Sociology and the theories associated with the study of societies, are prominent in all aspects of entertainment especially movies. This essay will attempt to relate the three sociological theories - structural functionalism, conflict theory and symbolic interactionism - to the film ‘V for Vendetta’. In order to appropriately discuss how these theories are portrayed in this film, it is important to first understand them and have a working definition of each theory.
In structural functionalism is defined as a framework for building theory that sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability. Norman Fontes and Nancy Guardalabene defined structural functionalism as, “a system that focuses on the relationship between structures that produce functions facilitating the achievement of some goal”. This means that each aspect of society operates individually with individual goals, but only in respect to the goals that lead to the benefit of society. The continuing thrive of social life is dependent on cooperation amongst the many different parts of society. In this theory conflict is viewed as destructive and change is negative as it disrupts the normal order of life. If parts of the whole conflict each other it could lead to the destruction of the society.
Karl Marx stated: “Society is in a state of perpetual conflict because of competition for limited resources. That social order is maintained by domination and power, rather than consensus and conformity”. This is considered to be the formal definition of conflict theory. Societies aspects are considered to always be opposed or in competition to one another. In this theory, change is viewed as a positive aspect as well as an undeniable outcome of the competition in society.
Considered to be a micro level theory, symbolic interactionism can be traced back to the early 20th century. It was prominent theory in American sociology in the 1960’s. Symbolic interactionism focuses on the relationship among individuals within a society. These relationships can be viewed in stages, where individual aspects are acting out individual roles that creates social drama. Every object and action have a meaning, and language serves as a means for people to represent and communicate their interpretations. Change is identified as something that will happen within societies regardless of positive or negative stimuli. In this theory change is considered to occur when individuals improvise on the script that is assigned to them to fulfill.
“Good evening, London. I thought it time we had a little talk. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin...” (V).
‘V for Vendetta’ was originally a graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd. ‘V for Vendetta’ takes place in a dystopian society in future London, where the Norsefire political party has established a totalitarian government. The story emphasizes structural functionalism, Conflict theory, and symbolic interaction. Statements, such as “the people should not be afraid of the government; the government should be afraid of their people. People can realize that are no coincidences in this world, everything happens for a certain reason”, could be view as emphasizing the need for structural functionalism in this dystopian society. Where the people and the government are two complex systems that must work together to promote a stable society.
“Anarchy wears two faces, both Creator and Destroyer” (V).
“Fear got the best of you. And in your panic, you turned to the now High Chancellor Adam Sutler. He promised you order, and he promised you peace. And all he demanded in return was your silent obedient consent. Last night I started to end that silence. Last night I destroyed the Old Bailey to remind this country what it has forgotten” (V).
There are numerous examples of conflict theory within the film. One such example is the main theme for ‘V for Vendetta’, which is freedom or the illusion of freedom and its conflict with anarchy. V, the main character, is an anarchist or someone who believes that all government authority is corrupt because it infringes on the people’s freedom. It is clear at the beginning that the Norsefire government of England is guilty of infringing human freedom. They forbid people from reading certain content, imprisoning people because of their sexual orientation or skin color, and sending the elderly to gas chambers if they add no value to society. In the film, it appears that only the protagonists know they are living in a dystopian society. Everyone else is oblivious to the fact. Throughout the film V can be seen committing crimes against the government, but not for the sake of breaking the law, but for the goal of rebuilding a new society where people no longer fear their government.
The scene where the chancellor addresses his audience with the statement, “We stand on the edge of oblivion. I want every man, woman, child to understand how closed we are to chaos”, is another area where conflict theory can be applied. With this statement I presume the chancellor is attempting to hide the economic and social inequality that caused the division of the society into two opposing classes. It can be assumed the chancellor is trying to instill a sense of unity among the people that is rebelling against the government.
“Everybody is special. Everybody. Everybody is a hero, a lover, a fool, a villain, everybody. Everybody has their story to tell…” (V).
People in this society are expected to abide and adhere to rules without question. The Norsefire government has considerable control over many aspects of the lives of its citizens. It controls citizens through fear, intimidation, and conformity. The regime has imposed nationwide curfews, eroded civil liberties, and destroyed cultural and religious diversity. Citizens are expected to act out a scripted life written and produced by the government and are severely punished if any attempt is made to go against the government.
Nowhere in the film is the concept of symbolic interactionism more prevalent than in situations involving one of the main characters, Evey Hammond. The character Evey, according to the novel, works at a munitions factory, but in the movie, she is portrayed working as a runner for the British Television Network. At the start of the film Evey is on her way to a presumed sexual encounter with a popular talk show host when she is caught after curfew and nearly raped by a Fingerman, a member of the governments Norsefires police. As she is about to be raped, she is saved by a mysterious man in a Guy Fawkes mask calling himself ‘V’. This encounter has a defining moment on Evey as she defies normal expectations or improvises her assigned script.
The film ‘V for Vendetta’ carries many social aspects that have been described by theorists for many years. This film is a great distillation of sociological concepts. It illustrates not only the basic ideas of the concepts discussed in this essay, but also the deviation from any one particular concept. The sociological concepts illustrated in the film shows the importance of social phenomenon that which allows sociology to thrive.
“…Remember, remember, the Fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot. I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot... But what of the man? I know his name was Guy Fawkes and I know, in 1605, he attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. But who was he really? What was he like? We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail. He can be caught, he can be killed and forgotten, but 400 years later, an idea can still change the world. I've witnessed firsthand the power of ideas, I've seen people kill in the name of them, and die defending them... but you cannot kiss an idea, cannot touch it, or hold it... ideas do not bleed, they do not feel pain, they do not love... And it is not an idea that I miss, it is a man... A man that made me remember the Fifth of November. A man that I will never forget” (Evey Hammond).
- Fontes, Norman, Guardalabene, & Nancy. (2006, March 17). Structural-Functionalism: An Introduction to the Literature. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/hcr/article-abstract/2/3/299/4637546?redirectedFrom=fulltext
- Learning, L. (n.d.). Sociology. Retrieved from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/alamo-sociology/chapter/functionalism/
- Learning, L. (n.d.). Sociology. Retrieved from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/alamo-sociology/chapter/conflict-theory/
- Lloyd, D., Moore, A., Whitaker, S., Dodds, S., & Weare, T. (2012). V for Vendetta. New York: DC Comics.
- Obo. (2019, March 21). Retrieved from http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199756384/obo-9780199756384-0035.xml
- V for Vendetta [Video file]. (n.d.).