A ‘reality’ that desensitises the society we live in is extracted from the ideas that are subliminally incorporated into the same realm of existence using its culture by the rulers of modernity. To conceptualise the film ‘V For Vendetta’ with a classical Marxist viewpoint, it is imperative to understand the theory foremost before interconnecting the terminologies that can be used to identify where the Marxist themes exist within the reality in which the producers of the film potentially tried to capture This in turn can construct an understanding of the Marxist theory and apply it in the economically driven society we live in.
The concept of the Bourgeoisie and Proletarians is the foundation
to understanding classical Marxism. The class struggles that exist within modernity
are relative in the way society functions and
regulated by governments and corporations under what can be perceived as a capitalist
Marx states “Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master(3) and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another” (Marx, 2011: 11)
The new oppressor’s (Bourgeoisie) of today’s societies, such as the corporations are in a constant class struggle on how to maintain a hierarchical position to that of the oppressed (Proletarians).
The plot summary of the film ‘V For Vendetta’ is derived from the conspiracy to blow up the Houses of Parliament on 5th November 1605, also known as the Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot and how the film that bases itself off of this event depicts the future of capitalism. The film is separated with a class system that resembles the ruling class - the capitalist government and the everyday people, the mass audience that portrays the working class. The protagonist ‘V’ attempts to break free the working class from the grasps of the bourgeoisie/superstructure by revealing their ideologies, by showing the masses the ‘real’ that keeps the proletarians/base in the false consciousness state and thus, from creating an uprising from not only realising that they the mass were being exploited but because they desire freedom.
“Since mankind's dawn, a handful of oppressors have accepted the responsibility over our lives that we should have accepted for ourselves. By doing so, they took our power. By doing nothing, we gave it away. We've seen where their way leads, through camps and wars, towards the slaughterhouse.” (V For Vendetta, 2005)
The Bourgeoisie control the means of production (resources) that is used to exploit the Proletarians, as it’s these means of production that defines the hierarchy within the economical system of today’s societies.
“The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country.” (Marx, 1848)
The ruling class because of its high status within the economic society pre globalization means that in today’s society, the working class is continued to be exploited by the ruling class and it is the ruling class who owns the wealth; the economical basis of the idea that we need to work to get money to survive and that hopefully one day we will become rich enough not to need to work to survive. This is the ideology that was first set about and then constantly recycled by the bourgeoisie.
“If the capitalist mode of production presupposes this definite social form of the conditions of production, so does it reproduce it continually. It produces not merely the material products, but reproduces continually the production relations in which the former are produced” (Marx, 1967: 879 citied by Terray, 1975: 90)
The means of production that would once exist to control the working class such as land is now done through alternatives such as media consumption of ideas and it’s from owning these means of production that can keep the mass audiences in a false consciousness that make them unaware or idle to act on the exploitation by the ruling class that keeps them in this oppressed state.
“In the culture industry this imitation finally becomes absolute. Having ceased to be anything but style, it reveals the latter’s secret: obedience to the social hierarchy.” (Adorno, 1997:131)
Marxism references a system that uses the terms ‘Base’ and ‘Superstructure’. “The superstructure is characterised by the presence of an ideological factor: it consists of all institutions, except the directly economic-productive or the solely existential, as well as the artistic, literacy, scientific, religious, and political activities” (Rossi-Landi, 1990: 60)
The Bourgeois utilise the tools created by television to establish their ideologies to desensitise the mass audiences. The governments and corporations that form the ‘Superstructure’ acts as the hierarchical presence within the system that feed these ideologies to the ‘Base’. The ‘Base’ consists of the mass audiences that are constant awe of trying to establish themselves as the ‘Superstructure’. This is also known as false consciousness, as the process of recycling different ideologies and beliefs to the ‘Base’ gives the idea of becoming something more than they are, a ‘reality’ that won’t ever materialise from the dreams in which the oppressors cant conceptualise the differences from afar and within.
A scene within the film shows the government covering up the attack on the building that was orchestrated by the protagonist by claiming it was a planned demolition that had unexpected complications. Prior to this, these oppressors were in conference claiming ‘V’ as a terrorist because they are concerned with how this individual can unify the masses and cause a revolution against the capitalist society they reside in as he is oppressing the notion of a superstructure.
“This is the BTN, our job is to report the news, not fabricate it. That’s the government’s job”. (V For Vendetta, 2005)
The quote refers to the conversation the producer of the news station has where he claims that the bourgeoisie use media (means of production) to drive the false consciousness to the mass audiences.
It could be perceived that the masses are victims of an alienated capitalist society that is split between two classes. The class struggles of being tied to an economically driven society in which the ruling class that controls or owns the resources (means of production) create and constantly recycle ideologies to drive the superstructure principle which means that the working class or the ‘Base’ as it is also known, can only identity themselves as their own separate group within society.
The constant class struggle that continues to present itself in society today is always on the verge of revolution but due to the ideologies that shield our outlook on the world we live in, puts the revolution into a recycled state of sleep that is only waiting to be lifted. In the film, ‘V’ acts as a savoir to the masses. Its this ‘Base’ through ‘V’ that enables a unified front against capitalism in overthrowing the government by martyring himself and giving these masses an idea of hope and freedom. “You cannot kiss an idea, cannot touch it or hold it, ideas cannot bleed or hold pain and they cannot laugh.” (V For Vendetta, 2005) implies that although ‘V’ as previously mentioned martyrs himself for his belief of freeing the people from the false consciousness constructed by the oppressors, the legacy he left behind, by showing the masses the ‘real’ in how they were oppressed created a revolution against the government that they are free people and that ideas will always be free and can never die.
