Comics

How to Start a Revolution

If you’re FBI/CIA and you fell for my clickbait, you legally have to leave me a like and comment that you’re a secret agent or it’s entrapment. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

For real though, let’s talk about a classic comic: V for Vendetta, and connect it a bit to today. Spoiler warning I suppose, though it is over thirty years old.

I first read V for Vendetta for a college course. I’m reasonable certain it was Conspiracy Theory Narratives, but my memory is touch-and-go at best. This is why I had to re-read the entirety of the comic before writing this article, so a huge thank you to John for covering my slot on Friday so I could invest way more time than I was expecting into binge-reading an entire graphic novel and researching a shadowy internet hacker group.

V for Vendetta is a graphic novel that originally ran as a comic serial from 1982 to 1985. At first considered unpopular, the collected comics have become a classic bestseller, even inspiring a 2005 film (which I haven’t seen, I’ll be talking solely about the comic). It tells the story of V, a vigilante out to bring down the fascist regime that has taken over Britain after the end of a war. This government, called Norsefire, is grossly white supremacist, blatantly spies on its people, feeds them propaganda, and runs concentration camps (one of which V escaped from.) V is labeled a terrorist by this government, and he certainly is terrifying for them, working his way through government officials and propaganda symbols with poison, psychological torture, and various explosions.

“It’s for people who don’t switch off the news.”

-David Lloyd, V for Vendetta Illustrator

V for Vendetta still has a very visible presence today. Specifically, I’m talking about the mask that V wears. It’s a caricature of Guy Fawkes, who is infamous for his failed attempt to assassinate King James I by blowing up Parliament in 1605, an event that is alluded to in the first few pages of the comic when V succeeds where Guy Fawkes failed (in the blowing up Parliament bit, that is; the comic takes place in 1997-1998 and King James I is presumably long dead already).

The Guy Fawkes mask has become a symbol for anti-fascism and has been worn by protesters around the world, including in the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement, the 2014 Venezuelan protests, and the 2019 protests in Hong Kong. Perhaps its most famous modern usage, however, is by the hacktivist group Anonymous. Their return to the public eye this past week is what prompted me to talk about V for Vendetta here, because I love to stay topical and also because, hey, a shadowy hacker organization that arises in times of public crisis to help bring down a corrupt government system? I had to find a way to write about that. It’s something straight out of a comic book.

Organization may not be the best word for Anonymous, though. They don’t have a centralized leadership or any sort of formal membership. As far as I can tell, it’s a mantle that’s taken up by hackers who decide to rally behind whatever their stated mission is at a particular time. Usually, they take aim at abuses of power. As of a week ago, according to a statement released on their Facebook page, their goal is to expose the crimes of the Minneapolis Police Department.

They certainly have the showmanship and melodrama V prized so highly, but do they have follow-through? The MPD website was down for a couple of days, and they’re being credited with that. There are also videos circulating of police radios being jammed with music. So… maybe? The video was exciting to watch since I haven’t heard the name Anonymous since high school, but a cursory delve into the actual results was a little disappointing in comparison. But who knows, maybe they’re doing other, bigger things behind the curtain. Maybe all their showmanship is just a distraction and we’ll never actually know about what they’re REALLY doing to help the protests. If I was a highly-skilled shadowy hacker, that’s what I’d do.

Operating in secrecy would be quite the feat nowadays. I’ve pretty much accepted, as I’m sure many of us who aren’t elite hackers have, that everything I say is being listened to by my phone and anything I do could be known by anyone who is particularly determined to find out. My sister and I ran an experiment once. We put our phones in our pockets and we had a conversation about something we usually don’t talk about. I think it was Taco Bell. A few minutes later, we checked all our social media ads, just to see which was listening most closely. It was Instagram, if you’re curious.

At the beginning of book 3, V returns the right to secrecy and privacy to the people, something that had long been denied them and something that will be essential if they’re going to have a chance at a revolution. Unsure if Moore and Lloyd were unsettlingly good at predicting the future or just dealing with similar issues, I checked to see what the state of privacy was in the 1980’s when V for Vendetta was being written. Since the Cable Communications Policy Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and the Video Privacy Protection Act were all passed in that decade, I’m going to go ahead and assume it was already something of an issue.

“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.”

-V, V for Vendetta

The absence of surveillance leads to chaos. V says that this is a necessary noise after a forced silence. He has brought destruction upon the country, both literally and figuratively, causing mass revolt as well as eliminating the systems that kept the people oppressed. He does this in the name of anarchy, but any revolution requires the destruction of something. And then, at the end of it all, when everything is in ruin… V dies. The Watsonian reason for this is simple enough: he was shot. That tends to kill people. The Doylist answer is a bit more complicated and a bit more interesting.

“This country is not saved… do not think that… but all its old beliefs have come to rubble, and from rubble we may build.”

-V, V for Vendetta

By the end of the comic, V has brought Norsefire to the ground, most heads of the six government agencies are dead, and he has called for revolution among the people. V is not needed anymore. It’s Eve’s turn. She is a very different character from V, and serves a different purpose. Eve refuses to destroy, and has done so the entire comic.

When V is mortally wounded, Norsefire declares the insurrection over, but the work does not stop. After the initial noise, after the injustice has been exposed and the systems that perpetuated it have been brought to rubble, there’s more work to be done. When the time for marches is over, the movement doesn’t end, it just changes. There will still be more to do, and support will still be needed for something new to grow.

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If I’ve gotten anything wrong, please feel free to correct me in the comment section. I’m always ready to learn. All images property of DC Comics.

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