There’s something vaguely familiar about how the coronavirus has unfolded. Watching the narrative play out over the past year, I can’t help but be reminded of the virus story in the graphic novel and 2004 dystopia film “V for Vendetta.”
The Pathogen Path to Power
In V for Vendetta, the United Kingdom has fallen into a totalitarian police state under the rule of a political party called Norsefire, which rules by force and exerts total control over its citizens. One man, known only as V, was the victim of government imprisonment and experimentation and swears vengeance against the ruling party. The movie chronicles his efforts to reveal the corruption and evilness of the government to the people of the United Kingdom. (The ethics of how he goes about this would require another essay!)
Norsefire’s main weapons of control is a virus (“The most terrifying virus you can imagine,” V describes), which the government has developed to use as a weapon against their own citizens.
“If your ultimate goal is power, how best to use such a weapon?” V asks.
The government intentionally implants the virus in three locations to maximize the deadly effects in the public: a school, a metro station, and a water treatment plant. After several hundred die within the first few weeks, the media creates a narrative of hysteria and panic, fueling the public’s fear.
The fear and panic ramped up by the media’s language fractures and divides the citizens of the country, and tensions start to escalate, leading to riots. Hmm, sounds familiar.
A Political Pathogen
As the virus is unleashed and fear spreads, an election is taking place. “No one could have predicted the results of the election that year,” says V. The tyrannical Norsefire party surprisingly wins that year in a landslide that takes everyone by surprise, even though the party was very unpopular among the populace.
As the virus is unleashed and fear spreads, an election is taking place.
After Norsefire wins the election, “Lo and behold, a miracle!” says V. A cure for the virus is released by a pharmaceutical company with close connections to the government. Norsefire party members get extremely wealthy from the virus cure.
Fear and Politics
“The true genius of the plan was the fear,” says V, emphasizing the last word. The fear created by the virus was the tool the government used to implant the Norsefire leader they wanted in the highest position of power, regardless of the wishes of the people.
V for Vendetta is a fictional story, but the last year has some interesting parallels. Media sensationalism around coronavirus stoked public fear instead of offering us reason and calm. The hysterics justified the government forcing small businesses to shut down (while megacorporations were allowed to remain open, no less). Restricting the travel of citizens and forcing them to stay in their homes without human contact was also justified. People were not allowed to go to church, and the government told people not to have more than a dictated number of guests in their own private homes.
“The true genius of the plan was the fear."
To top off the parallels, people were encouraged to vote in the presidential election by mail instead of in person. We’re told Joe Biden is the most popular president in all of American history, even though he barely campaigned at all in the year leading up to election. Now, days after the inauguration, we’re being told by government officials that the virus is plateauing.
Maybe it’s all a coincidence. But the reality of the last year has some very eerie similarities to the fictional story about controlling, totalitarian governments.
In V for Vendetta, the character Evey says, “Artists use lies to tell the truth while politicians use them to cover the truth up.” It’s a very apt statement for a society gone tyrannical over a virus that kills fewer people than tobacco use does.
“Life imitates art” goes the saying, and it’s true that art may affect the way we look at the world. Watching the film, it leads one to wonder about who might benefit from wielding the fear about coronavirus like a weapon.