Each year on the fifth of November we watch V for Vendetta. We have been doing this now for many years.
We do this not only because the film is really very good but because it is increasingly (in our opinion) apt. The film is based on a famous graphic novel by Alan Moore written primarily between 1982-1985.
The content reminds one of George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and in some ways is a contemporary of works like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale published in 1985.
You see as 1984 approached people began to think about the novel by Orwell written in 1948 and how prescient it seemed to be. Moore wrote V as an Englishman living in the heart of Margaret Thatcher’s England and this no doubt influenced his work as well.
Questions were asked – what was a government and, more importantly, the people running it, willing to do to ensure continued authority and delivery of its policies, which, after all, were only for the good of the people.
Speaking of the people one is forced to ask what they were willing to give up in the face of authority and loud voices? How passive are people anyhow?
Just as Orwell was heavily influenced by the realities of WW2 and post-war England so Moore in influenced by Thatcherism, Conservatism and the Cold War era. What is a government willing to do TO its people in order to preserve its version of the people?
Scary questions no doubt.
So with V Moore enshrouds an idea with a character known as V and stylized after Guy Fawkes, a noted figure in British history who was arrested on Nov. 5 1605 for plotting to blow up the House of Lords.
Fawkes became a figure of rebellion against tyrannical government (although he was, in fact, anti-protestant and religiously motivated) and November 5 is known as Guy Fawkes Day in England.
The day has been celebrated practically every year since 1605. There is a reference to it in John Milton’s poem In Quintum Novembris (On the Fifth of November) written by the 17 year old in Latin in 1626 where he closes the poem with the words:
“in the whole year no day is celebrated more than the Fifth of November.“
The premise and standard celebration of Guy Fawkes Day has been to celebrate the capture and execution of a traitor to England and the crown. Bonfires are built and set ablaze into which are thrown Guy Fawkes dolls to be burned in effigy by children reciting a popular nursery rhyme (whose age eludes me) referred to as The Bonfire Cry.
The Bonfire Cry
Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli’ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d (or by God’s mercy*)
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holla boys, Holla boys, let the bells ring.
Holla boys, holla boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!
Over time there has grown a definite sense of irony in the historical root of the day as it has taken on more of a sense of almost celebration of Guy Fawkes and the idea of taking control of government, monarchy and the like.
In more recent history the decentralized, anarchist group Anonymous became known partly for their use of Guy Fawkes masks in their presentations focused on criticizing abusive aspects of government such as censorship and authoritarianism. In this instance the group is referencing Fawkes through the filter of V for Vendetta.
And so now we find ourselves on the eve of another November 5th, 415 years after the events of Guy Fawkes, more than 40 years since the publication of V for Vendetta and 15 years since the movie was released.
We find ourselves also on the eve of an American election critical to, and no doubt impactful upon, the future – not simply of the United States but the world.
Herein lies the point of this small piece.
Whether you have seen it before or not at all, consider finding and watching V for Vendetta on November 5th. Watch it and consider at the same time the world around you. Watch it through the filter of today and global affairs.
I would also encourage you to purchase the graphic novel and read it.