On symbolism and protest

hat mask and gloves Whilst it’s still the season for running around in silly masks and costumes, I thought I’d link to this rather excellent article by Leg Iron concerning the nature of Guy Fawkes masks. Leg Iron touches on something I’ll happily whinge about for ages in that the use of the Guy Fawkes symbolism for all manners of protest dilutes it’s meaning and power (much like there now being a ribbon for everything). I did say whilst on the walk with OH the other day that if anyone asks what I was protesting I’d claim I was for the restoration of the Catholic Monarchy, after all that’s what the Gun Powder conspirators were after. Equally valid to my mind would be to claim that I was recalling one of the most famous attempt at treason in our history and using that as a means to the ongoing treasonous acts being carried out in the houses of Parliament today. Sadly it would seem that many people running around in Guy Fawkes masks are ignorant of the history (and rhymes) behind it (The anarchists(tm) counter protesting at the rally against debt insisted they Gunpowder plotters were anarchists not papists). Whilst such ignorance would be understandable out in the colonies* it is less so here.

Maybe they view them as “V for vendetta” masks, which has a related but different symbolism**, but even there I have a suspicion they may have missed the point. Unless I very much misunderstood the film the main themes seemed to be that of personal vengeance and the over throw of an authoritarian government. Now in places they seem to have got the hang of the last theme, though in the UK a lot of them seemed quite quiet about the expenses scandals, and the amount of money being given to big business until Labour lost power (which might make the cynical amongst you wonder if they actually have the same problem with a controlling government that V potentially did). The protests today are mainly focussed on various Governments imposing more controls on all manner of people, , rather than fighting against a Government that has too much power they seem to be arguing endlessly for more Government power to do the sort of thing they approve of (what ever that may be). To borrow from the film they want to get rid of the current “Adam Sutler”s to put their own “Adam Sutler” in place. It is possible though that they take the imagery from the original book and are trying to create an anarchist state (though calling for more Government intervention would seem an odd way to do it). It rather leaves it s a symbol so diluted in much of it’s use that it’s become meaningless – meaning everything to everyone it ends up meaning nothing. Which is really rather a shame as it had a lot going for it. Scarlet Standard is far more generous to them, but highlights many of the problems I have and leaves me still with the question of if they don’t have any clear demands how will they know when they’re met and how will the politicians know what is actually being asked of them? A protest of “down with that sort of thing” will have difficulty achieving anything, except maybe helping the state get practised at how to deal with this sort of thing.

i almost forgot I can’t leave this without touching on the incoherent article on V-Masks from the BBC, which has this following classic bit of research:
“Early in the book V destroys the Houses of Parliament by blowing it up,”
Would would think maybe the researcher hasn’t watched the film to know it was the Old Bailey that was blown up near the start of the film ,but as they later went on to say:
“The film of V for Vendetta ends with an image of a crowd of Londoners all wearing Guy Fawkes masks, unarmed and marching on parliament.”

so no marks for the sub editors either, they do make the rather interesting comparison of the V-masks and Che t-shirts which is probably fair as neither has much to do with historical figures. I think I rather like the creator of the mask though as they observe that it’s a fundamentally violent image and even better for my money:
“The idea of the V mask being appropriated as a political symbol is inherently ridiculous”
though I’d argue that the same may not be quite so true of the imagery of Guy Fawkes, which maybe just indicates that it’s worth keeping the two separate (as much as such a thing is possible).

* I’m sure there may be better collective nouns but..
** The film really mangles the original Guy Fawkes motives:
“a great citizen wished to embed the fifth of November for ever in our memory. His hope was to remind the world that fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words, they are perspectives”
Quite frankly that’s nonsense, they didn’t really care about the date it was just when Parliament resumed and it had little to do with freedom, justice and fairness so much as the restoration of a Catholic power upon the throne. As long as it was a papist being unjust and unfair they were quite happy for things to carry on pretty much as was. Social campaigners they weren’t.

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