the right, from the Ann Coulters and the Rush Limbaughs to the Al Frankens and the Michael Moores. Right or left, we buy their mock-radical books, watch their movies, listen to their radio speeches and do nothing – except perhaps vote for political parties that speak in the same polemical, quasi-radical generalizations. (Political parties that would not, in fact, do anything dramatic to change the status quo even if they had the opportunity. And, in any case, most of us do not bother to vote – though with options like these, who can blame us?) It is difficult to imagine a contemporary version of the Boston Tea Party of 1773, except perhaps an event staged by fundamentalists Christians dumping boxes of books like Heather Has Two Mommies into the Mississippi. In fact, most of the time we Americans even miss the irony that an action like this would not exactly speak to the Christian values that would supposedly motivate it.

Americans are right to reject and to fight terrorism, we are right to frown on the unnecessary loss of human life, and we are long overdue to demand accountability from our government and politicians from amongst the Republicans and the Democrats, over the very-awry war that has been perpetrated in our name. Here in New York, we are approaching the fifth anniversary of that otherdate which will live in infamy,” used in part as a justification for this war. Several years later, we seem not much closer to rejecting the jingoism used to distract us, and not much more prone to the independent thought necessary to reject the mass hysteria that is used, in turn, to control us. With a mid-term election coming up in November, it is more than wishful thinking to imagine that political and social change is possible. It is precisely because real change is so impossible that the Hollywood-Industrial-Complex collaborates to feed us big-screen escapist fantasies like V for Vendetta, to help us get out our frustrations in the calm, climate-controlled, popcorn-and-butter scented environment of a movie theater.


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