Posted by: sweeneyblog | November 5, 2011

Why is Guy Fawkes attending Occupy Wall Street?

“Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot…”

Guy Fawkes was once a treasonous terrorist, now he’s a counter-culture icon, what happened?

Background: For those of you who don’t know, Guy Fawkes was a key member in the Gunpowder Plot, an attempt by a cabal of pro-catholic revolutionaries sympathetic to Spain to blow up the British Parliment on November 5th, 1604. He was caught in the act, tried and killed for treason.

The Holiday: The very next year, the government urged people to celebrate on November 5th the fact that his attempt had been foiled; many people celebrated for this reason, while the Irish and Scots celebrated that he had come so close to succeeding. This holiday was often celebrated with fireworks, bonfires and burning of effigies (usually some public figure that had earned their ire recently). This celebration continues to today. However, Guy Fawkes did not truly become a world-wide symbol until 1982 when Alan Moore published . . ,

Alan Moore’s “V for Vendetta”

 V for Vendetta: This ten issue comic was released over a period of three years and takes place in a alternate future of Britain where fascism has come to power in response to nuclear war. A single anarchist named V wages a one man war against the government, taking on the guise of Guy Fawkes. Moore intended this flawed anti-hero to be shocking in his brutality and for the book as a whole to be a response to the perceived direction Margaret Thatcher was taking the country. The issues were collected into a single graphic novel which has stayed continually in print. It is personally one of my favorite comics.

Hugo Weaving as “V”

The Movie: As with most literature, it did not get wide exposure until the 2005 film debuted. Starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving, the film updated the political subtext from the Thatcher administration Thatcher Government to the Bush administration with throw away lines referencing “Bird Flu” and “Terrorist threat levels”, but the key change was V. Rather than being portrayed as a dangerous, psychopathic anarchist dedicated to tearing down society’s structures, he was played simply as a man seeking revenge against the governments for wrongs inflicted. This change, along with the popularity of the movie, caused the image of Guy Fawkes to become a symbol for . . . a great many things really.

Rep. Ron Paul

Counter Culture Icon: Now that Guy Fawkes had been cast as a romantic figure (in the classical sense), a whole slew of groups adopted his likeness. The online hacking community known collectively as “Anonymous” took the image as their icon for their digital civil disobedience efforts. Supporters of Ron Paul for President have frequently used Guy Fawkes in their campaign materials and organized fundraisers on Nov. 5th in his honor. When anti-abortion protesters came to WWU in 2007, a group of students, wearing Guy Fawkes masks, stood in front of their giant graphic posters of dead fetuses and danced to an obscure 80’s pop song by Rick Astley (a practice known online as “Rick Rolling“). In short, Guy Fawkes has been co-opted by groups aimed at pushing back against the establishment, and in doing so has left behind his religious and violent roots.

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Responses

  1. An excellent primer!

  2. Thanks Riley. I have been wondering about this.

  3. There’s even more background to this. Anonymous started as a protest movement against the Church of Scientology’s abusive practices and silencing of their critics back in 2007. The use of the “V-masks” in protests began then. Many protesters know that the people they protest against can identify them and harrass them later. Many protect their anonymity simply cover their faces with rags, but the Anonymous protesters, being huge nerds from the internet, selected the “V-mask.” Personally, I think its a bit more impressive, and creepier. The first time I personally saw a Guy Fawks mask at a protest was then, near the Scientology church in BHam.

    The mask became a symbol of the group “Anonymous” from then for the rest of its cyber-hacking and protesting activities.

    • Thank you Jon! That’s a great point.

  4. Glad I helped inspire this post, Riley.
    One minor grammar point: The British (and the Canadians also) do not refer to their prime ministerial terms as “administrations” the way we do with presidents. It would be properly referred to the “Thatcher government” instead of the “Thatcher administration.” Just an FYI.

    • Thank you! Editing that now.

  5. I had no idea about any of this, thanks, Riley. The very well-written article ended abruptly, though. Needs something to complete the thought.

    • Sorry about that, I was in a rush when I wrote it. Perhaps later I’ll touch back on these themes.

  6. […] share my thoughts on subjects like Cynicism in Science Fiction, the marketing of John Carter or the viral nature of the Guy Fawkes mask. You can find all these articles under the heading “Time […]


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