Viewpoint: V for Vendetta and the rise of Anonymous

 

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On Saturday protests are planned across the world against Acta - the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. The treaty has become the focus of activists associated with the Anonymous hacking network because of concerns that it could undermine internet privacy and aid censorship.

First published in 1982, the comic series V for Vendetta charted a masked vigilante's attempt to bring down a fascist British government and its complicit media. Many of the demonstrators are expected to wear masks based on the book's central character.

Ahead of the protests, the BBC asked V for Vendetta's writer, Alan Moore, for his thoughts on how his creation had become an inspiration and identity to Anonymous.

V for Vendetta comic
PREOCCUPATIONS

Without wishing to overstate my case, everything in the observable universe definitely has its origins in Northamptonshire, and the adoption of the V for Vendetta mask as a multipurpose icon by the emerging global protest movements is no exception.

Rushton Triangular Lodge Rushton Triangular Lodge appears in Mr Moore's novel Voice of the Fire

Back at the crack of the 17th century, Rushton Triangular Lodge was a strange architectural folly constructed to represent the Holy Trinity by an increasingly eccentric Sir Thomas Tresham while he endured decades of house-arrest for his outspoken Catholicism.

It was also one of the two locations, both owned by Tresham and both in Northamptonshire, at which the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was formulated by a group of dissident Catholics that included Tresham's son Francis.

It would seem likely that the treatment afforded to the elder Tresham played some part in the general mix of grievances from which the reckless scheme ignited.

Mastermind

By the early sixteen-hundreds, the bonfires traditionally lit around the start of November had been co-opted as trappings for a sort of national anti-Catholic day at which effigies of the Pope would be incinerated.

As mastermind behind the terrorist outrage du jour, however, the plot's nominal leader Guido Fawkes rapidly replaced the pontiff as hate-mascot of choice on these occasions.

Jump forward 300 years, though, to the battered post-war England of the 1950s, and the saturnine insurrectionary had taken on more ambiguous connotations.

When parents explained to their offspring about Guy Fawkes and his attempt to blow up Parliament, there always seemed to be an undertone of admiration in their voices, or at least there did in Northampton.

V for Vendetta comic

The series was published as a graphic novel in 1988

In pictures: Guy Fawkes - from failed revolutionary to hacktivist icon

While that era's children perhaps didn't see Fawkes as a hero, they certainly didn't see him as the villainous scapegoat he'd originally been intended as.

Revolutionary

At the start of the 1980s when the ideas that would coalesce into V for Vendetta were springing up from a summer of anti-Thatcher riots across the UK coupled with a worrying surge from the far-right National Front, Guy Fawkes' status as a potential revolutionary hero seemed to be oddly confirmed by circumstances surrounding the comic strip's creation: it was the strip's artist, David Lloyd, who had initially suggested using the Guy Fawkes mask as an emblem for our one-man-against-a-fascist-state lead character.

When this notion was enthusiastically received, he decided to buy one of the commonplace cardboard Guy Fawkes masks that were always readily available from mid-autumn, just to use as convenient reference.

To our great surprise, it turned out that this was the year (perhaps understandably after such an incendiary summer) when the Guy Fawkes mask was to be phased out in favour of green plastic Frankenstein monsters geared to the incoming celebration of an American Halloween.

It was also the year in which the term "Guy Fawkes Night" seemingly disappeared from common usage, to be replaced by the less provocative 'bonfire night'.

At the time, we both remarked upon 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. It seemed that you couldn't keep a good symbol down.

The man behind the mask

Alan Moore

Alan Moore was born in Northampton, England on 18 November 1953.

He began his career in comics in the late 1970s on 2000AD and Doctor Who Weekly.

He rose to prominence the following decade when his tales of flawed superheroes helped redefine the genre.

V for Vendetta was first published in 1982 and was followed by Watchmen; Saga of the Swamp Thing; and Batman: The Killing Joke - considered by many to be the best Joker story ever told.

