After watching a preview for the upcoming film, V for Vendetta I decided to re-read it. I had purchased it almost a decade ago, after enjoying Watchmen and hating almost everything Alan Moore had done since that (lana, gof kalakas Fire from the Heavens).
First of all, I love it when authors and artists can weave things in their stories together throughout the narrative. So for example, in Watchmen, different themes are re-expressed in the dialogue or even the panel layout and image choices (such as the bodies of two people being vaporized by a "alien" blast becoming a blood splatter or a finger marked slash of an ice covered glasss dome.) V for Vendetta does that throughout, whether it be re-inserting "V" in different forms throughout, like the most famous line from Beethoven's Fifth symphony is morse code for the letter "V."
When reading it on this occassion, I paid careful attention to the footnotes, the intro, the postcript to the collection. I'm glad I did, because Alan Moore touches on something in them which has held back much apocalyptic fiction from holding subversive potential.
1984 is a good example. Supposedly in the first draft of his book, it came with an introduction, and a sentence or two from that introduction was taken out of the early editions. What did that sentence say? It cautioned readers not to immediately assume that 1984 is about Russia or Germany or some other totalitarian state where censorship is so rife, but to recognize that this very well could be the United Kingdom.
To put it another way, with 1984 for it to have any real political potential, then one must recognize it has being about the United States or the United Kingdom. Anything else would relegate it to that all too familiar mantra, "fuckedna i cha'guan gi maseha manu fuera di guini" which is the core imaginary point for maintaining the exceptionality of any nation state.
Returning to V for Vendetta, in any apocalyptical story there is always a reason for why this has come about. Why does England become this totalitarian and facist state? What catastrophic event could have derailed society to such a degree that decisions were made to incarcerate all the homosexuals and people of color? In his intro for the collected edition, Alan Moore admits to being naive politically when he wrote the comic, noting that although he then felt that a near nuclear annihilation of the world would be that event, in reality, no such event would be required. If we can take the 9/11 attacks on the United States as an example (and subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), those catastrophic events are created much much more then they just happen.
What holds back fiction of this sort is this sort of naivism, which assumes that the character of things today is fundamentally good and more importantly "better" and thus for a breakdown to take place, something out of control, out of this world must happen. What makes V for Vendetta so depressingly not subversive is that the way it goes beyond what is normally done, and yet still does what is normally done. It very much shows the mechanics of a governing and controlling body, and its emphasis on them as parts of the body is an inspired move, as metaphors of the body are always invoked to either hold certain elements together or expunge and destroy others. The obscene parts of government are described through the desires and activities of those working in the Finger, the Head, the Eye, etc. This is the way government works, it is not something to come, but something looking down on us now. One of the best critiques about government (which is sadly lost on all, because of genre ideology) is Enemy of the State. The government as a body is not a neutral disinterested or evil diabloical thing, but something which lies in the middle. Big Brother is not someone who sits back manipulating our lives, but instead like Seth Green or Jamie Kennedy in Enemy of the State, who get obvious kicks out of their governmentality.
Yet all of this is made foreign to the world of today, because of Moore's decision to make this world built upon the wreckage of a nuclear war.