February 23, 2006

Banned in Britain?

vendetta.jpg This post is the sexy pop culture finalé to the stuffy political rant just below. In case you read this one first (or only) I ended the previous one with a remark about the new UK law that forbids "glorification of terrorism." And while I may have promised in that post a hot photo of Natalie Portman, this still seems much more appropriate to my question: Will V for Vendetta be banned in Britain?

Strangely, I haven't seen this addressed anywhere, even though the movie opens in a matter of weeks. From what I hear, this dystopian futuristic gloss on the Guy Fawkes legend is gonna be a great deal of fun, and is pretty explicitly pro-terrorism — in the service of fighting a right-wing government that has stripped its country of civil liberties in the name of national security. The wingnuts are gonna go apeshit, mark my words. But, hey, that's their First Amendment right. The question is, will the British government apply its new standards to a Hollywood film? I seriously doubt it, of course, and that's just the problem with speech codes. When they attempt to be neutral — this one doesn't ban any specific ideology, just the concept of glorifying terrorism — in practice they are always applied with discrimination. We'll arrest Arabs who carry signs celebrating Islamic terrorism, but not Americans who make a movie celebrating intra-British terrorism. How can that be philosophically justified without admitting that it's really an idea — Islamism — that's being targetted? Hell, if an Islamic nation made this exact same movie but made the heroes Arabs and the time now instead of 30 years from now, I bet the movie would be banned.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


I just hope they don't arrest Jack White.

A pre-shaved Natalie Portman
portrait is available at Athiest Pin-Ups:

That's "Atheist Pin-Ups"

Alan Moore publicly disassociated himself from it after reading the script, so that's all I need to know about it.

From my reading the UK definition of terrorism, I think the British government can now ban all sorts of movies. Braveheart and Robin Hood both glorify violent action "designed to influence the government" "for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause." So does Star Wars, and a fair amount of Shakespeare. And, of course, the writings of Thomas Paine, histories of the Troubles that don't clearly condemn the IRA, etc.

Good find, Jesse. But now I'm wondering if this definition doesn't actually preclude works of art. After all, V may be glorifying the idea of terrorism in the colloquial sense, but it's not glorifying actions "designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public" inasmuch as any such actions are designed only to tell a story. The acts of violence in the movie are not aimed at influencing any real-world govt or intimidating real-world people. It's aimed at entertaining them.

Damn. I was sure I was on to something.

However, movies based on real events may still be covered, so Braveheart isn't off the hook. Or Star Wars.

Sorry, I should have included a link to the proposed bill as well, which starts with:

"This section applies to a statement that is likely to be understood by some or all of the members of the public to whom it is published as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to them to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism or Convention offences."

The problem is the "indirect encouragement" phrase, made worse by the next sections:

"(3) For the purposes of this section, "indirect encouragement" comprises the making of a statement describing terrorism in such a way that the listener would infer that he should emulate it.

(4) For the purposes of this section the questions how a statement is likely to be understood and what members of the public could reasonably be expected to infer from it must be determined having regard both—

(a) to the contents of the statement as a whole; and

(b) to the circumstances and manner of its publication."

I don't know if there's a more sepcific definition further down in the bill (I haven't read the whole thing), but that language sounds a lot like "I know it when I see it," which is only true for porn.

For your hypothetical movie I can easily see the government saying "Clearly your target audience will understand that this is not just a form of entertainment, but rather a call to arms to engage in terrorist attacks against the British government." By the same logic, a film celebrating Arab victories in the Crusades could be banned on the grounds that the audience will understand that the European knights are stand-ins for modern British and American troops.

"V for Vendetta" might survive because we all assume it won't inspire white Londoners to go blow up Parliament, or at least not until the Tories are back in power. Or it might be banned on the theory that Islamists -- who seem unlikely to watch it -- will draw a pro-terrorism message from it, or maybe even copy some of the attacks from the movie.

Too much of this law depends on how the audience interprets the speech/poster/movie, and, even worse, how we think an audience might interpret that speech. Given how regularly the public reminds us of their ability to take messages from books and movies that are the exact opposite of what the author intended -- e.g., taking Henry VI Part II as actually recommending killing lawyers -- and how often politicians assume the public doesn't understand that not everything in a movie is intended to be emulated -- e.g., Jesse Jackson on Barbershop -- it's not too hard to see this law being used against someone who makes an anti-terrorist film that is misinterpreted.

Or maybe the law will only be used against people demonstrating with placards, to ensure that the law can be both borderline fascist and uttery ineffective at the same time.

Two article apropos of this issue can be found at:

2-15-06: Confrontation brewing between real British Government, which wants to outlaw the "glorification of terrorism," and "V for Vendetta" film that glorifies terrorism against a fictional, fascist, British Government? (Etopia Media Entertainment News Network #25)


2-16-06: Spokesperson at British Embassy in Washington, D.C., says that "it would be for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether to bring a prosecution or not" against V for Vendetta on charges of "glorification of terrorism" (Etopia Media Entertainment News Network #26)


I remember buying the comicbooks in the early nineties, although, in my tradition, we're mighty glad the Fawkes was discovered.

I'm looking forward to it.

If you really look at this movie, it's not so much an attack on any British political party so much as a commentary on the American goverment. Overblown and paranoid, but consistent with a lot of hard-left ranting. Personally, I'm getting sick of having people's poliical opinions rammed down my throat, whichever side those opinions may lean to. I want to watch a movie to watch a movie, not get politcal hype!

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