Social unrest and change is sometimes stranger than fiction.

By Mandy Wan: Literature Columnist

A wide grin plastered across a pale face, rosy cheeks, a black moustache with the ends upturned, and a thin pointed beard down the middle of a sharp chin. Who, or more accurately, what, does this remind you of?

More likely than not, the image of the Guy Fawkes mask – also known as the ‘Anonymous mask’ – just popped into your head. It has been adopted worldwide as a symbol of protest against unjust establishments after being popularised as the signature mask of a certain fictional revolutionist who goes by the curious name of V.

V for Vendetta (1982-1989) is a graphic novel series illustrated by David Lloyd and written by Alan Moore, who is also known for his legendary one-shot Batman: The Killing Joke (1988). The tale begins in 1997 and showcases the United Kingdom under the reign of an authoritarian and repressive fascist party, Norsefire, after a horrific nuclear war obliterated most of the world.

Police State

The party consolidated power by sending its opponents (homosexuals, left-wingers, Catholics, people of non-Christian, non-Protestant faith, and those who are not white) to concentration camps and now rules as a police state. Our morally ambiguous protagonist, V, is portrayed as a revolutionist who embraces the freedom of chaos. At its core, he aims to destroy the corrupt government by shattering the established order through theatrical and elaborate acts of terrorism against those in power. In doing so, he inspires a young woman, Evey Hammond, to become his protégé.

Throughout the entire story, we never learn of V’s true identity as he is never out of disguise to the audience. This is because his appearance was never significant as he is more than just a man. He is an idea – a symbol for the fight against authority.

It is worth noting that at the time of publication, the events of the comic would have been set numerous years in the future. However, instead of seeming like an alternative reality, Lloyd and Moore’s work was intended to warn readers about what their own country may turn into. Back then, this was increasingly plausible given the rising social unrest in the United Kingdom due to numerous factors.

For one, Margaret Thatcher had been elected in 1979, 3 years before V for Vendetta’s release, during a period of economic recession and social strife due to the “Winter of Discontent” – a widespread strike movement that occurred during 1978-1979. The party aimed to improve these issues by diminishing the power of trade unions and privatising state-owned companies.

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However, this brutal approach only intensified the social and economic crises, particularly in Scotland. What is more, in response to the increasing number of strikes and public dissatisfaction, the police were militarised. This change led to progressively more violent repression as it allowed officers to subdue protestors in whatever ways they pleased.

At the same time, the country was ever polluted with pronounced racism. Of course, this was not a development that had just occurred in recent years – take Britain’s role in the Atlantic Slave Trade, for example. However, Enoch Powell, former Conservative MP, sparked a wave of xenophobia across the nation with his “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968. In which, he infamously claimed, “we must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependents…it is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre”. Simply put, his words magnified the already growing racist sentiments about the white population of the United Kingdom being overrun by immigrants who did not belong there.

Furthermore, homophobia ran rampant throughout the country as the ongoing AIDS crisis merely fuelled the intolerance of many close-minded individuals. Back then, many believed the condition only affected drug users and homosexuals – as a result, it was interpreted as a punishment from God for their “sins”. It also did not help that the Conservative government introduced Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 which banned local authorities from “intentionally promot[ing] homosexuality” or “promot[ing] the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. Although homosexual acts were legalised in 1967 (in England and Wales), this legislation undoubtedly encouraged homophobia by further alienating this minority and painting them as a “disease” amongst the good people of Britain.

As a consequence of these prevailing social crises, hate crimes and race riots skyrocketed in frequency. Moreover, The Troubles (1968-1998) – a conflict primarily focused on the independence of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom – shrouded Europe in acts of violence.

It was this political and social context that spurred the creation of V for Vendetta – more specifically, the ideology of V. It is clear that Lloyd and Moore did not simply create the comic purely for the sake of entertainment but as a warning for the future of the people if the country continued down this rocky path. In the end, we can only hope that there will never be a need for V. Although, some may argue that his presence is long overdue.

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mackayan: remember, remember v for vendetta