The unexpected legacy of 'V for Vendetta'

Posted by · 12:54 pm · November 28th, 2011

I’d been dimly aware of the re-appropriation of the sinister Guy Fawkes mask from Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s “V for Vendetta” graphic novel — and, of course, its Wachowski-branded 2006 film adaptation — as a symbol of protest by present-day political and environmental demonstrators. I have only recently begun noticing it in the real world, however.

As the Occupy movement took shape — in the past few weeks, chiming in neatly with Guy Fawkes Day (November 5) three weeks ago, I’ve spotted that leeringly stylized visage stencilled on more than a few walls in London, including one on my own block. It was in front of this one that I heard the following dry exchange between two skinny-jeaned students that put things, I felt, nicely in perspective:

“Isn’t that from the film where Natalie Portman shaved her head?”

“Yeah, protesters are using it to make a point.”

“Huh. It was a rubbish film, but I wouldn’t bother protesting about it.”

They were being droll, but it still brought home to me the irony of trying to force cultural potency onto a symbol that was arguably neutered by Hollywood five years ago: with due respect to comic fanatics, more man-in-the-street types will think of the film than the work of Alan Moore when confronted with that image. And wherever you stand on the film — I think many would file it under “commendable failure” — I don’t think many would count it today as a politically incendiary piece of work.

That it seems to be catching on as a kind of activist’s lucky charm is a refreshing case of a minority group not quite reclaiming a symbol from Hollywood, but stealing something already stolen and taking it somewhere a little closer to its origins: representational rehabilitation, if you want to be multisyllabic about it. Moore clearly seems pleased, judging from this interesting interview with The Guardian’s Tom Lamont about this wholly involuntary revival of his work:

“That smile is so haunting…I tried to use the cryptic nature of it to dramatic effect. We could show a picture of the character just standing there, silently, with an expression that could have been pleasant, breezy or more sinister…And when you’ve got a sea of V masks, I suppose it makes the protesters appear to be almost a single organism – this ‘99%’ we hear so much about. That in itself is formidable. I can see why the protesters have taken to it.”

Read the rest here. What other items of lesser blockbuster iconography could be given a new lease on life in this way? I don’t hold out much hope for Ryan Reynolds’s fey little carnival mask from “Green Lantern,” but you never know. 

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.

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