As previously stated the masses gathered to unify against the government to show that they are free people and gather to watch the houses of parliament (and ‘V’) get blown up. This scene in the film reveals that the people that unified on the belief of ‘V’ and him revolting against the governments exploitation and control over the people are now ‘free’ from the restraints of the ruling class.
“People shouldn't be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.” (V For Vendetta, 2005)
The film sets itself up to release its own idea that ties in with the film and the Marxist views to us ‘the mass audiences’ that consume the media in our own ‘reality’. And that is like it has already been mentioned, the notion that governments exist to regulate society, not to rule society. Whilst this could be perceived as we are separated from our freedom in a sense, we must not forget that true freedom is knowledge.
“Knowledge, like air, is vital to life. Like air, no one should be denied it.” (V For Vendetta, 2005)
An idea within society is not freedom, for there to be true freedom, many ideas must exist. When globalization can coexist with more than one idea, the overarching idea within some economic societies e.g. Capitalism as it could be perceived, then there will always be an alienation within that society and because of this, the working classes (‘base’) of today will never truly be free people and escape from the idea of a hierarchical system, the ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’.
It is explained earlier, that the bourgeoisie feed ideas that create the false consciousness to desensitise the masses and create the exploitation within many societies. The overarching idea that can be perceived to be, not only present within the film ‘V For Vendetta’ but also in relation to many societies of modernity is Capitalism. This idea is a construct of the Bourgeoisie and if the masses come to a realisation and break free from the hypnotic state we are apart of whether they are not knowing of or ignorant then they can create an alternative such as a revolution that could change the class system dynamics to create an equality or a free society where there is not just one overarching idea but many.
“Behind this mask there is more than just flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea... and ideas are bulletproof.” (V For Vendetta, 2005) The protagonist ‘V’ in the film addresses the notion that ideas are immortal and as stated above it is from this idea of revolution, the idea to be free from oppression that will one day become a reality.
“A commodity is an object full of theological, even metaphysical, niceties. Its presence always reflects an invisible transcendence.” (Zizek: 2014) Zizek describes ‘Commodity Fetishism and by this pinpoints the idea that an item transcends from an object, an item that is classified as the ‘real’. He uses the example of ‘Coca-`Cola in the film ‘Pervert’s Guide To Ideology’ and explains that this item is just a drink but it can change into an ‘idea’ because the taste of the drink itself can be more satisfying based on climate and temperature of the drink itself. Expanding on this the item can then develop further by not just an individual thought but into a social ideological construct. In the film ‘V For Vendetta’, the protagonist ‘V’ wears a mask to cover his identity. As his actions against the government in revealing their actions of exploiting the masses unfolds. At the end of the film the masses unify and wear the same mask that ‘V’ himself wears. The symbol of the mask turns into a proletarian fetish, the symbol of the mask, that being of ‘V’ and what he was trying to accomplish by blowing up the house of parliament i.e. by removing the false consciousness state that the masses were put under by the government and on some ‘reality’ create a freedom where ideas could exist, shows that this symbol stands for revolution. This in todays society contrasts with the group ‘Anonymous’ a group of people that claim they stand against the Capitalist society we live in by hacking the digital media spaces on the internet by using the same ‘V’ masks to cover their identities and represent themselves as Proletarians fighting for a revolution.
“The first step to freedom is not just to change reality to feed your dreams. It’s to change the way you dream and again this hurts because all satisfactions we have come from our dreams.” (Zizek: 2014)
Zizek states that our society is driven on dreams and desires. When we remove them, this creates a paradox because an outlook into today’s society could suggest that the masses rely on the recycling of bourgeoisie ideologies; dreams and desires, and it is this what grants us the satisfactions. By removing these ideologies and thus, creating freedom, it would be difficult to accomplish as the ‘reality’ that we exist upon is co-dependent on these notions of happiness that also imprison them.
“Happiness is the most insidious prison of all.” (V For Vendetta, 2005)
The film does incorporate the Marxist themes thoroughly and this can translate not only into a comprehensive understanding of Marxism but also how currently our own societies could relate the notion of capitalism and could spark revolution if the masses become sensitised to the exploitation they feel they are apart of.
“I shall die here. Every last inch of me shall perish. Except one. An inch. It's small and it's fragile and it's the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.” (V For Vendetta, 2005)
A highlighted concept that flows throughout the film, as suggested above, and elevates itself to something more than transient, is that ideas are everlasting. An idea will pass through time and out live the societies of globalization and so a dream or desire of freedom that imprisons us because of our own satisfactions will continue to remain in a hypnotic state within our consciousness. An idea that could one day set the foundations of a revolution by the masses that will create freedom.
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Rossi-Landi, F (1990). Marxism and Ideology. Translated By Griffin, R. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p5.
Marx, K. (1848). Manifesto of the Communist Party. Available: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/. Last accessed 5th May 2014.
Zizek, S. (2014). Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. Available: http://www.critical-theory.com/tag/perverts-guide-to-ideology/. Last accessed 5th May 2014.
, 2005. [DVD] James McTeigue, London, United Kingdom. Potsdam, Germany: Warner Bros. Pictures.