He left the publishers DC after it proposed a ratings systems for its comics and went on to write the From Hell series about Jack the Ripper and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in the 1990s and 2000s.

Most recently he has worked on the underground magazine Dodgem Logic.

If there truly was government unease about the mask and its associations back in the 1980s, these concerns had evidently evaporated by the first decade of the 21st century, when the movie industry apparently decided to re-imagine the original narrative as some sort of parable about the post-9/11 rise of American neo-conservatives, in which the words "fascism" or "anarchy" were nowhere mentioned.

Anarchy and romance

When the film was made during the peak period of anti-terrorist legislation the golden touch of Hollywood was, it seemed, sufficiently persuasive for the authorities to permit a massed horde of extras dressed as the nation's most famous terrorist to cavort riotously in Parliament Square.

I don't think one need subscribe to any quasi-mystical theories about how the conceptual world of ideas can affect the substantial world of everyday existence in order to agree that, in retrospect, this could be seen as practically begging for it.

After that, it wasn't long before the character's enigmatic Time-Warner trademarked leer appeared masking the faces of Anonymous protesters barracking Scientologists halfway down Tottenham Court Road.

Shortly thereafter it began manifesting at anti-globalisation demonstrations, anti-capitalist protests, concerted hacker-attacks upon those perceived as enabling state oppression, and finally on the front steps of St Paul's.

It would seem that the various tectonic collapses deep in the structure of our economic and political systems have triggered waves of kinetic energy which are rolling through human populations rather than through their usual medium of seawater.

V for Vendetta comic V's takeover of a TV broadcast has been echoed by Anonymous' many hack attacks

It also seems that our character's charismatic grin has provided a ready-made identity for these highly motivated protesters, one embodying resonances of anarchy, romance, and theatre that are clearly well-suited to contemporary activism, from Madrid's Indignados to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Neglect

Our present financial ethos no longer even resembles conventional capitalism, which at least implies a brutal Darwinian free-for-all, however one-sided and unfair. Instead, we have a situation where the banks seem to be an untouchable monarchy beyond the reach of governmental restraint, much like the profligate court of Charles I.

Then, a depraved neglect of the poor and the "squeezed middle" led inexorably to an unanticipated reaction in the horrific form of Oliver Cromwell and the English Civil War which, as it happens, was bloodily concluded in Northamptonshire.

Anti-ACTA protest in Warsaw V masks were a common sight at a recent anti-Acta demonstration in Poland

Today's response to similar oppressions seems to be one that is intelligent, constantly evolving and considerably more humane, and yet our character's borrowed Catholic revolutionary visage and his incongruously Puritan apparel are perhaps a reminder that unjust institutions may always be haunted by volatile 17th century spectres, even if today's uprisings are fuelled more by social networks than by gunpowder.

Some ghosts never go away.

As for the ideas tentatively proposed in that dystopian fantasy thirty years ago, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that whatever usefulness they afford modern radicalism is very satisfying.

In terms of a wildly uninformed guess at our political future, it feels something like V for validation.

 

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  • rate this
    +15

    Comment number 79.

    The only concievable reason for people being against the fight for internet freedom, and stand against corporate greed, government corruption and hypocrisy, is that there are people stuck in last century's mentality and do not think the internet being controlled by agencies which we did not vote for, but are empowered by default, will affect them.

  • rate this
    +20

    Comment number 78.

    The idea that content can be removed without the claimant having to prove he owns the IP on the material being removed, and bypass a court order is outrageous. If I don't like you, I can have all your web data taken down for up to a couple of weeks or more depending how long it takes for the courts to realise I have no authority over the material. Anonymous realise this, why dont you?

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 77.

    Ian Kemmish seems unaware of Moore's widely-publicised refusal to accept any money from films made from his DC Comics work. Moore's share of the profits go to his collaborators.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 76.

