Wednesday, February 27, 2008

V for Very Ironic, Or, I Apologize for the Excessive Use of Parentheticals

So I've been slowly making my way through Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism (a great read thus far) over the last few weeks. Meanwhile, last night, I finally, somewhat begrudgingly, watched the Wachowski brothers' screen adaptation of Alan Moore's V for Vendetta. And let me say: the timing could not have been better (or worse, depending on one's perspective).

Liberal Fascsism, as most of my readers probably already know, explores quite convincingly the thesis that fascism is a beast of the Left side of the political spectrum, particularly the socialist strain therein.

V for Vendetta, both in its graphic novel and silver-screen forms, is a dystopic paranoid fantasy of an explicitly conservative, ostensibly Christian, "fascist" political organization that comes to power in England in the near future after global catastrophe. While the book's themes were an anarchist repudiation of Thatcherite England (Alan Moore being something of a far-left loony), the movie was a thinly veiled loogie in the eye of George W. Bush and "his" America (or perhaps "adolescent temper tantrum" would be a more apt description... but I digress).

I say that the timing was appropriate because of the prevalent themes in either work. In Vendetta, the ruling political party, called Norsefire, exploited a great tragedy during a time of upheaval and came into complete totalitarian power, controlling commerce, the media, and wielding a very heavy hand over the everyday lives of people. Despite its name (why would a Norse-themed political party gain ascendance in England, exactly? Apart from the obvious Nazi parallel, this is perplexing), it is a strongly nationalistic, racist, and despotic regime with Christian themes and visuals (including a black-on-red Cross of Lorraine as the party's symbol, and the party's slogan, "Strength Through Unity, Unity Through Faith" -- although the book has "Purity" rather than "Unity"). In the film, the party's leader, Adam Sutler, was even explicitly stated to have risen to power in the Conservative Party before breaking out on his own.

As I said, the Nazi parallels are hardly subtle. The leader himself even bears a striking resemblance to a caricature of Adolf Hitler (tellingly, the name in the book was "Adam Susan", while the name was changed to Adam Sutler in the film, presumably only to provide a little more non-subtlety to the "allegory". Might as well have called him Schmaydolf Schmitler, since the producers obviously felt the intended audience was too stupid to grasp the other similarities).

Likewise, the film portrays all the "bad guys" as conservative tropes (loud-mouth, bombastic, hypocritically God-fearing TV pundit, pedophile high-ranking Bishop, and... well, the rest of the bad guys were so one-dimensional that I can't even describe them), while the "good guys" are all liberal, progressive scions (including a completely unnecessary flashback sequence about how a poor lesbian movie actress was arrested and tortured to death for being a lesbian -- AND YOU KNOW HALLIBUSHITLER MCMONKEYFLIGHTSUITSMIRK STAYS AWAKE AT NIGHT THINKING ABOUT HOW HE COULD DO THAT HIMSELF!!!!) -- the protagonist Evey's parents were generic "writers" and "war protesters" (who were of course also arrested and tortured to death), the only other sympathetic character in the film, Evey's boss, ALSO turned out to be a closeted homosexual and fan of the Koran (with a ridiculous diatribe wherein he defends his possession of the contraband book by claiming that he just "loves it because of its beauty" when asked if he were a Muslim himself -- because, you know, it's the Christians, not the Muslims, who are currently beheading and hanging gays throughout the world), and of course, there's the titular character V, a mass-murdering anarchist revolutionary for whom the film attempts no rationalization or justification apart from his desire for revenge and generic paeans to "freedom", presumably in the Progressive sense of the word (and I say this not to paint the picture that the film intends him to be viewed as anything other than the Good-est of the Good Guys, but rather that it is implicit in the minds of Hollywood liberals and modern Progressives that mass-murdering and violence are o.k., just so long as it is directed at the right people and ends once all the "undesirables" are eliminated).

I suppose that, taken on its own, the construction of the political party in the film could stand as a genuinely evil, totalitarian, "conservative" government. However, they make great pains both to tie it into contemporary political situations (Bush and the Iraq War, in particular) AND historical parallels, so a contextual critique is certainly warranted. And this is where Mr. Goldberg's book comes in. While I am far from finished, the central tenet is that fascist movements tend to arise from a "liberal" (in the modern sense of the word) political framework, and generally have little to do with "conservative" (again, in the modern, American sense) political ideals.

