Madeleine Flint Dr. Eric M. Stryker ARHS 3386 4 May 2016 Remember to be Anonymous “We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, – This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, And mouth with myriad subtleties. ” November 5th marks the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in which English Catholics sought to blow up the House of Commons, assassinate the protestant King James I, and place a Catholic monarch on the throne.
Guy Fawkes, the leader of the plot was vilified by the British population in the first ever Bonfire Night where citizens lit bonfires across the city, and burned effigies of Fawkes, to celebrate the king and his survival of the assassination attempt. As the night became known as Guy Fawkes Night, burnings of effigies of Fawkes became ritualized and included caricature depictions of the man. Effigies of Fawkes still burn to this day, as a tradition and nod to the past, rather than with political or religious malice.
Fawkes’ significance faded from the minds of British citizens and did not take on a new meaning until 1988 with the release of the graphic novel V for Vendetta. Alan Moore, the writer of V for Vendetta, tells a provocative story of a man, his mission of revenge and his wish to right the wrongs in his society. The protagonist, V, sets out to bring down the government and convince the population to rule themselves through an intricate and theatrical revolutionist campaign. The significance of this character lies in Moore and the artist David Lloyd’s decision to have the character wear a mask of Guy Fawkes face.
Through the entire graphic novel, V’s face remains hidden behind the Guy Fawkes mask, thus the reader associates of V’s anarchistic, and rebellious ideals and actions to the mask, rather than the character. This association, as well as the subversive nature of the mask and the anonymity it provides, has made the Guy Fawkes mask the ideal tool for online anarchist and hacktivist subcultural movements to inspire public rebellion and create tangible results. Lloyd’s unique design of the Guy Fawkes mask was no accident.
In an interview with Comic Book Resources, Lloyd describes his decision making process, “I thought that would be great if he looked like Guy Fawkes, kind of theatrical.. It gave us everything, the costume and everything. During the summer, I couldn’t get any of these masks. These masks that you could get in every shop had a smile built into them. So | created this Guy Fawkes mask with a kind of smile. It was an ideal costume for this future anarchist persona. ” The most striking feature of the mask is the design of the fixed exaggerated smile that Lloyd describes above.
The frozen expression conveys a subversive outward serenity and a mocking undertone. Grinning permanently in any situation, the expression of the mask implies that the wearer is ultimately aware and possesses more knowledge that the non-masked viewer. The blank directionless eyes are designed to unsettle the viewer, as they cannot perceive the wearer’s intentions. The lack of eyes also prevents a human connection with the masked individual, further preserving an anonymous identity.
Through this examination of the mask’s features, combined with the historical relevance of the original Guy Fawkes and the forced association the mask with V’s political and social ideals, it is clear why this mask would be adopted by other subcultural groups striving to preserve their identities. The verification for the real efficacy of Internet bred sociopolitical movements is how they negotiate the transition from online to reality. The Internet provides anonymity allowing one to engage in activities that could possibly harm their public persona.
In the case of the hacker subculture, anonymity is essential due to the often illegal nature of their activities. Such, the desire for secrecy amongst participates in this subculture, has been identified as a key value by many subcultural researchers including Thomas J. Holt. In his research regarding the overlap of deviant behavior of individuals in both the online and real world, Holt compares data collected from six different hacker Web forums and observations and interviews conducted at Defcon, an annual hacker convention.
By comparing both online and offline behaviors Holt further explores the obvious need for secrecy within the group and how this secrecy and anonymity effect the sharing of information within the group. He writes, “… successful hacking creates a desire to brag and share accumulated knowledge. This can help an individual gain status within the hacker community, but places them at risk for law enforcement detection. Thus, hackers tread a fine line between sharing information and keeping certain knowledge private. ”
Because of this significance placed on retaining secrecy it is only natural that the participants would seek ways to hide their identities. The nature of a mask is designed to hide the face. It preserves one’s public identity and frees the individual from restrictions that could normally be applied to their person. The freedom the mask provides encourages risks to be taken and the participation in illegal or deviant acts. The hacker community places a large importance on the sharing of information and the education of their peers.
