Guy Fawkes mask
The Guy Fawkes mask is a stylised depiction of Guy Fawkes, the best-known member of the Gunpowder Plot. The plot was an attempt to blow up the House of Lords in London on 5 November 1605, in order to restore a Catholic head of state. The use of a mask on an effigy, has long roots as part of Guy Fawkes Night celebrations.
A stylised portrayal of a face with an over-sized smile and red cheeks, a wide moustache upturned at both ends, and a thin vertical pointed beard, designed by illustrator David Lloyd, came to represent broader protest after it was used as a major plot element in V for Vendetta, published in 1982, and its 2006 film adaptation. After appearing in Internet forums, the mask became a well-known symbol for the online hacktivist group Anonymous, used in Project Chanology, the Occupy movement, and other anti-government and anti-establishment protests around the world.
The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was commemorated from early on by burning effigies of unpopular figures. Towards the end of the 18th century, reports appeared of children begging for money with grotesquely masked effigies of Guy Fawkes, and 5 November gradually became known as Guy Fawkes Night, although many now prefer the term "Bonfire Night". The 1864 Chambers Book of Days stated that:
The universal mode of observance through all part of England, is the dressing up of a scarecrow figure, in such cast-habiliments as can be procured (the head-piece, generally a paper-cap, painted and knotted with paper strips in imitation of ribbons), parading it in a chair through the streets, and at nightfall burning it with great solemnity in a huge bonfire...
In the 20th century in Britain, large numbers of cheap cardboard or paper Guy Fawkes masks were sold to children each autumn, or given out free with comics. But by the 1980s, their popularity was fading as Guy Fawkes Night became increasingly supplanted by Halloween.
In 1958 the wearing of Guy Fawkes masks on Bonfire Night was mentioned during a debate on the Criminal Law (Onus of Proof) Amendment Bill, in the Parliament of Western Australia, as an example of harmless and excusable (though technically unlawful) possession of a face mask at night. The then Minister for Police, J.J. Brady, stated that "at one time it was traditional to wear masks on Guy Fawkes night. So, if tonight anyone is found wearing a Guy Fawkes mask I, as Minister for Police, will see that he is duly excused."
The comic book series V for Vendetta, which started in 1982, "centers on a vigilante's efforts to destroy an authoritarian government in a dystopian future United Kingdom." Its main character wears a Guy Fawkes mask, and in the climax of the 2006 film adaptation, thousands of protesters adopt the same costume as they march on Parliament.
When developing the story, illustrator David Lloyd made a handwritten note: "Why don't we portray him as a resurrected Guy Fawkes, complete with one of those papier-mâché masks, in a cape and a conical hat? He'd look really bizarre and it would give Guy Fawkes the image he's deserved all these years. We shouldn't burn the chap every Nov. 5th but celebrate his attempt to blow up Parliament!" Writer Alan Moore commented that, due to Lloyd's idea, "All of the various fragments in my head suddenly fell into place, united behind the single image of a Guy Fawkes mask." He also noted "how interesting it was that we should have taken up the image right at the point where it was apparently being purged from the annals of English iconography."
Adoption by protesters
Since the release in 2006 of the film V for Vendetta, the use of stylised "Guy Fawkes" masks, with moustache and pointed beard, has become widespread internationally among groups protesting against politicians, banks and financial institutions. The masks both conceal the identity and protect the face of individuals and demonstrate their commitment to a shared cause.
The character developed as an Internet meme, common on imageboards such as 4chan as well as on video-sharing based Web sites such as YouTube. Initially the character was a stick figure who failed at everything emerged and became known as "Epic Fail Guy" (EFG). For reasons that have never been explained, it was increasingly shown as wearing a V for Vendetta "Guy Fawkes" mask (though this is likely a reference to the fact that Guy Fawkes failed to complete the gunpowder treason). In 2006, a pair of rival groups wearing Fawkes masks confronted each other outside the DC Comics offices. One group, led by freegan anarchist Adam Weismann, was protesting against the film V for Vendetta. The other group, led by libertarian Todd Seavey, counter-protested against the anarchist protestors in favour of DC Comics, and their masks were supplied by a Time Warner employee.
