Welcome to “Are You My Comrade?” where I will evaluate fictional revolutionaries on the basis of whether or not I would personally like to hang out and/or revolt with them. This will be an ongoing, multipart series, and is theoretically infinite, since I don’t see us running out of fictional revolutionaries any time soon. Suggestions for future entries are welcome; leave us a comment with a fictional revolutionary you’d like to see judged in a highly subjective way!
Les Amis de l’ABC, Les Miserables
Oh you guys. You’re so passionate, and sincere and sincerely passionate. I think my favorite moment in any musical ever is when Marius comes into the revolutionary plotting meeting singing the “I just saw a girl for like three seconds and now everything has changed oh my god you guys” song and gets told “dude shut up, we’re trying to plan an insurrection over here. You can chime in with whatever you want when we sing Red and Black if you must but tbh no one cares about your feelings right now and don’t you dare try to bring your heterosexuality into Do You Hear the People Sing.” It’s pretty satisfying.
Are they a little annoying? Hell yes. They’re a bunch of self-righteous children of the bourgeoisie. They hardly seem to do anything besides hang out and plot in a café because OF COURSE they plot in a café, they’re middle class French intellectuals for god’s sake. On the other hand, unlike most such guys, they put their money exactly where their mouths are. The stage musical gives the progress of their attempted uprising less time than it deserves (which, I mean, I understand, the musical is already like four thousand years long) but in the book, they don’t just die nobly in balletic poses on the barricades; at one point Marius stands on the barricade with a keg of powder in one hand and a torch in the other, threatening to blow that shit up if the National Guardsmen don’t back off. Which they do, because no one gets paid enough to call that kind of bluff, especially in 19th century France. Enjolras, who is basically as close to being the embodiment of revolutionary spirit as you can get without being a seminude allegorical neo-classical woman waving a tricolor, doesn’t die on the barricades at all in the book, but is executed while standing unarmed besides Grantaire who is so inspired by him that he quits being drunk just long enough to be a martyr and they die hand in hand and it’s really just such a good scene and Enjolras is this hilariously angelic figure who is just too pure, too gay, too chaste, and too perfect for this cruel world and fuck yeah, he is invited to any and all revolutions, AND parties.
The whole existence of Les Miserables comes from fifteen minutes that Victor Hugo spent ducking into a doorway to avoid being shot by crossfire during the June Rebellion, and I kind of can’t get over how nice it is that while dodging bullets he apparently decided “whoever organized this, I’m pretty sure one of them was like if Hadrian’s lover Antinous were a republican. I should be sure to make that exact comparison in the book I have just decided to write about this. I should devote thousands of words to how pretty he was.”
Also the name of their group is a pun, because ABC in French sounds like “abaisses” which means “abased ones” or “downtrodden” so saying they’re Les Amis de l’ABC means they’re the friends of the downtrodden, but like, with a pun, and you just know they were so fucking proud of themselves for coming up with it, and that’s just goddamn adorable. I am fully on board with revolutionary dad jokes.
Marius is boring, but I guess someone had to live, if only to sing Empty Chairs at Empty Tables and provide yet more redemption for the clearly addicted to redemption Jean Valjean.
10/10 would sing with on the barricades
Tyler Durden, Fight Club
We already have a whole article on this website about how much we hate this goddamn movie. I haven’t read the book. I am confident I would hate it too, and don’t care enough to be proven wrong; if you say it’s less awful, fine, but I’m not investigating further. The point is, no, Tyler Durden is not my comrade, and the one thing I identify with him on is that one of my rules is also Do Not Talk About Fight Club. Not if you want me to like you.
Tom Branson, Downton Abbey
Oh Tom. You are a victim of bad, bad, BAD writing. Downton Abbey is a really terrible show. I think the first season was ok, for an Edwardian soap opera, but it just got sillier and sillier and worse and worse as time went on. Your plotline had the potential to make things interesting, which is exactly why the writers squished any interestingness out of your character as soon as they could, because the writers of Downton Abbey love the old ways of the aristocracy and hate anything that might be more interesting than the problems of unbelievably wealthy people. Introducing an Irish rebel socialist as the chauffeur at the stuffiest aristocratic house in the history of stuffiness should have been cool, and it was, for a minute, when you and the youngest daughter of house fell in love and ran off to Ireland where you fell in with radicals who burned down an Anglo-Irish mansion, but then you got all freaked out, Sibyl died of that’s-not-really-how-eclampsia-generally-works (the sphygmomanometer was invented in 1881 for goodness sakes; you’re telling me TWO doctors, The Sensible One and The Famous Snooty One both failed to take the blood pressure of a patient with a suspected high blood pressure condition and instead stood there arguing about her urine sample and whether she had edema or fat ankles you are both terrible doctors wtf), and by the last season you’re living in Downton, raising your and Sibyl’s child to be a lord, breaking up with brilliant women for being rude about the upper classes, and saying things like “I’ve changed my mind about capitalism.”
