Last weekend I rented V for Vendetta, the Natalie Portman/Hugo Weaving vehicle that's based on comic book impresario Alan Moore's graphic novel. For those of you who haven't seen the movie, it's set in the not-too-distant future and is about the people's struggle against a totalitarian state--Britain, to be exact. V, the main character, is a modern-day Guy Fawkes who inspires the oppressed masses to rise up and to confront the homophobia, religious intolerance, fear-mongering, and lack of civil liberties that have beset jolly-old England.
What's abundantly clear is that the film is a warning about the slippery slope countries like Britain and the United States find themselves on these days. The future Britain it portrays--where copies of the Koran are banned, sexual minorities must live underground, art is suspect, and eavesdropping on the populace is the order of the day--is, in some respects, embodied in our present, though perhaps not in quite those extremes.
You might say that the film offers a scathing critique of the current policies of the British and U.S. governments, especially many of the initiatives that have begun under the auspices of the "war on terror." My question is this: Does it really matter?
Perhaps I've been out of the loop, but I don't get the impression that V for Vendetta has sparked much of a serious public dialogue about democracy's slide toward totalitarianism in either country. Perhaps that's asking too much from one film. But for me it raises a larger question: to what extent are the media genuinely effective in producing concrete shifts in governmental policy? Another way of putting this would be to say: to what extent is cultural politics able to change formal governmental politics or policy anymore?
V, for me, is an intriguing test-case. To the extent that it hasn't seemed to produce much public outcry (or effective public outcry), my inclination would be to say that the power critics once attributed to cultural politics may be on the decline. Don't get me wrong. I still believe cultural politics matters. By the same token, a film like V suggests to me that cultural politics may not matter in the way that it once did.