V for Vendetta masks: Who's behind them?

Clockwise from top left - Masked protesters in Madrid, Mexico City, Rome, Berlin, Hong Kong, Lisbon

The sinister Guy Fawkes mask made famous by the film V for Vendetta has become an emblem for anti-establishment protest groups. Who's behind them?

(Spoiler alert: Some plot details revealed below)

From New York, to London, to Sydney, to Cologne, to Bucharest, there has been a wave of protests against politicians, banks and financial institutions.

Anybody watching coverage of the demonstrations may have been struck by a repeated motif - a strangely stylised mask of Guy Fawkes with a moustache and pointy beard.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange arrived at the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest to make a speech wearing one of these masks. He took it off, reportedly at the insistence of the police.

They were thought to have been used first by the notorious hacker-activist group Anonymous in 2008 during a protest against Scientology, but have since spread throughout the global protest movement.

Start Quote

David Lloyd

Anonymous 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”

End Quote David Lloyd

The masks are from the 2006 film V for Vendetta where one is worn by an enigmatic lone anarchist who, in the graphic novel on which it is based, uses Fawkes as a role model in his quest to end the rule of a fictional fascist party in the UK.

Early in the book V destroys the Houses of Parliament by blowing it up, something Fawkes had planned and failed to do in 1605.

British graphic novel artist David Lloyd is the man who created the original image of the mask for a comic strip written by Alan Moore. Lloyd compares its use by protesters to the way Alberto Korda's famous photograph of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara became a fashionable symbol for young people across the world.

"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," he says.

A curious Lloyd visited the Occupy Wall Street protest in Zuccotti Park, New York, to have a look at some of the people wearing his mask.

"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."

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.

It is that image of collective identification and simultaneous anonymity that is appealing to Anonymous and other groups, says Rich Johnston, a commentator on the world of comics.

Still from the film V for Vendetta The 2006 film added a new costume to the fancy dress pantheon

The widespread adoption of the masks was definitely a reaction to the film rather than the book, he argues.

"The book is about one man bringing down the state but the film includes a scene of a huge crowd - making a statement against a faceless corporation."

"The masks were useful for the Scientology protests because it prevented individuals from being recognised," he adds.

Lloyd said that when he and writer Moore created the character of V they had a basic idea of an urban guerrilla fighting a fascist dictatorship but wanted to inject more theatricality into the story.

Protesters with 'We the People Foundation for Constitutional Education' dress in the costume of V in November 2006 in Washington, DC The mask is bought even in countries where Guy Fawkes is not such a well-known figure

"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."

The masks were originally made by Warner Bros to promote the film and were handed out at screenings. Now they are being sold to everyone from activists to fancy dress enthusiasts.

Rubies Costume Company, which makes the mask, sells around 100,000 a year worldwide, and 16,000 in the UK, according to spokesman Steve Kitt, who seems a little concerned that any association with activists might harm the company's image.

Rubies is dismissive of the idea that Anonymous and other protesters have fuelled demand for the mask, saying it has been successful ever since the film was released.

Julian Assange at the Occupy London protest Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been associated with the V imagery

Lloyd says he has already heard anecdotes about police in the US searching for the masks in people's houses to be used as evidence of involvement with Anonymous hacker attacks, "which is scary but also ridiculous - you wouldn't prosecute someone for having a t-shirt with Che or CND on it".

Johnston is just back from the New York Comic Con and recalls one incident where a group of V for Vendetta fans, dressed as their hero, unwittingly wandered into the Occupy Wall Street protest and were mistaken for protesters by the police.

Paul Staines, who blogs under the name of Guido Fawkes, said he finds it ironic that anti-capitalist, anti-corporation activists are inadvertently supporting Warner Bros - one of America's 100 biggest companies with profits last year of £1.6bn - by buying the masks.

He thinks the widespread use of the mask "signifies a loss of trust in politics - Guy Fawkes is the most anti-political figure you can pick".

One Anonymous member camping out in the shadow of London's St Paul's Cathedral said she was with a group of 15 people and planned to stay for "as long as necessary".

A masked protestor stands on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral in London Sales of the masks make money for Warner Bros

She said that she and others had been wearing the masks, not only to protect their identity but also because it has become a symbol of the movement against corporate greed.

"It's a visual thing, it sets us apart from the hippies and the socialists and gives us our own identity. We're about bypassing governments and starting from the bottom."