The mask became associated with hacktivist group Anonymous's Project Chanology protests against the Church of Scientology in 2008. The group protested the Church of Scientology in response to the Church forcing YouTube to pull a video of Tom Cruise discussing Scientology that was meant for internal use within the Church. In response, Anonymous protested the litigious methods of the Church of Scientology over a period of several months. Protesters were encouraged to hide their faces, since it was common practice for Church members to photograph anti-Scientology protesters. The Guy Fawkes mask was a widely used method of hiding faces.
As the protests continued, more protesters began opting to use the Guy Fawkes mask, which eventually took on symbolic status within the group. Scott Stewart of University of Nebraska at Omaha's The Gateway wrote: "Many participants sported Guy Fawkes masks to draw attention both to their identity as Anonymous and the Church of Scientology's abuse of litigation and coercion to suppress anti-Scientology viewpoints." The Internet-based group then adopted the character for its wider protests against authority.
Wider use in popular protest
During the 2011 Wisconsin protests, and then during the subsequent Occupy Wall Street and the ongoing Occupy movement, the mask appeared internationally as a symbol of popular rebellion. In October 2011, campaigner Julian Assange attended the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest wearing such a mask, which he removed after a request by the police.
On 10 June 2012, in Mumbai, India, a group of 100 Anonymous members and college students gathered at Azad Maidan, dressed all in black and wearing Guy Fawkes masks, to protest against the Indian Government's censorship of the Internet.
The mask, used by Bahraini protesters during the Arab Spring-inspired Bahraini uprising was banned in the country in February 2013, few months after a similar decision by United Arab Emirates, another Persian Gulf country. The Industry and Commerce Ministry of Bahrain said the ban of importing the mask, which it referred to as "revolution mask" was due to concerns over "public safety". The decision, described by Voice of America as "unusual", marked one of the latest in government efforts to suppress the two-year-old uprising. However, a British-based rights activist and Samuel Muston of The Independent downplayed the effect of the ban. The Manama Voice reported that use of mask in protests increased following the ban.
In May 2013, the government of Saudi Arabia banned the importation of the masks, and said that it would confiscate any found on sale. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs stated that the mask is "a symbol of rebels and revenge", and warned imams and parents that "they could be used to incite the youth to destabilize security and spread chaos..." On 22 September 2013, Saudi religious police prohibited the wearing of the Guy Fawkes mask, the day before Saudi Arabia's 83rd National Day.
Views of Moore and Lloyd
Alan Moore, anarchist and author of V for Vendetta, has supported the use of the mask, and stated in a 2008 interview with Entertainment Weekly, "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. That pleased me. That gave me a warm little glow." Whilst Moore didn't create such a character for the purposes it has served he explains to The Guardian, "suppose when I was writing V for Vendetta I would in my secret heart of hearts have thought: wouldn't it be great if these ideas actually made an impact? So when you start to see that idle fantasy intrude on the regular world… It's peculiar. It feels like a character I created 30 years ago has somehow escaped the realm of fiction."
David Lloyd, the V for Vendetta illustrator and co-creator, has said:
The Guy Fawkes mask has now become a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny – and I'm happy with people using it, it seems quite unique, an icon of popular culture being used this way. My feeling is the Anonymous group needed an all-purpose image to hide their identity and also symbolise that they stand for individualism - V for Vendetta is a story about one person against the system. We knew that V was going to be an escapee from a concentration camp where he had been subjected to medical experiments but then I had the idea that in his craziness he would decide to adopt the persona and mission of Guy Fawkes – our great historical revolutionary.
Sales and corporate ownership of rights
According to Time in 2011, the protesters' adoption of the mask had led to it becoming the top-selling item on Amazon.com, selling hundreds of thousands a year. Time Warner, one of the largest media companies in the world, owns the rights to the image and is paid a fee with the sale of each official mask.
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Not only does wearing a Guy Fawkes mask at demonstrations give protesters anonymity, it's an instant symbol of rebellion
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(photo caption) Anti-government protesters, many wearing Guy Fawkes masks, threw Molotov cocktails at police during riots in Caracas on April 20, 2014.
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- Media related to Masks of Guy Fawkes at Wikimedia Commons