    Keep lining Time- Warner's pockets by buying the mask, or just revert to good old balaclavas, which are much more menacing.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 75.

    "He had committed--would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper--the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you."
    - George Orwell, 1984,

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 74.

    Absolutely cracking article. If only more of our journalism and analysis contained as much vision and joined up thinking as this piece.

  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 73.

    #46
    Sadly this is not correct. Whilst we have the illusion of a secret vote we do not.
    Have you ever turned over a ballot paper? On the back is a serial number which is the same as the number on the stub in the book from which the ballot paper is torn. Your voters role number is written on the stub. Therefore your vote IS immediately identifiable.
    I'm not promoting conspiricy but it is a fact.

  • rate this
    -32

    Comment number 72.

    I'm glad that anonymous are sticking up for their right to steal other people's work online.

    They are truly at the front of the fight for freedom.

  • rate this
    +24

    Comment number 71.

    When people seek the symbolism of GF it is a reflection the lack of representation given to democratic views held by the populus. In this situation they seek men of honour and principal to drive thier arguments forward and in the political class of today these people do not exist. The wearing of the mask is a case of the individual trying to fill that vaccum.
    The tide is turning.

  • rate this
    +27

    Comment number 70.

    Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.

    The things behind the masks worn at these protests are not people, they are ideas and ideals... And ideas, gentlemen, are bullet proof.

  • rate this
    +27

    Comment number 69.

    Once, we sought out the corporations and governments to protect us from the hackers.
    Now we turn to the hackers to rescue us from the greed of corporations and dubious intentions of governments.

  • rate this
    -28

    Comment number 68.

    It is a little sad that his character has got hijacked by a bunch of people who spend their time swapping porn on hideous forums and not just attacking large corporate websites but also small websites of people who they just happen to want to hurt.

    Put a gun in the hand of a child and he will as soon shoot his friend's teddy just for the fun of it as shoot his parent for taking his toys.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 67.

    This article is masterfully written - what a breath of fresh air. More "author"- written articles please. Journalists can convey the news stories but for historical context and analysis it really takes a writer of this standard.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 66.

    I only wish I could be there to protest too,(can't,disabled).
    This proposed legislation is an affront to personal liberty,nothing to do with protecting rights more to do with control of the peoples.
    The "V" is very symbolic,as I would like to give this sign to all those who support this censorship of the internet.

  • rate this
    +31

    Comment number 65.

    Personally, I'm all for copyright, and I do think illegal file sharing is wrong. But ACTA is frankly draconian, and would do far more damage than good. So I support the protesters in this matter. As for the ubiquitous mask, political policing has made it necessary.

  • rate this
    +18

    Comment number 64.

    Whether you agree with anonymous or the government, you have to admit that anonymous plays its part in trying to keep the government from becoming what it shouldnt be.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 63.

    @49... I think fear of oppression and the gradual dissolution of liberty is a perfectly reasonable position.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 62.

    The sales of the masks are monitored and logged. Each purchaser is filed, investigated, flagged for surveillance and possible action. Each mask is impregnated with unique identifiers visible to specialist CCTV software prevalent throughout the country. Use of each mask is compiled and filed in the purchasers dossier. So much easier to recognise than a face!

    Well, it is a work of fiction after all

  • rate this
    +69

    Comment number 61.

    The content providers have pressed us in a corner for too long now with their outdated business models and continuous lies about job losses and lost revenue. Now that we no longer listen they have surreptitiously imposed ACTA onto the world that will have disastrous consequences of how the internet is run. Will they stop there?? No! I'm demonstrating with the vendettas tomorrow at 2pm in London!

  • rate this
    +83

    Comment number 60.

    In the original comic, the mask represents an idea, and the fact that ideas are unkillable. Those who are united by the same idea - that allowing unaccountable bodies to shut down websites without being made to prove wrongdoing is dangerous - use this to show that they're representing an idea, not merely representing themselves.

 

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