Wednesday, August 23, 2006

H for Hegemony and ‘V for Vendetta’

Analyse a Text Which You Feel Challenges the Hegemony:
H for Hegemony and ‘V for Vendetta’

This analysis intends to reveal the extent to which the comic series ‘V for Vendetta’ might be considered counter-hegemonic, an aim achieved through reflection on how themes addressed within the text relate to real-life, and through a critique of the text in relation to its less subversive counterparts within the genre of adult comic.

Here at the outset, it is imperative that the terms used henceforth should be clearly defined: Ideology, according to Williams (1977) is:

1. A system of beliefs characteristic of a particular class or group;

2. A system of illusory beliefs- false ideas or false consciousness- which can be contrasted with true or scientific knowledge;

3. The general process of the production of meanings and ideas.

Hegemony, according to Holtzman (2000) is:

The process by which those in power secure the consent or social submission of those who are not in power. Hegemony is not secured through force, but rather through the way that values are taught in religious, educational, and media institutions.

The text was selected for analysis because it is self-evidently ideologically aware: that is, it deals head on with issues of counter-culture, emancipation, oppression, and ideology itself. ‘V for Vendetta’ has recently become a high-grossing film, released in a time of political anxiety. Its themes resonate strongly in those who pay attention to the current political climate and have awareness of the current trend towards terrorism, closed-circuit television, and the loss of privacy.

These are the words spoken by the character codenamed ‘V’ in address to the nation’s capital on Bonfire Night just prior to the story’s climax.

“Good evening, London. This is the voice of fate. Almost four hundred years ago tonight, a great citizen made a most significant contribution to our common culture. It was a contribution forged in stealth and silence and secrecy, although it is best remembered in noise and bright light. To commemorate this most glorious of evenings, her majesty’s government is pleased to return the rights of secrecy and privacy to you, its loyal subjects. For three days, your movements will not be watched, your conversations will not be listened to, and “do what thou wilt” shall be the whole of the law. God bless you and goodnight” (‘V’, November 5th, 1998)

Moments later, the totalitarian state of Britain is plunged into disarray as precisely targeted explosions are triggered around London, decimating key buildings of governance and thus toppling the regime for a short time. This act of terrorism is carried out by the masked and mysterious ‘V’, an escapee psychologically altered by his stay in a government concentration camp. There, he was subjected to experiments in hormone treatment, which heightened his consciousness to the point that he was free of the constraints of ideology (well, it is a comic book). He chose to become ‘V’ an icon of anarchy, and using his highly-attuned mind and body, he embarked on a

vendetta in the name of freedom, first killing all forty of his previous captors, and going on to destroy the oppressive forces they were borne out of, his counter-cultural ideology challenging the nationwide hegemony.

The series was written by Alan Moore and David Lloyd in the early eighties, and is set in a near-future Britain where an extreme fascist single-party state has arisen that controls the country through the media, secret police task-forces, a planned economy and the use of the aforementioned concentration camps. The series was considered most risqué on its initial serialisation in the independently published ‘Warrior’ magazine, as it re-presented Thatcher’s Britain in a terrible, yet purposely familiar light. Vendetta’s government has systematically removed all traces of non-government culture, arts, music and literature. The leader places his faith in technology, especially closed-circuit television, and uses computers to scrutinise the population. The public are shepherded by this omnipresent government, whose propagandist media output serve to keep the hegemony in working order. There is no freedom of expression in Vendetta’s London, and the public seems largely complacent until ‘V’ begins his intricate and theatrical detonation of the corrupt governing forces that emancipate the populace for time enough to question the legitimacy of their oppression.

Emancipation through anarchy is the key theme in ‘V for Vendetta’, and the text reinforces the idea that it is more desirable to be free to choose your existence than to have it chosen for you. This concept creates a contradiction in the narrative of the text: ‘V’ considers that his acts of sabotage and disruption are necessary in order to force the public into freedom, yet they do not ask for his help, thus they become the victims as well as the beneficiaries of his vendetta. For that reason ‘V’ is portrayed as a terrorist within the narrative, a view that the reader might also adopt were they not privy to his intimate conversations with his ally and apprentice, Evey Hammond.

