The Fawkes Mask

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Posted by RazzaTazz (11946 posts) - - Show Bio
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I ran across an interesting article today about the development of the Guy Fawkes mask and its evolution from novelty item to symbol of protest.  While the article details the sometimes contrary development of the mask, partially driven by the recent movie, it fails at the same time to look at the deeper derivation of the mask.  Masks operate to grant anonymity, and thus allow those to protest who might not otherwise feel comfortable doing so.  At the same time when there is only one aspect of popular culture which can be so so readily borrowed, is it not logical that the mask would thus become a simple and efficient thing to express your opinions with?  So much of modern politics is driven by symbols, and they are often manufactured, and the most difficult thing most political organizations intend to create is there own organic and viral symbol to go along with their message (a process known as astroturfing.)  The mask represents the opposite of this, a symbol which has been altered definitely but which still holds the original in spirit if not in meaning.  
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#1 Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus (6958 posts) - - Show Bio

In truth I believe the mask to be insignificant to the real symbolism behind the historical face of the man who made the mask possible. After all, for the layman, the entire movie, the mask, and the graphic novel will give probably the most succinct history lesson regarding the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. I'll not go into detail here since to do so would only be to belabor the point except to say that the mask is symbolic of protest because it is an artistic representation of someone who many consider to be the architect and executioner of the failed Gunpowder Plot, Guy Fawkes, a.k.a. Guido Fawkes/John Johnson. In truth, Fawkes actually was only a mercenary who had been hired by the co-conspirators of the Plot to develop a way to implode Whitehall by explosion and thus assassinate King James I, whom had only recently become King of England barely two years earlier. Primarily the conspirators were prominent English Catholics who felt that James I Stuart's reign would bring about the marginalization and repression of their religious institutions and lives and thus, from that Catholic angst came the attempt to kill the man they felt was the center of religious intolerance. If people nowadays use the mask of a mere mercenary of a wider plot by which his only role was to develop a weapon capable of committing destruction and regicide as a form of protest, then clearly it is a symbol that has been subject to selective memory. In truth what the co-conspirators committed in that attempted Plot was nothing short of domestic terrorism no different than what extremist groups like the I.R.A. or al-Qaeda commit nowadays. So yes, I agree with you, the symbol has been altered, and while people who use a mask for protest nowadays clearly do not know the true meaning behind the mask. After all, the English Catholics who turned to terrorism in 1605 had at one time been protesters as well.

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#2 Posted by feebadger (1599 posts) - - Show Bio

@RedheadedAtrocitus: Regardless of what Guy Fawkes actual part was in the Gunpowder Plot, i beleive that Alan Moores' attitude and reasoning behind using that image and that personage as a framework for V For Vendetta was based more on how people in the street viewed the figure of Fawkes. It's a strange thing and i think you need to be British and have gone through so many Guy Fawkes nights to understand it. He's a folk hero, and where i grew up (a small town in Wales) we perceived him much in the same way we did Robin Hood or King Arthur. He was mythic and subversive. I think that was the reasoning behind V's choosing of the alias, as it identified with a social sense of rebellion in the masses as opposed to a specifically historical portrayal. Amazing historical knowledge though ReheadedAtrocitus. You're welcome at dinner table conversation anytime.

Masks are always interesting though, as are symbols and psychologically speaking, they harken back to childhood and the simplification of line and shape. Iconic masks, such as V's Fawkes mask (or the Scream mask, Jason Vorhees mask, Darth Vader, Ned Kelly, etc) all rely on a simplicity of image, an easily understandable impression of a face to enable the mind to catch onto it more efficiently and recognise it instantly. It works on the same basic principal of Superman (or any super costumed character) wearing primary colours so that you can spot him instantly in the sometimes heavy traffic of a comic book page. The same with symbols and the use astroturfing, the mind is more likely to recall and associate an image to a product than they would text as that image recognition is the cornerstone of our learning. Masks and symbols are powerful stuff.

Fascinating blog RazzaTazz, you've got me thinking as usual.

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#3 Posted by ReVamp (23015 posts) - - Show Bio

Another Great Blog.

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#4 Edited by Silkcuts (6040 posts) - - Show Bio
@ReVamp said:

Another Great Blog.

@ RazzaTazz
What makes the Ray Fawkes mask special is that Alan Moore had the foresight to see how London needed change.  People forget that London did not have the CCTV when V was first published, now look at London, how many of the Five senses do their government uses?  Another interesting thing about the mask, it might be the first Viral political meme in history, sure other ideas such as communist red could be seen as symbols, but the mask is symbolic because it unifies the people.  I don't know if you read V for Vendetta, if you haven't please do so soon to truly see the viral effect of the mask.  V is first presented as a man, but in reality, he is not a man, he is a symbol, a walking idea, a walking virus.  I am glad the mask still inspires chaos and anarchy, because that is what it was meant for.  The Mask of V (the Ray Fawkes mask) might even be the first real hypersigil. Morrison's Invisibles is credited as the first hypersigil, but V was first and the mask has magickial effect and its precise design still resonates today more then ever. 
Another reason the mask is so special because it embodies knowledge.  Knowledge is power and we all now know the meaning of the mask.  Knowledge is something governments want to control or limit the people to know, because the docile and the weak-spirit  make better slaves.  Slaves never went away, the definitions changed and the methods of slavery vary.  
The flaw to the mask, it is like a Che shirt.  Most people don't realize that the symbol represents one thing, but the industry producing it represents another.  This is where the slavery comes.  Someone will "buy" a Che shirt not realizing he fought against captialism.  The mask is "sold" because of "merchandise" and we consumers don't realize that buying product is part of the "touch" sense, we are allowing "them" to touch us.  The best "Raw Fawkes"  masks I've seen were made.
 I  say best because the spirit is pure, the want to "represent" is not compromised by the 99% giving money back to the 1%.  Well the money i limited in things like paper, string and sunglass frames.  The Mask is beauty because it is a meme now.  The problem is when to balance what the symbol represents verses the need to fit in.
Great blog, my fave of your thus far.
 - Kevin

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