Sunday, June 20, 2010

Utopia and vendetta

I've just been reading From Utopia to Apocalypse: Science Fiction and the Politics of Catastrophe by US literature professor Peter Paik. It's a relatively accessible examination of issues in revolutionary and utopian politics as illustrated in some popular works of science fiction. These range from the sublime (Alan Moore's 'Miracleman' and 'Watchmen', Hayao Miyazaki's 'NausicaƤ') to the ridiculous (the 'Matrix' trilogy), via some less well-known works such as the highly entertaining Korean movie 'Save the Green Planet'.

Paik's political arguments - of the inherent contradictions of utopian ideologies, from Marxism to Neoconservatism; and of the fragilities of liberal morality - are very reminiscent of those of John Gray, who does feature in the final chapter of this book. Indeed, I first came across Paik through his blog essay The Ethics of Scarcity: On John Gray and J. G. Ballard. He's also working on a paper dealing with the 'dialectic of satiety' in the work of Ballard, for which I've given him some background material.

Paik has summarised his political study in an article for Rorotoko. I don't have the background to critique his philosophy (or, to be honest, to entirely follow all of his precedent-heavy arguments), but the book is a very engaging work of literary/comic/movie criticism, throwing some new light on some familiar works. I particularly enjoyed Paik's discussion of Moore's 'V for Vendetta' (a comic I first came across in its original publication in 'Warrior' magazine, at probably far too tender an age) and his comparison of the comic's complex philosophy and style with the vapid simplifications of the pusillanimous movie adaptation. It's a shame that the discussion of 'Watchmen' doesn't include a similar demolition of the equally cretinous Hollywood version of that book.

However, Paik doesn't pick up on what seemed to me to be the most remarkable feature of the 'V for Vendetta' movie. Rather than the left-liberal 'rather toothless commentary on the administration of George W Bush' identified by Paik, the film is itself an essentially Neocon fantasy about painless regime change. As Paik does note, the near-faceless bureaucratic leader of the book's fascism is replaced with a cartoon ranting dictator ('Sutler') - a moustached tyrant who gases his own people and whose propaganda spokesman (in the first scene of the film) is simply beastly about the USA. And rather than the deeply ambiguous and unilateral terrorist acts and specifically anarchist argument of the comic's protagonist, the film's V just carries out a bit of shock-and-awe bombing, broadcasts some vaguely liberal rhetoric, and inspires a bloodless uprising of the masses, in a happy ending with fireworks. Just like the pre-invasion fantasy of Iraqi liberation, basically. And precisely the kind of violent political utopianism that Paik and Gray demolish.

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