Johnston sees the mask as fundamentally a violent image. "It's not a symbol of passive resistance but a symbol of active terrorism - it's about bringing down a government and a country and that could be quite scary and alienating to some people."

The idea of the V mask being appropriated as a political symbol is inherently ridiculous, he suggests.

"It's like assuming you can bring down a government using a light sabre or a He-Man sword."


More on This Story

In today's Magazine


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    In a nutshell the protests are about inequality. The 1% have the system rigged so they become ever richer at the expense of the vast majority. The fact this continues to happen proves our democracy is a fraud. In the US 9 out of the last 10 presidential elections were won by the candidate that spent the most. People want a fairer system in which wealth is shared by ALL not horded by a greedy few.

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    re:comment 180, kol26 - "if I want more money and a better life I can work harder or I have the choice to train and educate myself to get a better job"

    I currently have one degree (history) and am half way through another (psychology) - but I can't get a job in either of those disciplines, or the job I want to do. Its not about people not working hard, its just that the jobs aren't there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    Some sympathy with their sentiment, we are in a right mess, BUT those who cover their faces usually have something to hide. If these protesters want transparency they should start with themselves and take of the stupid masks........

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    I think he meant that it wasn't going to be a political symbol, more a symbol of discontent. I believe he wasn't attempting to ridicule the idea of using the mask.

    I don't think it was very well put though!

  • Comment number 295.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    "It's not a symbol of passive resistance but a symbol of active terrorism"


  • Comment number 293.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    Stictly speaking V for Vendetta is about bringing down a Government that has lost touch with the people it represents, its not actually about the specifc policies of that Govetrnment . The Governmmet in the book was always totalitarian it didn't change, it was the views of the voters that changed....

    David cameron et al, take note!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    92 Only in the UK could the "activists" occupy a cathedral.
    LOL sadly true
    Our `masters' treat us with disrespect, and 80% of the population actually deserve that treatment as they are followers of the BBC and Liberals that got us into this mess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    Who cares? Another empty story, this time about a mask, made up by some desperate journalist. Dull dull dull.

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    @149: The masks weren't originally aimed at disguising protesters form the police, but from members of the Church of Scientology; which has a record for harassing and intimidating detractors in a way that it would be illegal for the police to do. I'd invite any cynics or those not familiar with the situation to spend a few moments looking into the issue for themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    Distributism is the answer. Look it up - not enough room here to explain.

    We should all be wearing G.K. Chesterton masks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    And at the time the Taliban were our friends, more fool us. But it does prove the point.

    And you don't have to buy a Mini, there are many other cars to choose from. Word of advice - don't be facetious, it doesn't win you an argument, it just makes you look silly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    I was always puzzled by 'V' blowing up Parliament. The whole point of the story is that of a tyrannical GOVERNMENT, not Parliament. The Leader (forgetten his name) took personal dictatorial control of the country, ignoring Parliament and the Judicary. Blowing up the Parliamentary Estate just plays into his hands as it removes a public assembly place for his legitimate opponents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    Lots of anger being vented but since theoretically power is vested in the "people" wouldn't a few measures be achievable?

    1. Mass protests to bring down the government.
    2. On calling an election no one votes. No mandate no government.
    3. Draw up new laws banning political parties and call elections on independant candidates.
    4. New parliament to remove of "person" status of corporations

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    or..... stop analyzing every nuance that the mask represents and take it for what it is, cheap available and shows unity, who cares what it means .... people are protesting over greed thats left us financially crippled for a generation perhaps , it's not just about the state of where the world is now, but where the world is heading , we are still on the same disastrous path and nothing has changed

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    re Comment 153.Joan - I have voted every time I've been eligible to. I voted in the last election ,and the party I voted which got in as part of the coalition for has subsequently seemed to go back on everything they said they'd do. What am I supposed to do now? Protesting increasingly seems to be the best option, so people actually hear your views and pay attention to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    re police searches: I seem to remember something about The Church of Scientology trying to intimidate managers at branches of Forbidden Planet to hand over cctv footage of anyone buying a V mask. They failed, of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    Nothing wrong with the free market, but what innocents apparently can't see is that what has been happening is a controlled economy, where monopolies are jealously guarded,& some people have the right to rig. Hence the ridiculous bonuses. Much like football.
    Should be protesting about that too. The masks are absurd. Guy Fawkes was a nasty piece of work, & the destruction he nearly caused ghastly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    These people never seem to have a job.


Page 20 of 34



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.