In the film, V for Vendetta, the audience are presented with a dystopian society under totalitarian rule by the fascist political party, Norsefire and its leader, Adam Sutler: dictator of the United Kingdom. V, a masked vigilante, is presented as being both, terrorist and hero: a concept which, in a post-9/11 world, is a difficult one to comprehend. Nonetheless, the audience are quickly persuaded to be on-side with this anti-hero as he fights for the personal rights of the British people. Alan Moore’s hugely successful graphic novel and its film counterpart are a satirical view on the state of privacy and personal rights freedom in Britain and, indeed, the world, today. Set in not too distant future, it is a dystopian work meaning that Alan Moore is suggesting that whilst we are have not yet arrived at quite such an extreme place; we are well on our way there now. In the course of this essay, I will examine how personal rights are being taken from society whilst making direct comparisons to the satirical and dystopian qualities of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta.
Before I can properly discuss how personal rights are being taken from society, we must define what these rights are. Put simply, they are the rights which allow people to move around the world whilst maintaining a level of privacy and dignity, without interference from various government official bodies. For example, a personal right is to be able to walk from home to a shop without having your image caught on an camera of some description. However, in the UK alone, there are 4.2 million Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras across the country which means there is roughly one camera for every fourteen people. This means that on average, a single person will make up to 300 appearances on CCTV, a day. (BBC, 2006) Many are referring to this monitoring of activity, as well as various other facts such as the constantly changing list of what causes Cancer, what we should and shouldn’t be eating, and what exactly we are spending our money on, as living in a ‘nanny state’ whilst others are referring to it as ‘big brother’ after the totalitarian government watchdog, in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984 (Orwell) and the popularized reality TV show.
Today, our movements and actions are monitored so closely that various bodies know if we buy white or brown bread. A prime example of monitoring gone mad is the advent of online shopping: In 1993, Tesco began to investigate a reward card scheme which would allow customers to collect ‘points’ which could be redeemed from future shops and other excursions. These reward cards, known as ‘Club Cards’ are swiped through the till after shopping and instantly, the details of which products are purchased are logged in a computer. In 1996, this service was strengthened further by the ability to do shopping from home and now, online. If a customer has logged their club card number into their online account, Tesco can, again, log the products that are purchased. One section of the Tesco online shopping services is entitled ‘My Favourites’ and this is a collection of products that have previously been purchased in-store and online by the customer. Whilst this is a convenient tool, it is also scarily accurate and can still log products that were purchased some years prior. In V for Vendetta, early on in the film, in a scene where government officials are discussing their actions with Adam Sutler, one official says: “We also doubled our random sweeps and are monitoring phone surveillance.” (McTeigue) These invasive actions demonstrate a removal of public right to go about their business in private. Whilst Tesco’s data collection is relatively useful to consumers now, it raises questions of what else that data is being used for and how similar data collection systems will be used to monitor every action undertaken by citizens. The surveillance used in V for Vendetta is, obviously, an extreme version of this but it highlights the comparisons between the fictional and real life infringement of private and person rights.
The government’s monitoring of our actions, whilst still only in its infancy by comparison to V for Vendetta, is increasing in confidence all the time. In the film, V quips: “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” (McTeigue) It is when the opposite of this happens, that dictatorships form. Democracy is designed to have the public decide who will best represent the views of the majority and rule accordingly. This, in itself, is a public right. In countries like Britain and the U.S., leaders and parties have to re-run for election every four years so that the government continues to best reflect public opinion and so, if there is a resounding unhappiness with the way a government, or even a particular leader, behaves or acts, they can be removed from power. V’s point, therefore, is a valid one: in an effective, healthy democracy, it is the people who should have the ultimate control. In V for Vendetta, Norsefire have been in power for a number of years without dispute. When talking about the government’s abuse of power, V states: “However, the true goal of this project is power: complete and total hegemonic domination.” (McTeigue) V’s comment makes it clear that this type of government removes all personal rights and instigates a regime of control instead of choice. In reality, a government is installed to protect the rights of their citizens but, Moore’s graphic novel satirizes this which means that there is some factual basis in his words.
Indeed, our personal rights are becoming less and less available to us: our movements are monitored, as are our purchases with more and more reward schemes opening in high street stores. Our civil liberties are slowly being taken away from society through the cover of our governments nurturing us. There are a number of satirical, dystopian novels and films, V for Vendetta included which encourage the public to question just how far off reality is from art. Evey Hammond, heroine of the film, states: “Artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up.” (McTeigue) This quote is oddly prophetic, and draws attention to the reality that underlies the plot of V for Vendetta: we may live in a democratic society now but our personal rights are slowly becoming less of our own choice and more the government-recommended choices. The UK government had plans to implement compulsory identity cards for every citizen, in a similar vein to passports. These cards had rumours surrounding them and at one point, were going to contain digital data such as finger prints, DNA samples and both financial and personal data. However, with countries such as India and Russia rolling out identity cards but the UK scrapping all plans to instigate identity card laws, perhaps there is hope yet (BBC, 2011).
Our understanding of the control that a government exerts over our personal rights is based on the mass media’s presentation of it; therefore, we have to question how much of it is trustworthy at all. Our ability to make decisions for ourselves should always remain a personal right, although the influences over the decision we make will continue to be force fed to us at every opportunity through the media, the news and government programs. In V for Vendetta, citizens are not allowed out of their homes after a certain time, they aren’t allowed to have subversive lifestyles (for instance, homosexuality is strictly outlawed), and they aren’t allowed to hold anti-Norsefire opinions. In reality, the freedom of speech act prevents a government from being able to implement such extreme measures of control. However, our personal rights and privacy is slowly trickling away, so the question is: just how long will it be until our freedom does too? So long as keep on questioning the decisions of our governments, we should, in theory, be able to maintain independent control of our own lives. Much like in V for Vendetta, V continues to question the decisions being made and knowing of his impending death, he simply says: “Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask, there is an idea, Mr Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.” (McTeigue) It is the indomitable human spirit that will keep our personal rights under our control – just so long as the idea is kept alive.
1. “Britain is a surveillance society.” Bbc.co.uk. BBC. 2 November 2006. Web. 5 March 2011.
2. Clark, Tim. “A History of Tesco: The Rise of Britain’s Biggest Supermarket.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. , 15 April. 2008. Web. 5 March 2011.
3. Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. London: Secker and Warburg, 1949. Print.
4. V For Vendetta. Dir. James McTeigue. Perf. Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, John Hurt and Stephen Rea. Warner Bros. 2006. Film.
5. “National ID Card Register To Be Destroyed.” BBC.co.uk. BBC. 10 February 2011. Web. 5 March 2011.