Ok, this is a potentially volatile subject to write about, and for once I’m glad that I have only about five or six readers. If I had any more, they might hunt me down because of what I’m about to write.
You see, I’ve got a big problem with V for Vendetta. Not just the movie, but with the graphic novel. That means that I’m not only attacking the Wachowskis, but I’m also attacking Alan Moore, the writer of Watchmen, considered the Citizen Kane of comic books, among several other critically acclaimed works, and who is known as one of the greatest writers of the last 50 years.
So what is it I’m objecting to, then?
It’s the glorification of Guy Fawkes.
Guy Fawkes, if you are to believe this movie, was a freedom fighter out to destroy parliament, because the government was oppressive, and he stood up for the people.
At one point in the movie, V gives this monologue, aimed at the citizens of London.
More than four hundred years ago, a great citizen wished to embed the fifth of November forever in our memory. His hope was to remind the world that fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words—they are perspectives.
In honour of this act, V wants to blow up parliament. Guy Fawkes is his inspiration. His ideals live on even hundreds of years after he died. He understood that for people to be truly free, the government had to be removed!
It’s very touching.
Pity it’s all a load of crap!
The truth is, Guy Fawkes was, at best, a mercenary who was paid to blow up parliament. At worst, he was a religious fanatic.
Most britons know this already, but many people outside the UK might not have heard about Guy Fawkes until they watched this movie. In case that applies to you, here’s a history lesson for you.
Guy Fawkes was part of a plot to kill king James I of England and VI of Scotland and reinstate Catholicism as the primary religion in the United Kingdom.
Blowing up parliament was only phase one. Phase two, which would have involved installing a catholic monarch on the throne instead of James, never came to fruition due to them being caught.
Maybe this is just me, but when I think freedom, liberty and fairness, the first word that pops into my head isn’t “Catholicism”.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to insult the modern Catholic Church. I’m sure it’s a lovely religion, and I envy their cathedrals. But you must agree that there is a pretty big difference between reinstating the Catholic Church and ushering in a society of perfect anarchy.
And this wouldn’t be very annoying to me, if the movie didn’t go on and on about how ideals are important. They rant about the importance and power of an ideal, all the while not actually caring about what those ideals are!
Instead, they just apply whatever ideals they want onto a character from history.
This movie tells us that the “WHAT” is important, not the “WHY”.
It doesn’t matter WHY Guy Fawkes tried to kill the king. The fact he tried to remove the government is enough, and we can make up whatever motivation we want, to fit our story.
And some of you might be saying “Yeah, well that was the movie. The original graphic novel didn’t glorify Guy Fawkes. They only referenced the Fifth of November once, and that was when they blew up Parliament in the beginning”.
The book was, as is common for Alan Moore, much more ambiguous about who is right and who is wrong. It’s not a freedom fighter against an oppressive government. It’s extremist fascism against extremist anarchy. The television speech to the citizens of London is less of a rallying call, and more like a follow up interview for an employee, and directed to all of humanity.
And in the end, it’s up the the readers to decide if it was all worth it. Will the world be better, now that there is no government to protect the citizens? Will London become The Land of Do as You Please or remain The Land of Take-What-You-Want, until it destroys itself?
A very interesting idea indeed, making us question the nature of humanity and society.
So why then does the book bother me?
Because of the mask.
Because Alan Moore and David Lloyd decided to take V, Anarchy Incarnate, and give him the face of a catholic fanatic. And they did it specifically in a tribute to Guy Fawkes.
Don’t believe me?
In the back of the book, Alan Moore recounts how during development, Lloyd sent him a note.
Why don’t we portray him as a resurrected Guy Fawkes, complete with one of those papier-mâche masks, in a cape and a conical hat? He’d look really bizarre and it would give Guy Fawkes the image he’s deserved all these years. We shouldn’t burn the chap every Nov. 5th but celebrate his attempt to blow up Parliament!
And Alan Moore read this note and decided that this was a great idea. So the book was made, with everything built around a Guy Fawkes-Mask.
Yes, Alan Moore is a good writer. The writer of some of the most celebrated stories in the history of sequential art.
But just because a writer has done good previously, does that mean that everything they write is automatically good? Does it mean they are incapable of making a mistake? Does it mean we should clap and say “It can’t be a mistake. This person wrote it! Clearly, history got it wrong!”
That is an incredibly dangerous way to look at things, I’d say. If that is our logic here, why do we get angry at George Lucas for The Phantom Menace? Surely that movie is good, since it was made by George Lucas, and he made The Empire Strikes Back!
Do you see my point?
Of course, it’s possible to enjoy the movie and the book. It’s very easy. Provided, of course, that you know nothing about Guy Fawkes, his ideals and the Gunpowder plot…
And here’s the big problem.
Celebrating Guy Fawkes as a champion of anarchy or a martyr who gave his life in the fight for freedom is no different than saying that the people who flew the planes into the World Trade Center in 2001 did it for animal rights.
No difference what so ever.
Think about that, the next time you see someone wearing a Guy Fawkes-mask.
Oh, and maybe this is just me, but if, for some deranged reason, you feel you have to take a religious fanatic and completely ignore their motives, actions or what they stood for, and instead impose your own meaning….
Why not pick the religious fanatics who succeeded in their mission, instead of the guy who got caught?
I’ll leave you with the rest of the poem “Remember, Remember“. Ironically, despite what the first part says, a lot of people seem to forget it…
Guy Fawkes, Guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England’s overthrow.
By God’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.
And what shall we do with him?