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Category Archives: Alan Moore

“Remember, Remember…” that you too must bear the Blame

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot…

Today is the fifth of November. Across the pond in ol’ Blighty at least some people will be celebrating Guy Fawkes’ failure to blow up the House of Lords in 1605. I imagine that even as I type this, many have seen their Facebook walls spammed with various quotes from V for Vendetta – in particular with quotes from the inferior film version. I’ve talked before about how people frequently seem to miss a point that Moore was making, and in honor of Guy Fawkes I am going to do so again, albeit as relates to a slightly different point.

I have lost count of the number of times I have read V for Vendetta for both academic research and personal pleasure. It would not be unfair to say that the scene central to today’s discussion is a large part of what made me focus on comicbooks as my primary locus from which to start philosophical discussions. The scene in question comes to us from Book Two (“The Vicious Cabaret”), Chapter Three (“Video”) of V for Vendetta. For those of you who might like to refresh your memories, or reread the relevant section before or after this post, it occupies pages 108 – 117 of the tradepaperback edition of V.

This particular chapter features V taking over the state controlled video station and broadcasting a message to the people of London. It was this message that transformed me into the Comicbook Philosopher, as upon reading it I recognized in its words a paraphrasing of the work of Jean-Paul Sartre. Which is all well and good I hear you say, dear reader, but what is the content of this all important message?

Couched in the mask of a dismissal from one’s job, V informs the viewers of fictional London, and by extension we the presumably non-fictional reader, that we share as much blame for the state of the world as those directly responsible for Norsefire. Not because we approve of Norsefire’s pogrom to cleanse the impure from society. Not because we are actively part of the machinery which allows the wheels of state to function. Rather, our blame lies squarely with our refusal to take responsibility for the culture we created, and the world that gave birth to.

Yes, yes, I admit that for the sake of space and simplicity, in my last analysis of V I presented us as innocent victims caught between V’s actions and a repressive government. With the exception of our innocence, what I said there remains true; yet just as V is not unambiguously heroic, we are not unambiguous victims of his campaign.

If the world ended in nuclear fire, V tells us, it is because we elected the governments that brought us to that point. Even though we might turn our eyes, a single, dramatic crocodile tear rolling down our cheeks as the undesirables are lead away to the camps, we are the ones who allowed this situation to come about.

In the world outside of the comic page, V is indicting not merely the banks and the governments who colluded with them for the state of the economy; he is demanding that each and every one of us take responsibility for the world we helped create. He is reminding us that if corporations are building sweatshops in some third world country it is because we were more concerned with our Nike shoes,  and iPods, with our cellphones, and watching the disintegration of Kim Kardashian’s 18 million dollar marriage, to say no before the fact, preferring instead to offer token protest only after we have allowed others to pay for our conveniences.

We might not be responsible for the day-to-day running of corporations and governments. We might cry out at the actions those corporations and governments take, but as much as we might deny it, these are actions done in our name. V tells us that with our refusal to take responsibility for our lives, to take proper stewardship of the world, we are all responsible the results.

It isn’t a pleasant message to hear, which is why I suspect so many prefer the unambiguous illusion of the film. Yet V reminds us that refusing to accept this responsibility means not only a failure to move toward authenticity, but that these events will simply repeat themselves.

We can spout quotes from V all we like, and rage against the Powers that Be so loudly that the heavens shake. Yet what Moore as the existential V, as Sartre’s mirror, is reminding us of is that the world will only change when we change ourselves, and that our continued refusal to accept responsibility only makes the road to get there that much longer.

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Posted by on November 5, 2011 in Alan Moore, Comics, Philosophy

 

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V’s Vendetta: Virtuous vel Vicious?

I begin this post back in June of this year. Since that day it has pressed its nose against the glass like an annoying puppy. Perhaps it is time to finally let it come inside, though if it pisses on the floor I’m taking it to the pound in the morning.

As the title of this post might suggest, I want to talk about Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. In particular I vaguely recall reading an article back in June, and it once again struck me the way that many people regard V as an unambiguous hero. This seems to happen most frequently with those who are only familiar with the watchable, though much inferior film version of Moore’s story, but I’ve seen it in those who have read the comics as well.

It is true that Norsefire is an evil organization. Norsefire has engaged in a pogrom designed to remove “deviants” from society. It engages in propaganda campaigns, and closely monitors the words and deeds of the English public. It is unsurprising that the actions of Norsefire closely resemble those of the Nazi party, as Moore was one of many who were disturbed by the creeping overtones of fascism that were becoming increasingly common in Thatcherite England. (Though it should be said that Norsefire is not presented without humanizing features. Unfortunately, a deeper discussion of that element is beyond the scope of this current post.)

At first blush it seems unsurprising that we here in the West might respond to V as an unambiguous hero. He is, after all, going after fascists. Despite the misbehaviors of our own governments, we’ve been taught that this is a cause we can unambiguously rally behind, right? I’m quite fond of kicking fascism in the teeth myself, as is Mr. Moore. Despite his feelings on fascism, Moore does not present V in an unambiguously heroic role.

Throughout the course of Moore’s narrative, V makes it clear that he is a kind of arch-existentialist. He is concerned that mankind through off their shackles, all their shackles, and if we aren’t willing to do it ourselves then he will give us no choice but to confront the horrors of existential freedom. This in and of itself is a rather glaring question, and one Moore would return to in later work; is it ever ethical to force another person to confront their own freedom? Telling people about existential freedom and what it means, even guiding them toward a recognition of that freedom is one thing. What V is doing is wrapping the people’s chains in philosophical C4 and blowing them into the stratosphere whether they want it or not.

