#Occupy III: V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta

I hate Spiked and its politics, but I have to admit enjoying some of their skewering of the platitudes of the anti-capitalist movement. This article, by Tim Black, takes up the themes I have explored here, here and here.

For nearly four years now, any anti-something-or-other demonstration worth its pseudo-revolutionary salt just wouldn’t be complete without a sizeable number of pretentious bulbs sporting identical Guy Fawkes masks. Anti-capitalist, anti-scientology, anti-greed… It doesn’t matter what the protest’s against, there that face will be, of the old gunpowder-plotter himself, complete with pointy beard and tache, slightly rouged cheeks and a really annoying leer.

[…] This iconography of online freedom, such as it was, eventually fed into the early-2008 campaign – led by internet flock Anonymous – against the Church of Scientology following the High Priest of Craziness Tom Cruise’s attempt to have a video showing him in full-on meltdown mode taken off the web. And when, a few weeks later, this online ire morphed into real-world, offline protests outside Scientology centres around the world, guess what the anti-Tom Cruise brigade wore to cover their faces? And so, from this point on, V for Vendetta-style Guy Fawkes masks, alongside the ubiquitous keffiyeh scarf, became the head attire of choice for any self-respecting protester.[…]

Seeing them at the current Occupy protests, whether in New York or Rome, is hardly a surprise: St Julian of Assange, the man with the leaky wiki, even rocked up at London’s Occupy protest wearing one. In fact, so ubiquitous has it become as a symbol of Sticking It to The Man that Captain Ludd-imitator Captain Gatso, chief of speed-cam-destroyers Motorists Against Detection, decided to wear one for an interview with that journal of radical repute, the Islington Gazette.

Unsurprisingly, sales of the mask in recent years have rocketed, with Amazon reporting a 179 per cent increase over the past year. The mask’s producers, meanwhile, now claim that they sell more than 100,000 of the things a year, making it more popular than Batman, Harry Potter or Darth Vader. That’s fantastic news for mega-entertainment corporation Time Warner, which own the rights to the mask.

The obvious reason why the mask is worn is that protesters don’t want to reveal their identities, hence its origins in Anonymous. (A decision which is only partially understandable given the fact that plenty of protesters down the years have cared enough about their specific cause to want to be actually associated with it.) But the desire for anonymity doesn’t explain why this particular image – Guy Fawkes redux – has been singled out. What’s wrong with a balaclava or even a Frank Sidebottom?

The complete look, with keffiyeh, for those who like to accessorise.

And it’s at this point that the posturing vanity of this particular choice of mask becomes apparent. As one deluded commentator wrote in the Guardian, ‘…unlike the balaclava, the [Guy Fawkes] mask also carries in itself a political dimension. The increasing number of sales of the mask tells the story of a generation disenfranchised from the political process, but one which remains wholly political.’ And what might that political dimension be? A commentator at the First Post offers an answer: ‘[The popularity of the mask] suggests a growing public imagination where the powers that be are seen as totalitarian in nature and the protesters feel the need to launch an epic struggle of sorts.’

This does indeed seem to be why Guy Fawkes, V-style, resonates. It allows the wearers to imagine themselves in the role of victims of totalitarian tyranny. It gives meaning to what can often be a fairly directionless protest by inserting it into an epic narrative, a tale of The People fighting back against the forces of oppression. That the protesters are desperately willing to dramatise their struggle as such is hardly surprising. Their conspiratorial mindset in which we, the people, the 99 per cent and so on, are at the mercy of all-powerful forces, be it The Rich, The Bankers, The Corporations, or The Tom Cruise finds a perfect fit in the dystopian tale of V. […]

The popularity of V for Vendetta masks among protesters does capture something essential then. It captures the protests’ vacuity.

Also read: Brendan O’Neill: Occupy London: a ragbag of political conformists; Nathalie Rothschild: The rage of hip consumers; Nathalie Rothschild: Is this Monty Python’s Occupy Wall Street?

3 Responses to “#Occupy III: V for Vendetta”

  1. 1 Allpes

    my vendetta mask cost me less than $10, and it is very nice, I want to go to protest too so I hope that they will organize protest in my city.

  2. 2 Looking back at 2011 « Anti-National Translation

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