V For Vendetta

Imagine a culture of fear so complete that people abide a government that curfews them for their own good…

... a government for whom preserving liberty means enslaving its citizenry…

… a world where the most dangerous man is a free man…

… and only the mad can be trusted.

Imagine that this is the world you live in and the new dystopia V For Vendetta seems less like a collection of cool ideas and more like the morning news masquerading as fiction. 
Which isn’t to say what many leftists think (namely that the Bush family is leading us into fascism) has any bearing on truth, but to point out how prescience is linked with perspective.
The story of a government that manufactures fear and speaks in Orwellian doubletalk to confuse and intimidate its docile citizens isn’t just a history of the last eight years: It’s a comic book written in the mid-1990s. I remember when V was just a cool series written by comic book genius Allan Moore. Back then, during the high liberal days of the Clinton administration, it just seemed like a bunch of cool ideas.
The film adaptation of V is visually stunning and well-paced, though it is a big idea film, which means characters get second billing to concepts. This is usually the case with high-concept films that are discursive rather than narrative, but V ploughs through this problem by running a gauntlet of ideas and tossing up smoke bombs when logic fails.
After all, who can take a character seriously when he wears a Guy Fawkes mask, quotes Shakespeare and practices fencing by watching old movies? V isn’t even as well developed as Batman or Frank Miller’s Daredevil and his romantic interests seem contrived and overly verbal – one of Moore’s shortcomings.
The idea that a political figurehead could take on epic power through media coercion seemed unsophisticated when Bill Clinton couldn’t get away with a bj without an army of whistleblowers coming forward. The Clinton administration couldn’t even convince the American people that a cult of gun-totting, religious radicals needed to be shut down.
The 1990s seem a long time ago these days and it’s difficult to remember when my generation couldn’t fathom the sort of abuse of power that created the Red Scare and the Nazi movement in the 1930s and 40s. Now I suspect that the secret Bush Gestapo would use V as fire starter to get the Constitution going if they could finally shut up those silly liberals at the ACLU.
This era is fertile ground for delusion, well intended or not. There will be those who claim V is a blueprint for the next revolution, but they’re mostly the same crackpots who think that Firefly was a libertarian treatise or see every drug episode of the Simpson’s as secret code.  Still, I suggest that seeing V as an outraged, defeated, paranoid lefty has many advantages.
If you are so predisposed, the science fiction about a tyrannical government’s manufacture of fear will seem so urgent that you’ll double check your mirror when you get back to your car. Every black sedan will contain a threat, you will temporarily boycott Fox as big-brother TV, and you will find exciting new opportunities to say things like, “People should not fear their government; governments should fear their people.”     
And you will seem both cool and patriotic because these sentiments just so happen to be true, no matter what side you find yourself on.


Block Party

Dave Chapelle’s Block Party proves that rap culture has gone postmodern.
The film has all the telltale symptoms, from complex questions of authenticity to camp worship of seventies television and bad hair. All that’s missing is an utterly unreadable master rhetorician – a rhyming Jean Baudrillard – though the enigmatic Mos Def is as incomprehensible as any postmodern mystic.
It’s difficult to know what will come out the other end once “cool” has been thoroughly whitewashed and wrestled from black culture, but one thing is for sure: Dave Chapelle is the great white hope for millions of pathetic Caucasian kids who wish they’d been born a shade more chocolate.
Appearing in an Izod shirt and sounding like Tiger Woods lite, Chapelle is proof positive that blackness has been lost somewhere along the line. There’s something rotten in Denmark when black people have to work this hard to be Negro, but what’s even more strange is the confessional tone of Block Party, the way Chapelle constantly undermines his own blackness.
Chapelle organizes the party from his home town in Ohio, among plain-speaking white folks who wouldn’t know a rapper from a stutterer. He offers free tickets to the yuppie black kids and band geeks in this mostly suburban slice of the heartland, but he’s seething under his skin, contemptuous of his kinfolk, those suburban sellouts who mark him as a poseur.
Chapelle picks a dilapidated Brooklyn neighborhood to stage his show. Having no connection to the area whatsoever, it’s an odd act of presumptuousness to call this free concert a block party. After all, Chappelle doesn’t really seem interested in the people of the neighborhood and appears to have picked the block because it strikes him as looking black.
(Note of fact: A lot of folks would call a party taking place in their backyard trespassing, not a block party.)
The 1970s never really ended, they just migrated to the slums, and Chappelle is enamored with the idea of gritty reality he finds in the block. Of course reality comes with real people – like the white hippie couple trying to renovate an old church – but Chappelle is more than happy to ignore them by shipping in busloads of black from wherever he can find them, just to show how dark-skinned he really is, mind you.
Chappelle interrupts the musical performances repeatedly, betraying his honky background by overacting the part. Surrounded by actual street-hardened brothers, he resorts to explaining the Negro experience by evoking television, as though The Cosby Show and Good Times explain everything you need to know about racial issues.
The musical performances are fine, I guess, though I resent the idea that I must not be cool if I don’t like rap. Block Party reminds me of Woodstock –The Movie... I have the same sense of disconnection from the actual music and the same vague, unpleasant feeling that I’m being lied to.
Block Party is one of the most anxious films I’ve seen in years. Like Hustle & Flow it undercuts the idea of “natural cool” that is so important to the comodifed Negro, but it is much more intellectually dishonest than Hustle. Where the fictional narrative shows an individual struggling with his own illegitimacy, Block Party hides its main character – Chappelle, really – behind music that still believes it has something to say.
Chappelle relishes the stereotypical and cultural clichés of the badass Negro even as he calls blackness into question. On an unconscious level he wants to be called to task, told that he’s constructed his blackness from TV and comic books, but the film’s energy steamrolls his confessional.  
Block Party is really a story of two pale Americas: One white and one rapidly becoming white. “We shook up the world!” Chapelle screams after it’s all over. The poverty of this film is he believes his own hype.

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