An aside: while I haven't explicitly come across it in the book yet, I get the sense that one of the cruxes in the dichotomy between progressive fascism and conservatism/libertarianism is the definition and use, on either side, of the word "freedom". For a conservative, freedom tends to be an individual thing, and is used in the context of "freedom to": freedom to worship, freedom to choose, freedom to buy and sell without restriction, freedom to speak, freedom to move around. Progressives, on the other hand, seem to view freedom as a corporate, collective idea, and use it primarily in the context of "freedom from": freedom from poverty, freedom from hunger, freedom from consequence, freedom from responsibility, freedom from working for your pay, freedom from having to make hard choices. Thus, when a government seeks to give you freedom to, it must inherently diminish itself to ensure such rights, whereas when a government seeks to give you freedom from, it must grow accordingly.

Back to the topic at hand: an ostensibly Conservative political movement, as presented in the film, seems unlikely to grow into the fascist dictatorship that rules England with an iron fist, for the very reason that, according to Mr. Goldberg's thesis, the controlling impulses inherent and necessary in such a movement are not now, nor have they ever been, found in what is currently known as "conservative political theory" (and what is, for the most part, in reality, classical liberal political theory). The irony inherent in explicitly stating that it was a Conservative movement to begin with is underscored greatly in Liberal Fascism, wherein is made clear that such things arise from the socialist desire for control of people's lives (Quick quiz: was it the Tory/conservative government in England, or the Labour/progressive one, that caused London to become one of the most surveilled cities in the world?).

As a final note, if you have not seen the movie, don't bother. While the action sequences, albeit few and far between, are neat, the film itself is aggravatingly stupid, heavy handed in its political themes, incoherent at times, poorly acted, poorly scripted, and somewhat boring and predictable. If you have or hope to have a realistic mental grasp on politics and political movements, and fascism in particular, you will groan repeatedly and possibly bang your head against the wall out of frustration.

Ok, one final aside, for real this time: Hollywood liberals really do seem to think that their intended audience is incredibly stupid, when they present a blatantly politically-charged film and make no attempt at subtlety or cleverness when trying to ram their message down the audience's throat. But then again, maybe they're right: anyone silly enough to fall for their propaganda must, inherently, be pretty dim to begin with.

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Anonymous Marty said...

As an act of outreach, I am emailing the link to this post to my daughter, who recently watched the movie. Great review, Ben.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Yay! More readers!

I'm glad you liked it. Frankly, I think I meandered a bit and didn't *really* make the point I was trying to make.

8:42 AM  
Anonymous Marty said...

I invited my daughter to read your review in the most non-prejudicial way (toward your review) possible:

Did you see the movie "V for Vendetta"? One of my friends gave an interesting review of it here: (link)

She daughter replied to my email in the way only an intelligent, college age, almost-not-a-teenager-anymore could:

So.... I don't think this guy is biased at all... Anyway, don't take his word for it yourself.

Side note- I don't watch movies to get my political opinions. A movie about some guy in a mask that was adapted from a comic strip who blows up government stuff sounds like a fun time. Plus, Natalie Portman gets her head shaved.

I do actually read (as in books, and the newspaper) when I want to get information on stuff.

Besides... it was on the free movie channel at the dorm.

Have fun blogging.

Your turn in about 16 years, Ben...

9:21 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Well, hopefully, through a strict regimen of home schooling, private Christian college(s), and weekly trips to Church, I'll raise me a conservative little girl!

Also, during that same time, I will lose weight, keep all my hair, get smarter, lower my cholesterol, and become a millionaire!

It's good to have dreams.

Can I assume from her response, then, that your daughter has never seen, nor has plans to see, An Inconvenient Truth, Sicko, Fahrenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine, or their ilk? Because I couldn't imagine anyone watching those for their entertainment value.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Marty said...

She has seen F911, and maybe one of the other ones. She saw through much of the propaganda.

Good luck on your project.

9:53 PM  

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