In many great texts concerning the politics, it can be observed that the context in which the piece was created greatly influences the ways in which values and themes are presented and the form in which it is produced. Major ground shaking events have the power to transform paradigms of individuals and whole societies, and in turn morph and influence the themes a text created in the same time period implores. Warner Brother’s 2005 film “V for Vendetta” and George Orwell’s 1945 novelette “Animal Farm” both deal with concepts present in the political climates of their times and the problems associated with them; the cost of apathy towards injustice, propaganda and its influence, and the crippling aspect of fear. The representation of the themes present in the two texts contrast and compare in many ways due to the diversity in the contexts under which each was created and the universal continuity of the themes present.
Orwell’s 1945 text was created at the end of the Russian social revolution that left the once optimistic Russian people in tatters and under the boot of a brutal fascist regime, while the Hollywood movie was created post 9/11 in a time where people turned to their government for protection from unknown threats, willing to sacrifice their liberty for safety. It was situated in a future dystopia as opposed to Animal Farm’s historical setting and warned of what could be the outcome of choosing to blindly follow the neo-conservative politics of film’s time such as Bush’s and Thatcher’s parties. Both texts make political statements that are influenced by the historical and personal context of their creation and contrast and compare greatly in form and values.
Primarily, the theme of apathy, and the cost of silence is explored similarly in the two cross-generational texts. Written after the solemn failure of socialism when applied to a practical setting, Orwell pessimistically recounts the outcome of the apathy that Russian citizens expressed in the face of blatant corruption in his fable, “Animal Farm”. Orwell’s novel is written in the form of an allegory, which recounts the events of the Russian revolution as though it took place on a British farm, and uses various types of animals to symbolize the different classes of the soviet union (Molly the horse represents the bourgeoisie, Boxer, the proletariats). Animal farm sets out to become a utopia where “all animals are equal”; working together under the inspiration of a Marxist boar named major (who represents the revolutionary leader Lenin), the animals drive out their human oppressors in a violent rebellion. The pigs take power on the farm due to their “superior knowledge” and leadership qualities. Though as the pigs become corrupted by their power, it soon becomes clear to the animals smart enough to comprehend the concept of corruption, that things aren’t as they should be. They become aware of the pig’s greed; they hoard food that should be shared evenly amongst all animals, they twist the truth to better suit their political motives, and they change the constitution of animal farm without public consent.
Few animals possess the ability to comprehend that the pigs do not wish to help the public, and Benjamin the donkey comes to be the most prominent advocate for apathy in the novelette. He is one of the smartest animals on the farm and is not fooled for a second by any of the pig’s ruses that work so effectively on the others. He remains neutral to any conflict seen in animal farm; when the hens stage a coup to stand up against their oppression and are subsequently executed, not a word of protest is spoken, and when asked for his opinion on any debate only replies “donkeys live a long time” to cryptically cynical way of saying “it all ends up the same”. Benjamin is passive to any change whether it is good or bad; in the honeymoon phase of the revolution in which the pigs express plans for equality and freedom for all, he remains sceptical. He is cynical to any positive outcome as he has believes only that the cycle of power and corruption will repeat itself, as it has in the past.
His silence in the face of the pig’s corruption is broken only at the novel’s climax as his friend Boxer is driven off to the “knackers” in a truck the other animals believe to be transporting him to the vet. “Fools! Fools!” he shouts furiously, “Fools! Do you not see what is written on the side of that van?” The animals can’t read the writing of course, but Benjamin could all along, as he could read Animal Farm’s constitution being changed overnight. Benjamin saw the dark path that the revolution was taking and in its early phases had the ability to turn it around. But the apathy he showed landed all of animal farm manipulated and trapped in a position where resistance was futile and the pigs could rule with an iron fist. Benjamin was cynical with his belief that “Life would go on as it had always gone on – that is, badly” but in the same way he was a realist, as in the end of animal farm things did continue as they always had – badly. It is questionable whether Animal Farm’s revolution, and the revolution of its allegory counterpart would have reached a different outcome in Benjamin, and those smart enough to sense the corruption had discarded their apathy and made their awareness known.
V for Vendetta similarly deals with the concept of public apathy in the face of social injustice. Set in a future dystopian England, where a totalitarian government has come to power and dominates all aspects of their citizen’s lives, the film’s protagonist “V” addresses the masses to stir guilt and inspiration in the hearts of the masses in a public service announcement. On a velvet backdrop to the sound of a nationalistic anthem, he speaks powerfully in a direct mid shot behind a podium to enforce the power of his speech. He outlines the myriad of problems plaguing England in an uncensored speech the likes of which many people in London hadn’t heard since the rise of the Norsefire party, and after asking the rhetorical question of “How did this happen?” answers “truth be told…if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror”.
V blames the oppressed for letting themselves reach their situation with hopes for gaining order in a world of instability. V for Vendetta’s dystopian London fell to the control of the “Norsefire” dictatorship by letting itself sacrifice liberty in hopes of safety from unknown threats. The context in which V for Vendetta was created is reflected in the film; a wave of neo-conservative politics had embraced the U.S and Britain under the Bush and Thatcher governments, and it could be seen that post 9/11, xenophobia and prejudice had started to consume and fear monger in society. The film warns of the dark outcome that could eventuate if the populous chose to give in to their fear of the unknown and sacrifice free will for a stable yet domineering establishment.
Although diverse in contexts, Animal Farm and V for Vendetta approach the issue of apathy and silence similarly. They both criticise the concept by the portrayal of extremely negative outcomes that lead to create oppressive dystopias, devoid of free will and justice.
