Masks. Funny things. The Million Mask March – organised by Anonymous – brought to light something of the confusion I feel regarding protest and conflict. Given the nature of Police surveillance and the ensuing prosecution that may occur, the use of a mask appears to be a sensible thing during a protest these days. Again, the proliferation of smartphones and media outlets means that your boss may see your face on one of these marches and you may be asked to moderate your actions around your political stance. The irony of the fat-cat banks and the hoi-polloi who work for them has been raised before, no more so during the daring huzzah of Russell Brand and the storming of the RBS headquarters. So attending a protest about the political leaning of the country could land you in hot water come Monday morning’s staff briefing. A mask seems appropriate.
And, what a mask!? Guy Fawkes. As Jihadi John conducts his acts of barbarity, the mask he wears is the one we have come to associate with terrorists the world over. The balaclava style head covering, though in this instance with the necessary religious twist, eyes revealed – though for once revealing nothing about the soul (other than perhaps that it is empty) – pulled tight to highlight the skull-roundedness of the head. The person becomes featureless. The face is absent and with that any sense of empathy or connection with the person hiding behind it. The Guy Fawkes mask is different and the same, as the V for Vendetta association has warped this effigy.
Remember, remember Guy Fawkes was a religious terrorist. Remember, remember that he wanted to commit murder in the name of a Catholic God and impose religious change on his country. Remember, remember the massive collateral damage that his terrorist act would have created…a 5/11 indeed. This has been whitewashed, like the gleaming forehead and cheekbones of the mask itself. All we see now is the agent for change. Anonymous have taken the name and identity of Guy Fawkes and eradicated any tarnished reputation to make him a wholesome figure of demonstration. I find myself in a peculiar place. The hideous acts of the Islamic terror group occupying large parts of Iraq and Syria have forebears in the terror acts of the Catholic Church of the Middle and Medieval ages. Torture, execution, indoctrination, recantation of beliefs were all part and parcel of the Catholic Church’s modus operandi at this time… as were those of a Protestant inclination and as were those of many religions before them – and after them. The repulsion we feel at the slaughter and displacement caused by the current religiously inspired acts of terror does demonstrate perhaps just how far we have come as a species. After all, in the name of no imaginary figurehead should anyone be held accountable.
Then along comes Alan Moore.
The mask now means a fight against corruption, against the excesses of capitalism, against the few who exploit the many. The mask is now a means of opposing oppression. The mask is anarchy – although organised anarchy…we do have to arrange via Facebook when to protest, naturally. The mask is a voice against the freedom-to-protest-so-long-as-you-protest-when-and-where-we-want-you-to form filling in revolution the Authorities would rather have. The mask should inspire a feeling of terror in those being protested against. Not the terror caused by threat of physical harm but rather one caused by the focus on their business practice and the moral and ethical choices they make. In the absence of divine judgement, judgement should come from the people. Except, of course, it doesn’t work like that. Those that are being protested against are faceless themselves or out of reach. They will not engage with the population protesting and the majority are rendered powerless. In fact, the majority are made criminal. Perhaps, then, the wearing of a criminal’s face is apposite.
(OFF ON A TANGENT ALERT!)
The wearing of masks by religious terrorists does seem absurd. They know their face is known by god. They know they have nothing to fear from man. They know their only judge is god and that he approves of their actions. So why wear a mask? Is it because they know that man disapproves and so may act against them if they know whom they are? Should that matter? Their god knows they will be acted against. If god allows them to be caught and incarcerated or killed then that is god’s will, is it not? In fact, by wearing the mask are they could be circumventing the ineffable plan and buggering up what god intends? If only there was a god for us to find out…
Sorry…not sure where that came from.
There does appear to be a growing fury at the manner of the overlords. The attacks on the low-income families of the UK by Osborne and his cuts to Family Credit: the inaction of the NZ government to get a handle on the property boom in Auckland: the stranglehold the GOP have on the discourse around redistribution of wealth and welfare in the USA. These are all placing strain on the working and middle classes. To this add the hateful swing to the right which is becoming more apparent in reaction to the refugee crisis in the Middle East and we have a maelstrom of dissatisfaction and NIMBYism which turns the stomach. Well, the stomachs’ of the many. And the few? The few are happily gorging and their stomachs are just fine.
People have to have a banner, a symbol around which to rally. The Guy Fawkes mask is serving this purpose and should, to that end, be embraced. It allows people to understand they are not alone; it allows the anonymity required to freely express your distaste of the rule of law in public and it carries with it the message of overthrow. Sadly, it also reeks of religious murderous intent and the imposition of one set of nasty rules over the other…it’s that paradox that leaves me feeling peculiar on this 5th of November.