V for Vendetta Provides a Face for the Frustrated

If you follow my twitter feed at all, you might notice lately that I have been retweeting several updates from various professional journalism and citizen journalism sources regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement. While I am not participating in the protests in my own city at this time, I still find the actions of these protesters to be quite brave. I feel that if people like me can do our part to at least spread updates on how they’re doing, it will help to discourage bullying on the part of their local governments, who might think that no one is watching.

A line from the film adaptation of the graphic novel “V for Vendetta” says it best, “people should not be afraid of their governments, the governments should be afraid of their people.” Not coincidentally, a common method of concealment among those who are on the street during these protests is to wear the Guy Fawkes mask worn by the film’s protagonist, V. As a comic book fan, this excites the hell out of me. What started as a David Lloyd character design for a 1980’s comic book series written by Alan Moore is now the face of an uprising.

Of course, using the Guy Fawkes mask for real world activism didn’t start with the Occupy movement, as I’m sure anyone who pays attention to the Internet already knows. It actually started with Anonymous, a group of “hacktivists,” I suppose you’d call them, who adopted the mask after seeing it used by a stick-figure cartoon character named “Epic Fail Guy,” which was popular around the 4chan message boards where the group began.

When Anonymous members came forward in 2008 to protest outside of various Church of Scientology facilities around the globe, they protected their secret identities by wearing the plastic masks that went on sale after the film’s release. The scenes outside of the Scientology buildings were very reminiscent of the climax of the “V for Vendetta” movie, wherein thousands of Londoners don the hero’s mask and cape to finally revolt against their fascist government.

Anonymous continued to use the Guy Fawkes mask in their endeavors, such as their protest against Bay Area Rapid Transit and their current campaign against the dangerous Zetas drug cartel in Mexico. Recently, Anonymous has shown great support for the Occupy Wall Street movement. They have also, to my knowledge, contributed at least one sub-group to the cause, a group called Anon Street Medics. Some members of this group are shown on its Facebook page as wearing the Guy Fawkes mask, along with black jackets with a red cross over the right side of their chest and a backpack, presumably filled with medical supplies.

While Anonymous is certainly responsible for elevating the Guy Fawkes mask from a $6 party item based on a Warner Brothers film character to being a symbol of protest and revolution, it seems the iconic facade is beginning to outgrow the group.

As I write this, over 75,000 disgruntled bank customers have pledged to leave their banks and to transfer the money from their accounts into accounts opened at credit unions (many of the 75,000 have already done so) before the end of the week. While it has no affiliation with the Occupy Wall Street protesters or Anonymous (it was started by a decidedly un-anonymous Facebook user named Kristen Christian), the Guy Fawkes mask is incorporated into several posters and images that are found at the event’s Facebook page, with flyers showing the mask with a vertically-oriented American flag design covering it. The movement, called Bank Transfer Day, sets November 5 as its deadline for the transfers, in honor of Guy Fawkes Day.

As the Guy Fawkes visage continues to be spread as an icon of social justice, I couldn’t imagine a more fitting legacy for the beloved graphic novel that inspired it. It adds a new level of credibility to the work when people in the real world have adopted its symbols to use in their own struggles against corrupt corporations and oppressive institutions.

As Moore said in the biography, “Alan Moore: Storyteller,” the character of V is “an idea, with a mask and a hat and a cloak. He’s much more symbol than reality.” That symbol has now found its way into our reality. I just hope that people who wear the mask are sensible enough not to see it as an excuse to cause violence while they wear it, as doing so would besmirch the credibility of both others who wear it as well as the cause that they are fighting for (let’s not talk about Clay Duke, the man who spray-painted the V symbol on the wall of a Florida school board’s meeting room last year before attempting to murder the board members).

According to an interview that Entertainment Weekly did with Moore after Anonymous’ protests against the Church of Scientology, he too seemed pleased to see that the group was using his character’s image for their cause.

“I was also quite heartened the other day when watching the news to see that there were demonstrations outside the Scientology headquarters over here, and that they suddenly flashed to a clip showing all these demonstrators wearing V for Vendetta [Guy Fawkes] masks,” Moore said during the interview. “That pleased me. That gave me a warm little glow.”

Just think of how Guy Fawkes would have felt.

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Mike Greear is a journalism graduate from the University of West Florida currently living in New York City. During his time as an undergraduate, he reported on everything from Presidential campaign stops to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, eventually working his way up to being the editor-in-chief of the University of West Florida’s student newspaper, The Voyager. Since graduating, he worked briefly as a reporter for Foster’s Daily Democrat in New Hampshire, reporting on crime and municipal stories in the city of Rochester as well as interviewing Republican primary candidates, before returning to Florida and freelancing for the Pensacola News Journal. He now resides in Long Island City, writing weekly columns for Sequart.org and hoping to break into the comics scene.

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  1. David Balan says:

    Thanks for the article, Mike!

    I’d always wondered where exactly the trend got started and how it moved to where it is now. It was fascinating to read about its history – great work!

  2. Miguel Rosa says:

    Even here in Portugal the mask is being used in protests. It’s going global! I’m very happy for Alan Moore; he’s one of the few modern comic book writers who has penetrated popular culture.

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