Furthermore, Animal Farm and V for Vendetta both deal with the political concepts of propaganda and exploitation in similar ways although hailing from diverse time periods. Animal Farm sees the corruption of an idyllic utopia into and oppressive dictatorship, in which the animals are exploited by their pig oppressors, and influenced strongly by their convincing propaganda. The novel once again aligns itself with factual events that occurred in the midst of the Russian revolution and symbolises them respectively. In the novel, Squealer is “a brilliant talker” with “the ability to turn black into white”. The pigs utilize squealer’s persuasive talents to convince the rest of the animals of Napoleons benevolence, justify their monopolization of the farm, and turn Snowball into a public enemy that could be pinned with all of the farm’s failures.
Squealer uses the memory and intelligence of the animals against them to exploit them by reinforcing a series of convincing lies, and instilling a powerful maxim; “four legs good, two legs bad”, in the minds of the less intelligent animals, that could be used as a chant to drown out any logical argument. Squealer’s character corresponds with the Russian newspaper, “Pravda” which at the time held the power to turn black into white the same way as the pig. George Orwell is making a statement on the power of language to exploit and manipulate the masses in the form of propaganda, and warns us to be critical of political media in light of the events from his life.
Similarly, V for Vendetta comments on the media’s power to sway the opinions of the public, and the ways in which governments use it to influence citizens. V for Vendetta is based in a society where free speech is non-existent and censorship washes over all aspects of the media. The single minded force of the media, represented by the bold and domineering “Voice of London”, allows the government to impose only one “truth” on the public; only one perspective to any event so that it is the only one to believe. After V’s first November 5th bombing and hijacking of the television station in order to instil hope for a revolution in the populous, Sutler’s government begins to twist and re-fabricate the entire event to make it appear as though V were a terrorist meaning to harm the public.
Using emotive and connotative language; “A psychotic terrorist”, “Attacked unarmed civilians”, “to spread a message of hate”, to attach fear and stigma to the vigilante, whilst glorifying the police force; “during this heroic raid the terrorist was shot and killed” to inspire loyalty and pride in citizens. The propaganda aims to turn public the public opinion from anarchy to fear and in turn compliance. V for Vendetta was composed at a time in which xenophobia allowed politicians to blame many faults on “Terrorists” typically associated with people of Muslim belief. The labelling of someone that the government believes to be a social deviant as a “terrorist” was a solution to political issues, and this can be seen reflectively in V for Vendetta. Both texts, written in entirely different contexts, deal with the issue of propaganda and manipulation, and have been strongly influenced by historical examples of government use of these political tools.
Both texts in their respective contexts suggest that fear incapacitates the masses from revolting against oppression. They suggest that fear cripples the hearts and wills of those it dominates, and convinces it’s victims that nothing is worth fighting for. Animal farm reflects the tyrannical reign of Joseph Stalin, Russia’s communist dictator that controlled his people through a network of fear tactics that among many things entailed the murder of millions of civilians he believed to be “enemies of the state”. In the Russian revolution, the oppressed became the oppressors; Stalin’s government rose to power on a just and fair cause, but sullied it by becoming an oppressive dictatorship, hardly different to the one that the people primarily fought to escape from. In Animal Farm, violence and the fear of violence bends the animals of the farm into submission; Napoleon orders the mass execution of those conspiring against him, and by its end “the air was heavy with the smell of blood, which had been unknown there since the expulsion of Jones”.
It is ironic that things seem to be just as bad on animal farm as they were in the days of jones, yet Squealer’s propaganda still continues to loom the omnipresent fear of the farmer’s return over their heads as if to say; “No matter how bad things get, they could never be as bad as they were,” and continually states the rhetorical question “surely you wouldn’t want jones to come back?”. The Fear of Jones’s return keeps the animals of the farm in submission, and once discarded the animals become capable of great deeds. Major’s speech inspires and motivates the animals to stand up to their oppressor, by morphing their fear into fury. He does this by declaring that once Benjamin becomes too old he will be sent to the “knackers”. Orwell criticises fear’s power to cripple and paralyse and suggests that once discarded, people become capable of great feats of justice. Animal Farm expresses the representation of fear and its ability to cripple by aligning it with the contextual events of the Russian revolution.
V for Vendetta addresses the concept of fear and violence in a very similar way in its representation of the totalitarian state of England under the “Norsefire” party. In light of recent events such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the film details an alternate timeline in which the western world has let governments turn their fear of the unknown against them, and let them unwittingly sacrifice their liberty for promises of stability and freedom. The “Norsefire” government uses threats of terrorism and disease to reduce the populace into a state of fear, and convince them that they “need” the government in order to protect them from the outside world, when in fact all they want is absolute power. An example of the Norsefire government’s use of fear to manipulate the public is when they feel their power slipping away in favour of the masked revolutionary “V” High Chancellor Sutler says “what we need right now is a clear message to the people of this country this message must be read in every newpaper heard on every radio and seen on every television, I want everyone to realize how close we stand to the edge of oblivion.
I want every man woman and child to know how close we are to chaos. I want everyone to remember why the need us!” The message resounds with a series of dreamatic television reports showing the chaos of the outside world, water shortage, civil war, disease. The reports however fail to influence public opinion, as they have already been convinced by V that the government will lie excessively to prove their points. V for Vendetta’s representation of the governments use of fear tactics to attempt to persuade public opinions and elude from real issues resonates with political ploys used to convince the public of the threat of terrorism in the early 2000’s by the Bush and Thatcher governments. When support from the public was needed to justify the invasion of Iraq, they used the media to fear monger and persuade the masses. The contexts of animal farm and V for Vendetta deal similarly with the issue of fear and it’s use by governments to coerce the public.