As someone who works with existentialist ideas, who as both philosopher and human thinks that confronting the terror of Nietzsche’s abyss and the horror of Sartre’s existential freedom is a good thing… I’m conflicted about this. The goal of these confrontations is supposed to motivate us towards is that of authenticity; yet if we force another into this confrontation, if we take the choice to move toward authenticity away from someone, can the result still be said to be “authentic” as such. I must confess that my general inclination is to say no.

That said, V’s philosophical ambiguity has its physical analogue. We can take the classic route and argue that those who work for Norsefire, even if they are not secret police or members of the party’s ruling echelons, have sealed their own fates. They knew what they were getting into. Their actions, however innocent they might consider them to be, support a fascist regime. As such, their deaths are necessary, and even just. Even here I don’t think Moore is unambiguous, but again for the sake of space this particular element will have to be tabled for another time, because even if we were to accept this simplistic view, V’s predations are not limited to those actively in the employ of Norsefire.

In particular, part of V’s plans to bring down Norsefire’s corrupt regime is to instigate food riots. It is certainly true that Norsefire is harmed by this action. Norsefire’s control of the populace is weakened, and various soldiers and police are either actively injured in the riots, or forced to focus their attentions on rioting areas. It is quite clear that the general populace of V’s England suffer their own losses because of V’s actions. People die. People suffer injury or lack of food. V is… unconcerned with this. For V, if you are unwilling to accept the enlightenment he brings, you are part of the problem, and if your life is lost in pursuit of his goal then your life is lost in pursuit of his goal.

Again, this is something I find troubling. It raises that classic question; do the ends justify the means? V reduces human lives to the status of objects, of tools to be used against Norsefire. This is not an unambiguously heroic action.

I also believe that Moore deliberately invokes V’s ambiguous status. V tells his protege that he (the V that is) is the destroyer; he tears down the evil that is now; while she (the V that will be) is the creator; she will guide (but not lead) us from the rubble toward a brighter future. I think it is clear that Moore is telling us that just as Watchmen‘s Adrian Veidt is a villain, but not one whose actions can be regarded as the classic, simplistic mustache-twirling villain, V is not a knight in shining armor. He engages in acts that are morally questionable at best, morally objectionable at worse. I also suspect that if we limit ourselves to reading V as unambiguously heroic Mr. Moore might tell us, in his inimitable way, that we are missing the damn point.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2011 in Alan Moore, Comics, Philosophy, Pop Culture

 

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“This is how the world ends…”

“… not with a bang, but with a walrus mustache.”

Of course before I continue on with the thought contained in the subject line I suppose I should engage in the obligatory apology for the lack of updates. I’ve spent the past couple weeks devoted to largely doing nothing. I’ve kicked around a few ideas for posts, but none of them really seemed like anything worth following through on, at least not in their current forms. This prolonged period of slack has involved a fair bit of the game playing, Fallout: New Vegas playing a rather prominent role in said gaming.

I’ve always been interested in post-apocalyptic settings. Maybe it’s the anti-authoritarian in me, that sneaky little voice that longs to see outdated, inept, and corrupt systems brought to a screeching halt. Maybe I’m intrigued by the possibilities for building something new that the end of the world might offer (which is not incompatible with point number one). Could be it’s another reason entirely. Regardless of the source of my post-apocalyptic affections, it’s the second of these two hypotheticals that is currently bouncing around the old gray matter.

I suspect it was the work of Alan Moore that first made me start musing about the end of the world. I’ve talked before about how a Nietzschean reading of Watchmen casts Adrian Veidt in a less than flattering light; which is putting it rather mildly since a Nietzschean reading of Veidt, or at least my Nietzschean reading of Veidt, leaves him pretty unambiguously painted as a villain. This is less because of the fact that Veidt killed a bunch of people to save the world, and more to do with how he went about the killing of a bunch of people to save the world.

A similar strain runs through Moore’s V for Vendetta. In this case the offending party is Norsefire. In the case of Norsefire they respond to the end of the world through an ultra-conservative return to pre-apocalypse values. The narrative that Norsefire spins for the people of post-apocalypse England is one which claims that it was not the values themselves that failed, it was the moral fiber of the citizens that failed.  As Nietzsche, Sartre and others have argued when the alternative is recognizing the meaninglessness of the world, of being forced to stand on our own with no transcendent support, being told that it was we that failed, rather than the things we believe… it’s an attractive way out.

Which brings me back to Fallout, and the post-apocalypse in general. While it is not a universal truth, it is generally safe to say that for all the faults of society as it existed before the apocalypse, post-apocalypse society generally tries to rebuild itself in the image of the pre-apocalypse. From where I sit, I find this to be troubling in the Nietzschean sense. Nietzsche’s death of god, and the ensuing nihilism that would come in its wake, was in a metaphorical sense a type of end of the world. In that sense it was an eschaton, rather than simply an apocalypse. I would that when confronted with a more physical sort of eschaton, an event that wipes away the old world to allow something new, would present the ideal opportunity for engaging in Nietzsche’s revaluation of values.

Yet often, too often, those who tell stories of the post-apocalypse tell stories which feature protagonists, and societies trying to return to what was, rather than forging ahead to create something new. Admittedly even writers who might be using the post-apocalypse to comment on our world as it is face some difficulties; trying to imagine a post-Nietzschean society is not an easy thing, particularly since Nietzsche didn’t leave us with a handy roadmap. However, by remaining locked into the old ways of thinking, I feel that post-apocalyptic stories ultimately suffer. Not simply as on a philosophical level, but on a story-telling level. The strength of science fiction is that it allows us to examine our own culture, our own time, at a distance; opening up possibilities for critique that readers might not otherwise have been open too if confronted in a more direct fashion. Yet when we present post-apocalypse narratives that adhere to the old ways of thinking and being, we lose much of the strength otherwise inherent in the genre.

 
 

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