The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!….”
Perhaps you’re familiar with the first few verses of this poem, thanks to the 2005 movie V for Vendetta. You might also be aware of one of the most popular orchestrator of the Gunpowder Plot; Guy Fawkes. His, (or rather the mask inspired by him) has indeed become a very popular face in our time, but why exactly is this? How has this figure, so active in the 16th Century, retained so much cultural significance nowadays?
Perhaps his depiction as a hero in the aforementioned movie or rather as an inspiration to the battle against oppression and suppression in a dystopiac future, has enforced the idea of him as a freedom fighter, and as the voice of the proletariat. It would be interesting, in the wake of this particular day, however, to look at the more historical aspect of this character. Guy Fawkes wasn’t alone in his attempted attack on the Houses of Parliament, and subsequently King James I, but for some reason, his name has remained prominent in the memory of this day. This could very well be, because of the very way he died. Since he was found guilty of treason, he was sentenced to the cruellest of deaths imaginable at the time; he would be hanged, drawn and quartered. Legend has it however, that in defiance of the powers that be, and in accordance with his beliefs, Fawkes jumped off the gallows, and in so doing, broke his neck and avoided the gruesome fate that awaited him. In his own way, Fawkes lived and died for what he believed in; for the rights of the people, and for freedom. His attack was arguably extremist; blowing up the Houses of Parliament and everyone within to smithereens seems a somewhat exaggerated way of making a point, but his values were nonetheless admirable…
It is no wonder that these values were eventually picked up by other groups in the future. The mask of Guy Fawkes has in fact been rather prominent these last few years. One of the best known groups to adopt this mask, literally and metaphorically, is the group of hacktivists ‘Anonymous’. By its very nature, it is a group of faceless people, but they rely on the mask of Guy Fawkes to communicate with the rest of the world. We have heard several messages of defiance in response to momentous events of our time, and all of them were accompanied by the at times haunting leer of the mask. When you get over this at times scary image however, you begin to realise how much this group has achieved, despite the accusations of staginess from various sources, particularly because of their choice of mask. Over these last few years, Anonymous has backed such movements as the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street to name a few. On a much smaller scale, the group has also acted against cases of injustice like Nodaway County Teen rape case of October 13th this year, not to mention the revelation of information regarding the tormentor who led Amanda Todd to suicide… Their support of human rights has led to several small-scale movements becoming particularly prominent, and the face of Guy Fawkes has subsequently become synonymous with the fight to preserve justice, freedom and fairness.
Whether or not Guy Fawkes, and the actions he has inspired, and still inspires nowadays, may seem excessive is something our society seems unable to agree on. However, one thing is certain, we definitely won’t be forgetting about him as a symbol any time soon. After all:
“Symbols are given power by people. Alone, a symbol is meaningless, but with enough people, blowing up a building can change the world…”