Providing that secrecy is maintained, a hacker may gain considerable reputation within the community by sharing his or her knowledge that could benefit the community as a whole. Holt concluded that based on this mentality, most in the hacker community would risk sharing illegal material or participating in illegal activities under the guise of educating others within the community. If one combines this thought process with a political or social agenda, it is easy to see the origins of any hacktivist group and why many have taken to wearing the Guy Fawkes mask.
Hacktivists differ from the general population because of their politicized nature. While hackers seek to gain status within their community, hacktivism is “the nonviolent use for political ends of ‘illegal or legally ambiguous digital tools,” by,”… capitalizing on the power and pervasiveness of the Internet… to gain publicity and spread information about their views. ” To spread ideas and build publicity, hacktivists must share their knowledge with a greater population, leaving the safety and comfort of their original community.
This calls for greater security, secrecy and anonymity for the community when participating in hacktivist activities. This secrecy can best be seen in the hacktivist group Anonymous. Born on the Internet in 2003, the Anonymous group began as a smalldecentralized collection of anonymous hackers who collectively worked towards a accomplishing a loose agreed goal that generally focused on the collective amusement of the participants. After the group participated in numerous hacking pranks against the Church of Scientology in 2008, Anonymous became a unified cooperative and a symbol of global hacktivism.
As the group gained popularity and media coverage, preservation of their anonymous nature due to their mostly illegal activity became essential to the continuation of their success. The most important aspect of this preservation was the adoption of Lloyd’s Guy Fawkes mask, on-camera or when furthering the Anonymous agenda in public. Through the use of this mask, Anonymous is able to translate their digital anonymity into the real world where anyone can wear the mask and publically be associated with the movement as a nameless body.
This causes a destruction of the individual and establishes n unsettling faceless collective. Echoing the infamous scene from the film adaptation of V for Vendetta, Anonymous’ public appearances always incorporate the Guy Fawkes mask to create a unified and unnerving image. The Fawkes mask itself is unsettling and intimidating, and by repeating this image without reestablishing a human connection, the Anonymous group succeeds in displaying power and creating civil disobedience. In the same way the mask preserves one’s personal identity, the repetition of the mask can present a unified front that becomes a symbol for the movement. Symbols are powerful because they defy humanity.
A single human being can express his/her views however he likes, but they will always be limited by the intrinsic humanity that lies in one’s identity and mortality that makes one flawed. However, a symbol that embodies an idea isn’t directly tied to one human being, and can persist after death and not be tainted by human weaknesses. The Guy Fawkes mask has transformed into such a symbol and now is associated with post-modern digital anarchism through Anonymous’ adoption. The historical Guy Fawkes has been romanticized into a pioneer of violent rebellion against an oppressive system.
His attempted assassination of not just a king, but the entire device of the early modern British government unintentionally represents the core idea of anarchy in the destruction of the established hierarchy. The actual face of Fawkes does not offer a specific political message but instead, according to Lewis Call, has become a free floating signifier that has an ambiguous meaning that can curtail to whatever their interpreters desire. The political ideal or movement that Anonymous best embodies through their hacktivist endeavors and the structure of their collective is postmodern anarchy.
Anonymous defines themselves as not a group but as an idea that is an, “expression of the anger that every person feels when they see injustice. ” This ambiguity of purpose combined with the lack of structure within the group supports the idea that the group requires a symbol to substantiate their ever-changing and ambiguous anarchistic agenda in the public sphere. The subversive nature of the mask and its lack of concrete ties to any previous political movements makes it the perfect tool for Anonymous to use.
According to Anonymous’ website the group believes that, “for those who are actively fighting corruption around the world, [the mask is] a symbol of their anonymity. For the average citizen who takes no part in activism, it’s a symbol of awareness. ” The mask serves two purposes in which it protects its members as well as presents a visual signifier of participation within this subcultural movement. Although the origins of the object are vastly different from the current popular appropriation, it is easy to see why this object was chosen to represent this subcultural movement.