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Sunday, March 26, 2006

I Was Kicking Ass In My Mind

Saw V For Vendetta yesterday. It's a stupid movie on many levels, a fantasy for aesthetes (V being, after all, basically a geek, notable primarily for his taste and his dedication) about what would happen if they actually engaged in direct action. And what would happen, according to the movie, bears a remarkable resemblance to the amazing, choreographed drubbings boys give in their mind to tormentors, which should probably tell you something, especially given the fairly minimal role aesthetics generally plays in violent resistance. It's a fairly destructive fantasy, I think, steamrolling as it does the very real effects art can have on society in favor of constructing precisely the right set of circumstances to justify geeks' violent adolescent fantasies (adolescent fantasies, of course, being what constitute geek culture at any age). It's an odd phenomenon that when adherents of a particular artistic style, genre, or philosophy go to address political or societal concerns, they often construct a fictional world in which some variation on their particular adherence is the solution to whatever (exaggerated) problems exist. But this is just politics porn for non-politicos. It's wish fulfillment, and it doesn't really tell us much about the world we live in, even if some of those scenes near the end were pretty rousing. But oh, the music--first off, you have to tell me that it's not the Timberlake "Cry Me a River," which would have been much better, and secondly, dude risked his life to save a Cat Power album? I had much less respect for him.

Anyway, complaints about its stupidness aside, there was one detail that was really successful in evoking our current troubles in some sort of illuminating way, and that was the renditions. More specifically, it was the hoods used in the renditions. Sure, there's an obvious visceral kick to seeing people beat up, terrified, and getting taken away to a horrible fate, but before the hood comes out, it merely seems like action-movie masochism. But the sight of that familiar ornament really sent a shiver through me, and I can't really identify precisely why. Maybe because it both made sense in the context of the movie's world and was a familiar item from our world, and the fact that something of significance in a totalitarian dystopia had a one-to-one correspondence with something in my reality made clear just how bad that aspect of reality is. There are of course, differences, mainly in the fact that the English detainees in V were taken for thought crimes, whereas America is extracting people for crimes of association or even no crime at all, simply a bureaucratic snafu, which is dark comedy rather than V's simple terror, and another example of why political art so often suffers from a failure of imagination when it comes to the real world.[1] But otherwise, it's basically the same, and while we may have heard about what happens, what we're presented with in V is a visual representation of what it's like to be taken from your home by agents of the government, which is of course exactly what's happened to many of the people we've renditioned to black sites, or even just the people American troops and Iraqi security forces take from their homes on, apparently, a nightly basis. It rings true, and that's utterly terrifying.

They make that connection a bit too explicit later in the movie, but even that can be ignored, and we can see how powerful it is to trust your audience to make the connection. The fact that I was seeing a fictionalized depiction of what happens in the real world didn't really strike me until I sat down to write this entry, but simply seeing it gave me an utter chill. In its way, it's probably the most shocking thing I've seen in a piece of art in some time. We are attuned to find the familiar in the unfamiliar, and art is sometimes wary of making use of that. True, it can become an overused technique, and simple juxtaposition is a trademark laziness of beginning artistes, but finding an unobserved corner and reflecting light into it is something art can do really well, if it wants to.

[1] Also another example of why Brazil is one of the best pieces of political art ever made.