Monday, March 20, 2006

A for Anti-Intellectual

On Friday, I wrote about how conservatives are in high dudgeon over V for Vendetta, a new film that has been called anti-American and pro-terrorist. Well, this weekend I did something that most of the complainers won't bother to do. I actually saw the movie.

Overall, it's a very good film, with an exceptional performance by Natalie Portman as an accidental activist who is swept up and carried along by events that are—at least in the beginning—beyond her control. I don't want to spoil anything here, and I don't particularly feel like writing a film review. I will say, unequivocally, that anyone who dismisses this film as an attack on America (which is hardly mentioned) or a paean to terrorism is either unspeakably stupid or willfully anti-intellectual.

V for Vendetta is rife with moral ambiguity and the viewer is not sure whether to admire or to abhor the masked vigilante "hero" who has a penchant for making very loud, explosive statements. That is the point! People who dismiss this film out of hand are committing the first and greatest sin against art: they're refusing to see it as a work of the imagination. Instead, it must be taken literally. Art, for these dullards, is not there to provoke thought, but rather to provide instruction (or, in this case, marching orders).

The imagined future dystopia of this film could not be a fantasy, a thought experiment or a "what if" scenario; it is necessarily meant to be a factual representation of our situation here and now (never mind that it was first dreamt up in the early 80s, when George W. Bush was about as far away from the presidency as a person could get).

Not every artist has a mission to provide answers. In fact, most artists prefer to ask questions and provoke discussions. V for Vendetta will do that, if you're open for a discussion. The political pundits-turned-critics have no knowledge of art as anything other than politics, and they certainly have no interest in discussion or debate. To them, this film is no different from a statement by Charles Schumer or a proclamation on the floor of the House of Representatives by Russ Feingold.

Underlying all of this anti-Intellectualism is a basic contempt for the American public. Because they're too thickheaded to look at a film as anything other than an attempt to reproduce reality, they assume that we're the same way. They think we're too stupid to watch a movie and not come out of the theater brainwashed zombies. The irony in the fact that it is these very people who act like groupthink zombies and use their Fox News Channels and Rush Limbaugh programs to try to dumb-down the American public is almost too great to miss. The fact that they do miss it only proves my point.
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