Superheroism and activism (James)
The Jenkins and Shreshtova piece looks at how activist groups have arisen from existing fan groups, or alternately how activist groups have appropriated popular culture icons for political purposes. Whilst we could argue that X-Men and Superman are at least partially Left-leaning (on issues, for example, of race, sexuality and immigration) there are other superheroes with a far more obvious engagement with politics . . .
Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta was a comic-book series published between 1982 and 1989, set in a near-future dystopian version of Britain. Following a series of apocalyptic crises, including the implosion of public order in the US and a bio-terrorist attack in the UK, an authoritarian faction within the incumbent Conservative Party seizes control and instigates a fascist dictatorship. The result is Orwellian (Foucault++) with a total monitoring and taxonomy of citizens. In this set-up (which is arguably only hyperbolic of our own), identity is to the benefit of the state. The antithesis of this, the man who ultimately undoes the dictatorship, is V.
V purposefully eludes identification, not in the simplistic sense of hiding his ‘true’ identity but in that he cannot be identified (I won’t ruin a crucial plot twist, but those of you who’ve read it will know that certain events in his past render him unidentifiable). He steps into the archetype of Guy Fawkes, the 17th Century Catholic terrorist who tried to assassinate the government of James I, hence the iconic mask, Puritan hat, and cloak. His eventual triumph is a result of this very anonymity – the graphic novel ends with a multitude of citizens marching on Westminster, all their identities concealed by the very same costumes. Their power to overthrow the government lies not only in their numbers but in the inability of the government to categorise, atomise and target them as individuals (we might want to think back to Hardt and Negri at this point…)
Even if you didn’t know what V for Vendetta was before this presentation, you probably recognised the mask from media reports over the last couple of years. After being initially appropriated by the hacktivist group Anonymous (which Chris is going to talk more about) it has become a symbol of post-crisis protest movements. Partly what distinguishes Left-libertarian/anarchist movements like Occupy and UK Uncut from more conventional/social-democratic activism such as the Unite and GMB trade unions is their complication of the state-market binary. They call not just for the redistribution of wealth (which we can see as a shift in power or role from the market to the state) but recognise, following several decades of critical theory, that the state can be an instrument of repression even in a ‘free’ liberal democracy. V makes an obvious choice of an icon: he represents opposition to even the ostensibly benign identifying and categorising tendencies of the modern state.
(Around 2:20 it gets relevant)