2016 has seen the advent of an era of fear and hate. It has seen a resurgence of populism and white supremacism. Yesterday with Brexit, today the election of a misogynist, racist and homophobic Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, and the fear tomorrow, of a victory of the far right in France. 2016 is definitely not the best year for democracy. At least for democracy as it is now ideally conceived: power to all people, so they will never see their rights denied again by a privileged few.
Reading Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s 1988 comic V for Vendetta – or watching James McTeigue’s adaptation on screen for the laziest – has perhaps never been more appropriate than today. V for Vendetta tells the story of the fight by a mysterious anarchist terrorist against the fascist state of a dystopian future Britain. The two authors’ idea was based on their “political pessimism” regarding Thatcherism, whose authoritarian aspects they extrapolated into an imagined fascist neo-Conservative Britain. When the film was released in 2006, parallels were drawn with George W. Bush’s administration, including by director James McTeigue: “We felt the [graphic] novel was very prescient to how the political climate is at the moment. It really showed what can happen when society is ruled by government, rather than the government being run as a voice for the people”. Now that Trump has been elected president of the United States, V for Vendetta has become more than ever a global story.
There are a number of things that V for Vendetta can help us remember. The beginning of the story – the ascension to power of Chancellor Sutler/Susan (Adam Sutler in the film; Adam Susan in the comic) sounds awfully familiar:
“Our story begins as these stories often do, with a young up-and-coming politician. He's a deeply religious man and a member of the Conservative party. He's completely single-minded and has no regard for political process. The more power he attains, the more obvious his zealotry, the more aggressive his supporters become. The true goal of his project is power. Complete and total hegemonic domination.”
In V for Vendetta, all those who are ‘different’ disappear. Homosexuals, people of colour, Jews, Muslims; everyone who is not white and straight gets deported to concentration camps. In real life, a homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, xenophobic, misogynist and racist Trump has threatened to deport all illegal immigrants, which could include putting them in concentration camps while they wait to get shipped out of the country. Vice president-elect Mike Pence supports gay conversion therapy. And these are only two examples of how far a far right, ultra-Conservative government is ready to go. From here to V for Vendetta, is the road that long?
This is why I encourage everyone to read the comic and/or watch the film to remind us how easy it is to get accustomed to a normalised anti-democratic government, to stop fighting and accept the most atrocious things as banal.“The truth is that there is something terribly wrong with this country” ,V tells the people when he hijacks the state propaganda system to broadcast his message on every TV screen. And there is something terribly wrong with Donald Trump, a white supremacist bigot, becoming president of the United States. Now the unthinkable has occurred – what no one but a few thought possible – how long will it be before we are normalising hate and fear, and ceasing to fight? Moore and Lloyd’s V reminds us that we are responsible for our own freedom or oppression:
“We’ve had a string of embezzlers, frauds, liars and lunatics making a string of catastrophic decisions. This is plain fact. But who elected them? It was you! You who appointed these people! You who gave them the power to make your decisions for you! All you had to say was ‘no’. You have no spine. You have no pride.”
V is only an idea, the powerful idea that people have the power to rebel against authoritarianism. But there will be no V to come save us all (French people, like me, or Americans, or anyone else whose country is or might be falling into the hands of fascists). In the end, when detective Finch (Stephen Rea) asks Evey (Natalie Portman) who V was, she answers:
“He was Edmond Dantes. And he was my father… and my mother. My brother. My friend. He was you. And me. He was all of us.”
“People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people” Gordon (Stephen Fry) wisely reminds Evey in the movie. So let’s not sit back and ‘wait and see’. Instead, let’s unite, and let’s make an effort to remember, each and every day, that this is not normal.