the fifth of November,
the Gunpowder Treason and Plot.
I see no reason
The Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.”
In 1605, Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators aimed to destroy the House of Lords in London – and were caught. Months later (according to Wikipedia), the remembrance of the date as a holiday was already codified. Four hundred years later, in 2005, I was in London and got to see firsthand that this holiday is still going strong. Fireworks, and a little bit of lawlessness. I haven’t gotten to see police running away from a situation any other time, but it made sense then – my friends and I were running away too.
Ah, good times.
I thought for today I would explore one of the top pieces of media around this holiday – the comic V for Vendetta by British comics author Alan Moore. There’s also the movie adaptation (also from around the 400th anniversary in 2005, interestingly enough), which I am going to have to talk about a bit more than planned – I haven’t finished reading the comic yet myself! It’s 287 pages, and I am halfway through.
What I have read so far has been good, and quite a bit like the – a statement which probably makes Alan Moore unhappy, but I’ve previously talked about his troubled relationship with movie adaptations of his work with Watchmen. If you like the fight against totalitarian and fascist control, dystopias, or comics, this is one for you!
I’ll try to avoid spoilers, and won’t talk much about how it resolves – in part because I’m not sure if that will be different between the film and the comic!
It’s the future (or, when Moore was writing this in the 80’s, it’s the late 1990’s…), and society collapsed. At the end of the Cold War, someone started firing the nukes. Nuclear Winter – which, according to Moore’s note in the intro, was not a concept yet. Somehow, England avoided being nuked – in part by having gotten rid of all of the nukes in the country first.
So England Prevails. They’re not dead, but contact with the rest of the world is basically gone, scarcity is at its worst, and so the worst sort take control. They have a plan, for keeping the world going – for the select. For those like themselves. They’re Fascists, or more Nazis, pretty much. They even have “Norse” in the party name. One race, one faith, one nation.
Creepy stuff, and coldly logical. You could see it happening. Doesn’t make it better or right, just makes it that likely sort of thing that makes it interesting, and a good target for exploring what could or would happen.
Which is where we pick things up in the comic (and the movie). Someone has decided to stand up to this – one man, in a mask. A Guy Fawkes mask. And on the fifth of November, he blows up the Houses of Parliament, fulfilling the Gunpowder Treason against a government likely worse than the one which was the original intent.
The comic goes into more details of the depths of the Fascism, of the hate for homosexuals, for any other race. The concentration camps. The ideology. It’s hard to include all of this in a film – but Alan Moore might point out that it’s why he made a comic and not a film.
I was a history major, so in large part the ideas seem scooped from a history of 1930’s and 1940’s Europe.
Our one man standing against this all is almost superhuman in his prowess – able to outfight all opponents. We find out why later – he was experimented on in the concentration camps. He has spent years perpetrating his Vendetta – killing everyone involved with the camp he was in. In the comic, they make this great point, about how he could go one of two ways. One way is that all he is is this Vendetta – and, everyone dead, he would be done. The other way it could go is that, by killing everyone involved – everyone who might know who he was or what he was capable of – there was no one to stop him as he moved on to phase 2.
It seems the latter – and V, named for the fifth of November, and for room five, and for the Vendetta, V tears the government down.
He does not do it alone, however. Along the way, he brings along Evey, a young girl and just another victim of their world. Nothing special – but then, V points out that everyone, in all their great diversity, is special. More than in most fiction, Evey stands in for society, for the audience, for everyone. She is the Everyman, and purposefully – V seems to have her there to show that she would come around to his way of thinking, to show that he is not alone in his attitude. Maybe he is willing to give up if it were just him, but I imagine he knew what the outcome would be.
Evey, and the reader/audience with her, come around to V’s point of view (more than we naturally are in opposition to Fascism and Totalitarianism…), and are completely rooting for these rebels and terrorists by the end.
So What’s the Point?
I’ve alluded to the fact that Alan Moore thinks rather a lot of his work, and I can’t help thinking of that while I read it. Trying to fight the temptation to read this as pretentiously as Moore comes across.
However, keeping the author in mind for this work seems like a good idea. Moore is an Anarchist, and those leanings come across for sure in V for Vendetta. While Totalitarianism is a rule by the few or the one, Anarchy is a rule by no one – which is actually an individual rule by each and every one.
He has V, at times, speaking from a point of view outside of humanity, outside of time. Like he is one of us, but also not. At one point he is quoting Sympathy for the Devil, comparing himself to the Devil in this case.
In the biggest departure I’ve read so far between the movie and the comic, there is a scene where V is making a broadcast to the nation. He speaks as though he has been there, managing humanity, from the start. Devil or Angel? Regardless, he is disappointed. And then, we get this:
“You don’t seem to want to face up to any REAL responsibility, or to be your own boss.”
Unwilling to rule ourselves. To take that next step up. And so we keep abdicating authority, responsibility, power, to those who want it. To the very worst of us. And it’s our fault, for electing them, for letting them have our power.
It’s the complaint of an anarchist against the people, those who will happily live in a government – often willing to live in an incredibly dangerous or restrictive society, to live in society. It is, I feel, Moore’s point with the comic.
Anyway, that’s V for Vendetta on this, the fifth of November. Enjoy your Bonfire Night, be more than passing upset at invasions of privacy and personal autonomy, and hopefully (in the US) you voted yesterday!
What do you think of my interpretation of V for Vendetta? What do you take away from it – comic or movie? Let me know in the comments below!