October 6, 2012

V for Visual Rhetoric

In Chapter 2 of "Understanding Comics", Scott McCloud explores the ways in which cartooning simplifies an icon--"any image used to represent a person, place, thing, or idea" (McCloud 27)--in order to amplify its meaning and focus our attention on it.  He specifically addresses the abstraction of human faces, noting the universalizing function it serves through viewer-identification, and the ability of this function to merge our identity with our awareness by drawing our attention away from the image and onto the message being communicated. "If who I am matters less, maybe what I say will matter more" (McCloud 37). When we look at a realistic representation of a human face, we see the face of another. But when the image is more abstracted, we see ourselves. “That’s the theory, anyway (McCloud 37).

This concept can be understood by looking at the graphic novel/movie V for Vendetta. The main character V is always seen wearing his trademark Guy Fawkes mask and a straight brown-haired wig. Because the mask is a strong abstraction of a human face, the reader/viewer identifies with it and internalizes the message he is meant to convey. The mask is an icon.

V: Beneath this mask, there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask, there is an idea, Mr. Creedy. And ideas are bulletproof.

As seen here, V for Vendetta directly calls attention to the arbitrary nature of symbols--one category of icons that “represent concepts, ideas and philosophies” (McCloud 27)—and the powerful potential they have as tools for communicating ideas.

V: People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.

Evey: And you are going to make that happen by blowing up a building?

V: The building is a symbol, as is the act of destroying it. Symbols are given power by the people. Alone, a symbol is meaningless, but with enough people, blowing up a building can change the world.

Further, the Guy Fawkes mask given significance in V for Vendetta has become widely acknowledged as a symbol of popular rebellion. It was adopted by Anonymous as their symbol and was seen frequently during Occupy Wall Street and related protests. Whereas the mask would have no significant meaning had it not been used as such, this symbol has acquired power solely through the iconic use of it.

1 comment:

Catalina said...

The mask used in this movie is an interesting case. I agree that as it was used within the plot of the movie, it was an abstract icon used to further the characters' identification with the cause. However, once the mask enters the "real world" what role does it play? When protestors wear it at an Occupy Wall Street protest, are they using it as an abstracted icon to further other people's identification? No, they are gambling on the connotation each individual has with the mask, hoping it has become a universal symbol for freedom from oppression and can be applied effectively to their specific cause. Without V for Vendetta, their use of the mask would have been useless -- iconic abstraction works best when it is used for one spokesperson, such as the McCloud character in the comics pages. Being one of many people in a crowd, the use of a mask may have alienated people. With the extra meaning behind the mask, though, it had a more effective and appropriate part in the protest. This speaks to the fluid relationship between icons and symbols -- an image can move from one category to the other through the use of culture.

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