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
    +1

    Comment number 99.

    95.Martin
    'Rather concerned that people feel the need to hid behind a mask to make a political point.'

    The mask IS the political point.

    For all others, Read V for vendetta, don't watch the film as it is no where near as deep or well written as the comic/graphic novel.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 98.

    Anonymous are a vital collective, as hit and miss as their activities sometimes are. They oppose the fascistic use of business power to suppress free speech in a world where political and business elites are bound in a nefarious compact. Anonymous will make errors as all groups do but make no mistake they are vital in the fight against the deadly influence of the fundamentalist free marketeers.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 97.

    @96 That may be the case, however they don't have days dedicated to them which raise public awareness. Everyone knows who Guy Fakes is, and that he stood against the Government. That is why he is symbolised in this context. Rubber or Depleted uranium, a bullet is still a bullet.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 96.

    I'm sorry,it still doesn't make any sense to me. The idea of using the mask of Guy Fawkes as some sort of great revolutionary hero and fighter for freedom is misplaced. If anything,he and his Catholic coterie wanted to return the country to the dark ages. There are a thousand better Englishmen in history who fought for freedom and liberal ideas than Guy Fawkes.

  • rate this
    +18

    Comment number 95.

    I really enjoyed this feature, the mask is very striking and memorable. Rather concerned that people feel the need to hid behind a mask to make a political point. What ever your position on government legislation we should be confronting these issues openly. Much of this is technical as well as legal, we need more balanced information about ACTA from our media. Good job BBC.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 94.

    englishvote - V is not a super hero, far from it. comic books are not what you think they are.

  • rate this
    +17

    Comment number 93.

    How come it's wrong to wear a mask but OK to wear a burka?

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 92.

    We need anonymity just as we need Anonymous.

    They are the random element. We need that.

  • rate this
    +13

    Comment number 91.

    The news networks don't understand what "Anonymous" is. It's not a "Global hacker group" or anything of the sort. It's a socio-political movement happening in cyberspace. There are no "members" of Anonymous, nor are there any leaders. It was initially an idea proposed on /b/ to fight Scientology, and now it's being attributed to everything which the internet masses have developed a distaste for.

  • rate this
    +15

    Comment number 90.

    I find it interesting that comment no. 51, one of the Editors' Picks, has been "removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules."

    Even the BBC's Editors are not safe from censorship!

  • rate this
    -35

    Comment number 89.

    Dressing up as a comic book character to protest says a lot about the protesters.

    Privileged, pampered and naïve would be my description of those with nothing better to do but play at being super heroes.

    Stop winging and get doing, and grow up!

  • rate this
    +26

    Comment number 88.

    The problem is if ACTA, SOPA and PIPA are passed then it gives even more uneccesary power to governments. The take down of MegaUpload (just after the SOPA blackout) proved that these acts aren't needed. There is also the fear that the internet, the last place where freedom of speech truly exists, will start to become censored and controlled.

  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 87.

    A ray of hope that it isn't just young arabs who can be motivated to protect their freedoms! Go for it, I wish I could be there with you

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 86.

    The issue is there are better smarter processes that can be adopted not just by content providers but more generally to social & economic issues. Instead we get the same old tired dogma pushed on us, the same rubbish that was pushed on our parents and before that, except now its done more efficiently. Those in control have taken technology and used it to enforce the negative on us more than ever

  • rate this
    -17

    Comment number 85.

    @53 Sergoba.
    If it is lawful in the UK to hide one's identity in a public place by wearing masks, burquas, balaclavas, eyc., I, for one, would love to see the great masked, unwashed, unemployed and unloved being kettled by police wearing V Masks.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 84.

    @81 thats not entirely correct. What percentage of parliament are people who are from under priveleged families or for that matter state education? Unless you are from a priveleged background, you stand little chance of ever gaining a political foothold. The Rich and corrupt will always be able to discredit the honest in the eyes of the public. Democracy is substituted for Financial nepotism

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 83.

    The irony of this situation is that the US is probably the one nation on earth where suspicion and active resistance to big government is actually written into it's constitution. Though sadly in today's America this has evolved into acceptance of recreational gun use (middle-age militias) rather than enforcement of individual civil rights.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 82.

    @iankemmish Alan Moore has stated in a previous interview he receives no royalties, your presumption is an excuse to make a mean comment.

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 81.

    In V you had no chance of expressing your thoughts.
    In the real world we do. You can stand for public office, you can LEGALLY protest exceptionally well (millions in London for Public sector ring any bells?) It's just that too many people don't want to put the effort in. Those in control are in control because they spent the time and effort to get there. Anyone can do it. Don't be lazy.

  • rate this
    +15

    Comment number 80.

    From a street-level viewpoint, it seems that the "War on Terror" has become the "War on Protest". I am so proud of my fellow citizens that, despite the wealth and resources arrayed against them in the battle to control their lives, they have not bowed down, but have resisted. Power to the People, indeed!

 

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