Che Guevara in a 'V' mask

The sinister Guy Fawkes mask made famous by the film V for Vendetta has become an emblem for anti-establishment protest groups.

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.

Yes I've noticed the many 'V' masks in attendance at these gatherings. What struck me the most was that these people are protesting for the exact opposite of what the original chap in the film stood for.

We were shown a vision of future Britain controlled by a fascist government, and a lone warrior in a Guy Fawkes mask who fought against it. The end of the film shows the British population, all wearing the masks, rising up in protest while the houses of Parliament are blown up.

The entire message of the film is that big government is wrong, yet the people attending the Occupy protests or various other demonstrations against the cuts or greedy corporations are demanding that we have more big government.

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.

To me, the second most recognisable person in the Guy Fawkes mask is the blogger, Old Holborn. His take on the Occupy LSX protest is completely different from the protesters, more more in line with the original concept of the mask.

Bottom line? These protesters want MORE taxes, an enlarged welfare state, a bigger Government, State jobs and death to bankers – and a bath. Marx would have been proud of them. I give them a fortnight at most. The Police have already removed the portaloos and it can’t be long before Starbucks and Pizza Express get fed up with toilets blocked by Lentil casserole and organic dysentery. As much as I hoped people had woken up from the stupor of a decade of Labour benefit addiction, the OccupyLSX protest is nothing more than a cold turkey sweat of the terminal welfare junkies.

And he was there.

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.

Indeed. But where as Che Guevara represents Communist tyranny, the 'V' mask represents freedom. Both symbols have been adopted by people who have either forgotten the message or more likely, never understood it in the first place.

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.

And now the mask is turning up at demonstrations where people are demanding the government vastly increase it's control over the people and the corporations. It's been worn by people who either never watched the film or completely misunderstood it; adopted off the shelf as a symbol.

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.

I'm sure the irony is lost on the protesters, like this one.

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 is actually a symbol of the movement against fascist control in a dystopian future, and in reality, as Mr Staines pointed out above, it is an object provided by a greedy corporation.

"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."

Your own identity in a very conformist way. An identity taken from a film created by a greedy corporation, visualised by a mask purchased from said corporation and representing a philosophy misunderstood.


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