I should hate you, but instead I just hate the writers.
First season you is welcome to hang out, but the pod person who took over after you came back from Ireland can fuck right off.
Actually…I’ve just thought of something. Downton Abbey is a more interesting show if 1) you assume Bates and Anna are in fact guilty of every murder they’ve been implicated in (which is a surprising number of murders for a non-mystery show; seriously, these two are murderers. Or at least Bates is, I haven’t decided) and 2) Tom is in fact acting as some sort of socialist sleeper agent. If that’s true, Tom could be poised to change history; he found out a weird embarrassing fact about Neville Chamberlin when he was on the show for no reason, and could create a whole alternate timeline if he leverages it against him at a key point a few years down the road.
Ok, Tom. You’re back in, but only if it turns out you’re under DEEP cover this whole time.
PS watch out for Bates that man will absolutely fucking kill you.
5/10 why does no one on this show age?
V, V for Vendetta
Ok…this might have to be a whole other article.
I love the book. I do not hate the movie, but somehow every time I talk about it I sound like I do. I think it’s because the things that I don’t like about it are numerous and include things like “the ending.” V in the books is an awesome revolutionary who doesn’t so much lead a revolution as provide space for one to exist. He knocks out government surveillance, and while the cameras are off her, a woman buys a gun she will later use to kill the nation’s dictator, unprompted by V. V in the movie tells everyone to show up at the same time and the same place, and then the government is overthrown (the soldiers and cops don’t shoot anyone. Why this happens is never adequately addressed) while he orchestrates the shooting of the dictator himself. It’s an unearned ending, especially compared to the much more complicated one in the book, and moreover has given a certain generation of activists the impression that you can tell people “everyone show up on this spot on this date and, well, the revolution will occur.”
This has caused me enough personal annoyance to cause me to resent the movie just a little bit.
Plus the book has a whole sequence, the Vicious Cabaret, that would have made for a wonderfully Brechtian musical number, and the fact that the movie didn’t take advantage of that is unconscionable. If you have the opportunity to Brecht, you Brecht, goddamnit.
But that’s kind of not the point. I could write a whole article about how much better the movie could have been later, or just continue to rant about it in person every time the subject comes up; both options will probably be equally annoying for everyone else.
Is V my comrade? I mean, he seems pretty competent, I love a good masked antihero as much as the next person and I respect his commitment to preserving works of art, but, uh, dude’s going to have to quit kidnapping and torturing his friends for me to decide to become one of them.
I have no idea/10 because it’s impossible to rate two different versions of the character who I feel so differently about without writing a separate essay, which I will maybe do sometime.
Lauren Olamina, Parable of the Sower
Shit, we’ve got an ACTUAL revolutionary over here, albeit one who doesn’t necessarily call herself one. Lauren is awesome. And ambiguous. And awesome.
Charismatic, brilliant, empathic (more in a this-qualifies-as-a-serious-disability way then a Counselor-Troi-senses-the-Romulans-are-hiding-something way), Lauren builds a community that changes the world. Most fictional revolutionaries are either fighters, or armchair revolutionaries who talk a lot and don’t do shit, but Lauren is neither; she’s the kind of revolutionary who actually builds alternatives, and she’s incredibly fucking good at it. When she has to organize active resistance after her community is violently taken over by Christian fascists, she’s fucking good at that too. She makes mistakes, because she’s a human being, but there are definitely worse ideologies out there than “god is change” and she’s the opposite of dogmatic about her beliefs. Which is good, because I have a hard time taking stuff like that seriously, and I definitely want to join Earthseed, and it’s nice to know that I don’t have to be super into it to be allowed to be a part of it.
Is she a cult leader? I mean, maybe a teeny tiny little bit, but honestly, her group, if you have to call it a cult, seems really nice, for a cult, and if Donald Trump wins we are going to be living in exactly the world that Octavia Butler wrote here, and I am going to be desperately hoping we’ve got people like Lauren around.
10/10 please send me to the stars