Opinion: Stop remembering the fifth of November

Nicholas Hunter

Every year, my Facebook feed fills up with gifs and quotes from the movie “V for Vendetta.” An iconic white, mustache-clad mask is, suddenly, a common profile picture. Twitter features a consistent stream of the same quote: “Remember, remember, the fifth of November.”

For those who do not know, Nov. 5 is a holiday – commonly called “Bonfire Night” – originating from Great Britain. In 1605, a man by the name of Guy Fawkes, along with a number of other conspirators, attempted to use explosives to destroy the House of Lords, where King James I and his appointed officials held meetings. Fawkes was found guarding the explosives and the plot was revealed to be a Catholic revolt that intended to kill the Protestant king and take power.

After word circulated of the failed plot, King James’ council permitted his subjects to celebrate the king’s survival with bonfires throughout the city. Eventually, the celebration on Nov. 5 changed to Fireworks night, with large displays taking place across the U.K. Throughout the years, effigies in Guy Fawkes likeness have even been publicly burned.

In America, the celebration is different.

Americans rarely associate Guy Fawkes with his actions, but rather with a mask that bears his likeness. This mask is prominently featured in the 2005 movie “V for Vendetta,” adapted from a graphic novel of the same name. The Guy Fawkes mask itself has been around since the first effigy of Fawkes was burned in London in 1605, but the book – and later the movie – is the source of the current and most recognizable mask.

“V for Vendetta” takes place in a future Great Britain, ruled by a fascist dictator. The “hero” in this story carries out a plot similar to the Catholic revolt from 1605, but manages to succeed in destroying parliament.

The portrayal of his act of destruction is seen, in this movie, as heroic and triumphant. So, with the prominent use of the Guy Fawkes mask by the protagonist, the likeness of Guy Fawkes has taken on an anti-government and, in some cases, anarchist meaning.

The mask has been adopted by a number of different movements in recent years: It has been used by government protesters worldwide, including during the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, as well as the Arab Spring protests in 2013. Its most recent notable use is by the cyberterrorism group Anonymous.

Whether an individual’s fascination with Fawkes comes from its 17th century roots or “V for Vendetta,” support for what his likeness represents is very dangerous. True anarchy would not end in everyone cutting out their plot of land and deciding that what they end up with, is all they need; it would naturally evolve into a situation where the most powerful people take total control — a dictatorship.

While tweeting “Remember, remember, the fifth of November” with a sense of pride is hardly a cry for dismantling the government, it does call back to what was a terrorist attack. Wearing a Guy Fawkes mask does not make you a cyber-terrorist, but it does, to many, promote the actions of Anonymous.

So before you spend the days leading up to Nov. 5, 2017 searching Amazon for your very own plastic Guy Fawkes mask, consider what it represents.

If you think it represents the need for change, then work to make change happen. Go out and vote on Nov. 8.

Nicholas Hunter is a columnist, contact him at [email protected].