Last night, browsing one of the bulletin boards I frequent, I chanced across a thread blasting V For Vendetta, the adaptation of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s graphic novel about an anarchist fighting a near-future fascist British government, for being, and I quote, “boring.” Said the writer of the post:
If this was supposed to be a comic book “superhero” movie, I sure didn’t see it. From the trailers it looked like it was gonna be action packed. Secondly, the fact that the “hero” was a terrorist didn’t win any points with me either.
I leapt to the film’s defence. How could I not? I thought V For Vendetta was a very entertaining, thought-provoking film, a modern heir to dystopian stories like Orwell’s 1984. Said I:
Except that V did fight crime–the crimes perpetrated by the government. Just because the government does something doesn’t make it right or legal. Look at Guantanamo Bay. Look at Abu Ghraib. Look at domestic NSA surveillance.
Yada, yada, yada… Yeah, you can sum up everything you know about the US by mentioning Gitmo, Abu Graib, and the NSA.
For starters, there’s only a handful of zip codes that give a rat’s ass about Gitmo. One of them probably being San Francisco. The rest of the country says “KEEP’EM LOCKED UP!” The truth to the matter is that conditions at Gitmo are actually BETTER than they are at most domestic prisons. That’s why when all the human rights watch groups actually go down there to observe the facility, they all come back with different opinions.
And if you let the nine knuckleheads at Abu Graib define the work of the US armed forces in Iraq, then it’s you who need to get some perspective.
And the NSA wiretaps? Oh you mean the ones that along with MI-5, Scotland Yard, and Pakistani intel that foiled the recent terror plot in London? I have no problem with NSA listening to suspected terrorist chatter….why? Because I’m not a fucking terrorist!!!
Naturally, I had to reply to this:
Dude, did my point go completely over your head?
My thesis is that a government’s actions aren’t automatically legal, no matter what George W. Bush and Alberto Gonzales believe. I provided examples, from our own recent past, of governmental actions that violate the law. You may think them fine, but that doesn’t alter the fact that the law says torture is illegal, that combatants must not be held without due process, that wiretaps require a court order.
If you’d rather talk within the confines of the V universe, I can provide examples there, too.
The government’s actions in poisoning the water supply and unleashing a biological toxin that killed a hundred thousand people and then pinned on religious extremists–is that legal?
The Larkhill Detention facility–is that legal?
The brutalization of Gordon Dietrich–is that legal?
My point, Johnny Rico, is that the government that creates the laws also has an obligation to follow those laws. The government shouldn’t commit state-sponsored murder, on the individual level or the massive level, and yet we see both in V. Citizens shouldn’t fear that the government will intrude upon their personal lives at the risk of their own liberty, and yet the stories of Valerie and Gordon both testify to that fear.
If a government can break its own laws, then what good are laws? If a government can ignore the social contract with its people, then why should that government derive power from the people?
V did fight crime, Johnny Rico, only a crime that you clearly would not recognize. A crime committed by a government is no less a crime. V is no less a vigilante than Batman, it’s only the criminals they fight that differ.
The film’s central ethic is stated early in the film by V–“People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” It’s an idea that resonates down through the centuries, from the Magna Carta to the ideas of John Locke to the Revolutionary Fathers. V For Vendetta is nothing less than a parable for our times, a film which shows us what might happen if we allow it to happen, if we become complacent, if we give in to our fears.