Tuesday, March 21, 2006

V for Vendetta Review; No Spoilers

Having now seen V for Vendetta, I am absolutely astounded at the reaction some on the Right have had. There was a time that conservatives were distrustful of government, particularly big government that had too much control over people's lives. No more, it seems.

The graphic novel upon which the movie was based was written during Margaret Thatcher's reign in England, so it isn't about Bush. It isn't even necessarily about Thatcher. Rather, it is a tale with a universal theme. It could happen anywhere at any time, given the right set of circumstances. In fact, it has happened, more than once. It is instructive, however, that some on the Right despise this movie as a fever dream of the Left, a projection of who liberals are and our hatred of Bush. They deny, through their dismissal of its themes, that such a thing has ever happened before, or could happen again. But such denial, in fact, is what leads to tyranny.

This movie is about totalitarian control, and the many means that are used to control populaces. Use of religion, external or internal threats, intimidation, political suppression, and the disappearance in the night of enemies of the state are all well-documented tools of tyrants, and have been used by both the extreme right (fascists) and extreme left (communists). It is about abuse of power, the cowing of a populace, and the belief that an idea, once spoken and shared (and emphasized by action and reclaiming of power), can change the world. It is a cautionary tale to remind us of our not so distant past and our propensity, in times of fear and trouble, to seek security at the expense of freedom and justice.

Political complaints about the movie seem to be knee-jerk and shallow. First there is the accusation of an attack on Christianity, as there is a state religion. Owning a copy of the Koran is punishable by death. Ignored is the historical (Inquisition) and current (Taliban) fact that religion has been used as a means to control, to root out dissidents, and to scapegoat. But that happens mainly when the church and the state are united. I'm dismayed that conservatives support forcing religious exercises on people in the form of school prayer, a pledge of allegiance which includes swearing allegiance to God, and singing the praises of Jesus Christ in school plays. Such blending of church and state inevitably leads to abuse of religious minorities.

The comparisons to Bush which seem so obvious to conservatives were not so obvious to me. To Big Brother and Hitler, yes. I had to force myself to remember to look for comparisons to Bush, who is small beans and will ultimately not be anything like Big Brother or Hitler. We still have a robust nation of dissenters who, despite having been attacked by terrorists, still love freedom enough to give Bush a low popularity rating, distrust his unsupervised spying program, respect democratic processes, and support reining in a government that shows much disdain for checks and balances. If Bush is trying to set himself up as dictator, he's just as incompetent at that as at everything else he's ever done.

As to the accusation that the movie glorifies terrorism, it is again quite telling that some conservatives describe V as a terrorist. It was the government in the movie that committed terrorist acts against the populace, not V. V's actions were directed at a specific group who had conspired, for money and power, to oppress their people. He blew up unoccupied government buildings, not civilians. The citizenry were not terrorized, the objectively bad government was. In fact, the populace was inspired by and supportive of V. Since one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, and the definition depends on where one's sympathies lie, it follows that those conservatives who describe V as a terrorist sympathize with totalitarian government.

There were many interpretations of the film in the review that I linked that I disagree with -- vehemently. But there was one misrepresentation that, when I read it, I thought would have made a hokey, stupid, worrisome scene. It was the scene the reviewer described as "conformist goose-steppers." I imagined a scene that showed the oppressed taking up the mantle of the oppressors. That's just inaccurate. Think Tianenmen Square, not Red Square, and if you really want hokey, imagine they are all singing "Can you hear the people sing/Singing a song of angry men/It is the music of a people/Who will not be slaves again."

I recommend the film.

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