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How “V for Vendetta” Inspired the “Occupy” Movement

A couple of years ago, when I wrote up my list of the best science fiction films of the first decade of the 21st century, I included on my list what I think most people would have considered a dark-horse candidate, the 2006 movie V for Vendetta. This is what I wrote about it at the time:

“My vote for the Most Underrated Science Fiction Movie of the Decade, this is the Wachowski Brothers’ best script of the decade, and the best Alan Moore adaptation — the author’s outright contempt for Thatcherite England is successfully ported into our own turbulent political era, making for a dystopic movie that I think people will eventually see as wholly representative of the frustrations and paranoia of its era. I could be wrong. Let’s check back in a decade.”

As it turns out, we haven’t had to wait a decade.

Look at the various “Occupy” protests around the country and the world
and you’ll see the film’s imagery (and to be accurate and fair, the
imagery of the graphic novel upon which it is based) staring back at
you: the Guy Fawkes mask worn by V, the antihero of the story.

It’s
not a coincidence. In the film and graphic novel, V wore the mask as he
struggled to right the wrongs of a fascistic regime and used Guy Fawkes
himself as a symbol of someone who sacrificed everything (including his
own life) to try to right what he saw as the wrongs of the government.
In the real world today, those protesting in the Occupy movement see
themselves as doing the same thing — not only against the government
(or indeed, perhaps not primarily against the government) but against
corporations which they believe have placed their own interests against
the interests of the common weal. By appropriating the masks as a
symbol, the Occupy protesters are putting a face on their movement — a
face of revolution which gained its largest popularity through a film.

There are a number of ironies at play here. One is that the film version of V for Vendetta was
disowned by Alan Moore, the author of the graphic novel, who among
other things decried what he saw as the bastardization of his work for
corporate gain — the corporation in this case being Warner Bros., which
made the movie and which is part of the same larger corporation that
owns DC, the comic book company which published the graphic novel. One
wonders what Moore thinks about both the Occupy movement appropriating
his idea of using the Guy Fawkes masks and the knowledge that much of
the impetus for that use comes from the movie, rather than his graphic
novel.

Another irony is that at least some of the Occupy movement
members don’t seem to have gotten the memo about who Guy Fawkes was,
what he did and how the hero of both the graphic novel and the film went
about fomenting change. In a USA Today article about the masks and the Occupy movement,
one protester is quoted as saying, “They’re very meaningful masks. …
It’s not about bombing anything; it’s about being anonymous — and
peaceful.” Well, no. Guy Fawkes tried to bomb the English Parliament,
and in V for Vendetta, novel and film, there are bombs aplenty.
Nor is V particularly peaceful as he goes about murdering and torturing
people and blowing up buildings in his quest for vengeance and
revolution. The Occupy movements have indeed been largely peaceful to
date, but “peaceful” is not what the mask symbolized.

That said,
it’s a mistake to dismiss the Occupy movement’s use of the mask as a
symbol because its use doesn’t track 100% with how it is used in the
film and the book. One suspects the protesters are looking past the
movie’s need for exciting action scenes and the book’s nihilistic
reaction to ’80s Britain to find a common thread between their
real-world protest and V’s fictional battle: a feeling that, as one
character puts it in the movie, “It’s all gone wrong, hasn’t it?” And
that putting things right is going to take more than just half-measures;
it’s going to take real and wrenching change.

I watched V for Vendetta again
just the other night — on the 5th of November, as it happens, which is
Guy Fawkes Day in Britain, and which has significance in the film and
book. What’s going on in that film isn’t what’s going on in the real
world. But it’s not hard to see why, here and now, the film, the graphic
novel, and their symbols are speaking to so many of those who are
protesting.

I have to say I feel pretty smart for having suggested a couple of years ago that V for Vendetta
might end up being more influential than people suspected. On the other
hand, I kind of wish I didn’t live in a time where so many people saw
so many resonances between the world of that film and our own.

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