Friday, March 17, 2006

O for Overreaction

I just don't get all the fuss about the new movie V for Vendetta, which opens today. "The hero is a terrorist," whine right-wingers, panties tightly in a bunch. Drudge has the opening as his main story right now, complete with a headline that reads "Let's Blow Up Parliament." Right wing pundit Debbie Schlussel called it "a horrid, anti-American, pro-terrorist film."

Now, a caveat. I haven't seen this movie yet (and neither have many of the people complaining about it), but I've heard enough to be scratching my head over all the controversy. Yes, the film's "hero", who has been described as character of ambiguous morality in many reviews, is a terrorist hell-bent on destroying the British government via shock and awe. But, this isn't Tony Blair's England we're talking about.

V for Vendetta, based on an 80s comic book, takes place in an alternate-reality universe where, as if the Nazis had won World War II, a Hitleresque demagogue (played by John Hurt) rules over Britain with an iron fist. Our hero/anti-hero is fighting against totalitarianism, which, at least back in the Cold War days, was the right wing's bread and butter.

If someone had the chance to blow up the Reichstag in 1939, killing Hitler and his generals, should they not have done it? Would it have been terrorism if they had? Would right-wingers have been up in arms if Winston Smith had an open shot at Big Brother and took it? Remember, this is "a boot stamping on a human face—forever." Is fighting against that not valued by the right wing?

V for Vendetta opens up a Pandora 's box of uncomfortable questions. It's like the naively relativistic postcard sold in head shops and college student centers around the country that wonders at the difference between a "terrorist" and a "freedom fighter." To some extent, of course, that distinction is in the eye of the beholder. Let's not forget that President Reagan called the brutal Contra guerillas "freedom fighters" and the "moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers." There's certainly some relativism built into this equation, but not entirely. As a human civilization, we are capable of coming to something at least close to an objective definition of freedom. We're even better at agreeing—because we’ve had so much experience with it—on what totalitarianism is.

Is V for Vendetta promoting terrorism against America and the West, as so many conservatives argue? Only if we are, on balance, promoting the cause of totalitarianism. Whatever our failings (and they're many), I would say that we aren't. If right-wingers see themselves reflected back in John Hurt's steely eyes, that's their problem, not mine.

I'll weigh in again once I've seen it.
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