Here we are again. The 5th of November. I hate this day. Whether it’s because of V for Vendetta, or the real life Guy Fawkes, people seem to remind me every November 5th that it is the 5th of November. Sure, the story of the Gunpowder Plot is fascinating. One man tried to overthrow an oppressive government in the name of freedom.
Except that’s not what it was about. It was all about religion. England hates Catholics, but they love Protestants. The Catholics gathered together to not upheave the government, but to blow it the fuck up. When Guy Fawkes gathered the gunpowder under the House of Lords, he was not planning to blow up just the building, but the entirety of Parliament during the State Opening. With everyone dead the mostly Protestant England would have no choice but to accept Catholicism, right?
Guy Fawkes Night originated as a commemoration that the plot had failed and the King had not died. For a long time the celebration had religious overtones with a very anti-Catholic theme. Eventually that all died away and was replaced with a holiday much more like Halloween, but with the same roots as Columbus Day. Celebrations from savagery.
V for Vendetta co-opts the story of Guy Fawkes to create, not a story about freedom and oppression, but a story about anarchy and fascism. That is what V for Vendetta is all about and that is the point that the V for Vendetta movie missed. Both sides are far too extreme and far too wrong to support. Everyone likes to hate on the government and praise the little guy, but V performed vile acts of revenge, while the Leader has honorable motivations for creating an oppressive government after the world has ended. There is no good or bad, there is no right way. The Protestant government of England was wrong. The Catholic revolutionists were wrong. Guy Fawkes was not a hero.
According to the book’s introduction, the ideas for V For Vendetta came to Alan Moore during the political climate of 1980s England. There was a powerful conservative movement at the time that focused on controlling the populace and banning homosexuality. It was the government’s intention to utterly eradicate such notions. Riot police were reinforced, security cameras were implemented and individual freedoms were being jeopardized. There was even talk of casting out AIDS victims and it was only a matter of time before other minorities were targeted. It was becoming a dangerous place. There were parallels to be made between Moore’s England and 1605. Oppression and danger were alive and well.
That’s the world V for Vendetta is set in. Except 15 years later, taken to Moore’s idea of it’s logical conclusion. England is now a fascist state where the government controls everything and everyone. The ‘Voice of Fate’ controls all information and tells people what to think. The police have absolute power and are absolutely corrupt; they murder, rape and destroy at their own discretion. V introduces himself as “the bogeyman. The villain. The Black sheep of the family.” He represents the opposite of control, the unleashing of mankind. He is the Other. But that Other is not heroic, he is simply the other side of the spectrum. V makes his first appearance, dressed as Guy Fawkes, and blows up parliament. He unleashes the destruction and energy that Guy Fawkes meant to unleash hundreds of years ago.
Alan Moore depicts V himself as an enigma. Is he a revolutionary or is he just crazy? Is he a hero or a monster? He leaves that up for you to decide. V was part of a medical experiment that may have left him mentally unstable and he pursues his revenge throughout the book. He heroically saves Evey from certain death, but he also destroys the mind of Lewis Prothero, in the name of revenge. He submits Evey to unknowable amounts of torture just to indoctrinate her into his ideology. It’s the right reasons with the wrong methods. There’s nothing commendable here.
V was a terrorist, Guy Fawkes was a terrorist. We shouldn’t go around sensationalizing that. Alan Moore and David Lloyd knew that and set up the question ‘is absolute anarchy better than absolute control?’ They don’t tell you what to think, that’s for you to decide.