In a scene where her training nears completion, ‘V’ states that “I didn’t put you in a prison, Evey. I just showed you the bars”. Here, Moore is making allusions to the idea that ideology is a prison cage, and that those within it must first see their captivity before they can break free. This scene sees Evey transfigured, she breaks free of the constraints she had allowed to be placed on herself. However, ‘V’s grandest gesture of course is the emancipation of the entire British public, and in address he incites their rage against the machine:

“Good evening, London. I would introduce myself, but truth to tell, I do not have a name. You can call me ‘V’. Since mankind’s dawn, a handful of oppressors have accepted the responsibility over our lives that we should accept for ourselves. By doing so, they took our power. By doing nothing, we gave it away. We’ve seen where their way leads, through camps and wars, towards the slaughterhouse. In anarchy there is another way. With anarchy, from rubble comes new life, hope reinstated. They say anarchy’s dead, but see, reports of my death were exaggerated. Tomorrow, Downing Street will be destroyed, the head reduced to ruins, an end to what has gone before. Tonight, you must choose what comes next. Lives of our own, or a return to chains. Choose carefully. And so, adieu.” (‘V’, November 9th, 1998)

In this rousing speech and throughout the series, ‘V’ is not simply talking to the masses within Vendetta, he is communicating with the reader also. Through the fluid and deeply immersive medium of comics, Moore has a direct link to the reader’s inner thoughts, placing us at centre stage within ‘V’s address with the intended effect that we might also be inspired to “choose what comes next”. It is evident to this analyst that as well as being a remarkable narrative, ‘V for Vendetta’ is also a coded attack on fascism, totalitarianism, dogmatism, and is a call to arms for those unhappy with the current situation.

Vendetta’s dystopian future bears striking resemblance to current conditions in Britain. Moore correctly predicted the rise in technology as means of surveillance: London is in reality the world’s ‘most watched city’ with the highest amount of CCTV cameras per capita; the government can indeed track criminal’s whereabouts- through chips in mobile phones. Similarly, ‘V’s actions parallel the acts of terrorism we see in reality: the destruction of landmarks; bombing public transport. Were this a text written today, ‘V for Vendetta’ would certainly be said to challenge the hegemony in a most distasteful way.

Yet Vendetta’s London is a different place to ours, and of course much less drastic means are required to clean up our nation’s problems. Within ‘V for Vendetta’ however, ‘V’ will do just fine. Though he is not the hero-figure of the type the genre is used to (Batman, Spiderman, Superman etc…) he is just as iconic, just as daring and much more frightening. He is also the most enigmatic ‘hero’ to appear in comics. This analyst considers that it was important to keep his true identity and true motivations hidden: The character ‘V’ was intended to be partly protagonist and partly antagonist, his Guy Fawkes mask permanently shielding any expression of remorse or revelry in his actions. Series artist David Lloyd banned thought-bubbles, which, coupled with his mask, make ‘V’ the least expressive human character in the history of the medium. It is left for the reader to decide whether ‘V’ is hero or villain. When asked if there is a message behind the comic series, Moore replies:

“The central question is, is this guy [‘V’] right? Or is he mad? What do you, the reader, think about this? Which struck me as a properly anarchist solution. I didn't want to tell people what to think, I just wanted to tell people to think, and consider some of these admittedly extreme little elements, which nevertheless do recur fairly regularly throughout human history.” (Moore, cited in MacDonald, 2006)

It is then shown through his work on ‘V for Vendetta’, that like his character ‘V’, MooreMoore would be teaching a new ideology if he did not offer his readers a choice of whether to accept or reject what is offered to them. Evey reflects upon ‘V’s finished campaign: intends to remind the public that they can think for themselves. This invitation to liberation is not expressed discreetly, hinted at through literary metaphor and subtext; it is the subject of the text as plain as day. It is for this reason that ‘V for Vendetta’ challenges our hegemony, the hegemony that keeps the majority from speaking out against issues of contention. Of course,

