It’s Guy Fawkes Day! So, What Does the Mask Really Stand For?
If there was ever an image from the Occupy Wall Street protests that was the most recognizable by geeks — of both the comic and history varieties — it’s the Guy Fawkes mask. Today, November 5, marks the annual celebration that originated in England, Guy Fawkes Day, when on this date in 1605, Fawkes and a group of conspirators hatched a plot to blow up the House of Lords and assassinate King James I. Some interpret this as a statement of the regular person — the 99%, if you will — taking a violent stand against the ruling establishment. Okay, easy to see the comparisons. Until you find out that Fawkes wanted to return England to Catholic rule by killing the Protestant king.
Comic book geeks recognize the mask from V for Vendetta, both the film and the graphic novel by Alan Moore, and the image has come to symbolize that of a freedom fighter, someone who stands up against The Man and such. The antihero of V for Vendetta fancied himself a modern-day version of Guy Fawkes, the real-life version of whom was executed for the failed assassination plot and bombing attempt by being hanged, then drawn and quartered. For a long time, he was seen as a violent terrorist, and his downfall was Britain’s victory. However, that is clearly not how he’s viewed by the people wearing the mask today.
Today, ironically, the distinct-looking face on the Guy Fawkes mask is meant to represent a faceless mass fighting for liberty from the state and other powerful, oppressive forces. The original religious mission of Guy Fawkes was subverted by the hacker group Anonymous when they went after the Church of Scientology while wearing the mask. Another powerful oppressive force that wearers of the mask are fighting: Warner Bros., which backed the movie V for Vendetta and has full rights to the mask. Those currently distributing the masks actually have imitations, and everyone who wears them can feel like they’re sticking it to the WB.
But today marks a symbolic gesture of the fight against another part of the establishment: corporate banks. Today was designated Move Your Money Day, encouraging everyone who keeps their money in big, corporate banks — banks that were bailed out by the federal government, deemed “too big to fail,” only to go ahead and bust up the economy, then threaten to charge consumers for access to their own cash — to get their money out and put it in a credit union or another local financial institution that isn’t supported by a larger corporate entity. They follow the motto, “Invest in Main Street, not Wall Street,” and are co-opting the centuries-old rhyme of Guy Fawkes Day: “Remember, remember, the Fifth of November.” (Which is actually followed by: “Gunpowder, treason, and plot.”)
The ironic truth about this new symbol for everyone who considers themselves a freedom fighter who wants to take a stand against the establishment is that Guy Fawkes was a religious monarchist who wanted to kill a Protestant king and replace him with a Catholic queen. He may have been considered “the only man ever to enter Parliament with honest intentions,” but he was also kind of like the Timothy McVeigh of his time to a lot of people and was burned in effigy in England for many years after his death. On Guy Fawkes Day.
But hey, cool mask, right?
Original pic from Standard-Examiner
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