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The Revolution Will Be Not Civilized

(Spoiler Alert: This post covers plot details of Bill Willingham’s compelling graphic novel series, “Fables: Animal Farm.”)

“When liberty comes with hands dabbled in blood it is hard to shake hands with her.”  -- Oscar Wilde

Like the best graphic novels (such as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentleman), Bill Willingham’s Fables forces you to re-look at the nature and history of storytelling. Whereas Gaiman borrowed from myth and Moore borrowed from pulp fiction, Willingham borrows from the worlds of folklore and fairy tales.

What sets Fables apart from the aforementioned books (and most other graphic novels) are the overt political themes. While its characters are straight from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, its themes are straight from Dr. Strangelove or 1984. Take the second story arc of the series, "Animal Farm." It is, as the name implies, about Marxist revolution. By making the Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks Marxist revolutionaries, in a strange way it universalizes the concept.

Some background. In Fables, characters from folklore, fairy tales and other storybook fables--such as Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, and Pinocchio--have come to America after being forced out of their fantasy home worlds.  Human looking characters live in Fabletown in New York City, while non-human looking characters--like the Three Little pigs, the White Rabbit, Tom Thumb--live upstate on the “Farm.”

This segregation leads to discontent. A number of proto-Marxist revolutionaries--led by the Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks--revolt, upset at their forced segregation. This all, of course, leads to Violence.

Though the above plot is, well, absurd, it gets one core thing absolutely right: revolutions are violent, ghastly things.

Two of the Three Little Pigs murder the third for failing to accomplish a mission and put his head on a stick--in a another stated nod to Orwell’s Animal Farm--and then begin a murder spree in an attempt to foment revolution. Any dissent is met with censorship by Goldilocks, or execution by the Pigs. This is revolution. Idealistically, revolution seems beautiful, the overthrow of tyranny, and the promise of a better future; in practice, it is ugly.

Research revolutions starting with the French Revolution and continuing on through the Marxist Revolutions. You will find that they are bloody affairs that rarely end with equality and democracy. Chaos and instability give way to the stability of autocratic rule. The Iranian Revolution led to theocratic control. The French revolution led to Empire and then monarchy. The American Revolution can claim status as virtually the only act of revolution that led to democracy, and even America’s beginning was rocky and stained with blood. It is a theme we will be coming back to.

One comment

Not every revolution has a totalitarian ending, India and Pakistan were formed by nonvioent revolution and India atleast has set up a functioning stable democracy. Nearly exactly 20 years ago the Berlin wall fell, older East Germans I work with who were persecuted by the Stasi told me the only reason it wasn´t a violent revolution was simply because that wasn´t possible or feasable, although the “Monday Demonstrations” did degenerate into violent riots at several points and it was always teetering on becoming a massacre.

Not every violent revolution from the past century ended up badly, not every soldier in every war dies in vain. The Irish Revolution after WWI ended up well with a stable nation-state emerging, albeit with an unstable neighbor to split the island with.

In the end Revolution is always a gamble, no system is perfect or can be better than the flaws of the human beings that operate them. The questions is will the revolution be worth the cost to improve the system or it will it contribute to its degeneration.