“How purposeful your vendetta, how benign, almost like surgery…your foes assumed you sought revenge upon their flesh alone, but you did not stop there… you gored their ideology as well. The people stand within the ruins of a society, a jail intended to outlive them all. The door is open. They can leave, or fall instead to squabbling and thence new slaveries. The choice is theirs, as ever it must be.”(‘Evey’, November 10th, 1998)

And how right she is, for as these words are spoken the reader too is given the choice: to celebrate ‘V’s success as a hero, or to damn his actions as a terrorist. Moore has blurred the lines of right and wrong by showing both sides of ‘V’s anarcho-terrorist actions: revealing to us the positive sides of ‘V’s character provides questions as to the intentions of allMoore is using dominant ideological perceptions of terrorism, humanism and morality to hook the reader, and then subverts these hegemonic concepts to offer the reader a radically new perspective, should they choose to see it. freedom-fighting terrorists. Portraying the ‘hero’ as a masked avenger in the theatrical sense endears us to him, yet contrasting this with evidence of his criminal insanity makes us ponder whether his apparently genius plans to free the populace are naught but a crazed obsession.

The comic book is considered by many to be fairly bereft of cultural capital, and is seen as a medium whose content is built around meeting the unsatisfied desires of their usually male readership. Accountable for this perception is the superhero comic, a sub-genre that has defined the medium as we know it today. The literal power-struggles that these heroes undergo are famed for their scale, destruction and overt masculinity. In these types of comic, the role of the superhero is to preserve the status-quo, whose success is measured by their ability to return things to normality. These comics buy into hegemony, and the payoff for the reader is the chance to go along for the ride. However, the ride gets dull after a time. Thus, it is the heroes who fail to conform to these conservative ideologies that are causing a buzz lately, because these heroes, their writers and their respective series are making changes affecting how the medium is seen. ‘V for Vendetta’ is not a superhero comic, and ‘V’ is not a superhero. The payoff with this text is the chance to see the world in a new light, and to feel reminded that life is what you make of it, so make it your own.

There is an explosion of interest in comics of late; people are beginning to take notice of comics that are saying relevant things about our world. Comics have always been in the sub-culture, but with texts as oppositional as ‘V for Vendetta’, and hundreds of other genre-busting titles out there, perhaps it’s becoming more of a counter-culture, and one that deserves to be listened to.



References:

Holtzman, Linda (2000). Media Messages: What Film, Television, and Popular Music Teach Us about Race, Class, Gender and Sexual Orientation. New York: M. E. Sharpe Inc.

MacDonald, Heidi (2006). A FOR ALAN, Pt. 1: The Alan Moore interview. Available at: http://www.comicon.com/thebeat/2006/03/a_for_alan_pt_1_the_alan_moore.html (Accessed on 20th April 2006)

Moore, Alan et al (1983-1990). V for Vendetta. New York: DC Comics.

Williams, Raymond (1977). Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Further Reading:

Mattelart, Armand (1980). Mass Media, Ideologies, and the Revolutionary Movement. Brighton: The Harvester Press Ltd.

Stephen Burt (2005). ‘"Blown To Atoms or Reshaped At Will”: Recent Books about Comics’. College Literature 32.1 [Winter 2005] pages 166-176.

Wolf-Meyer, Matthew. (2003) ‘The World Ozymandias Made: Utopias in the Superhero Comic, Subculture, and the Conservation of Difference.’ Journal of Popular Culture [2003] pages 497- 517.

1 Comments:

At 10:00 pm, Blogger billimarie said...

Hello,

I'm doing a paper comparing 1984 (novel) to V for Vendetta (film) and I'm citing you as a source. Thanks for sharing via your blog !

Billimarie

 

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