FINALLY, a few days ago I watched “V for Vendetta” - origins of the Guy Fawkes mask that has come to symbolise Anonymous.
I wished to watch it for several reasons
- It is based on a comic book series and I like comics
- It’s a movie I hadn’t seen before, and why the hell not
- I have been informally observing or researching Anonymous since 2008 and predicted that it would get bigger at that point. Seems really remiss of me to have never watched this movie.
- Wanted to see what all the hype was about.
As far as translation from comic book to movie goes, “V for Vendetta” stank. It was choppy, glossed over, and low grade. It lacked the depth and exploration I suspect was prescient in the original comic; the movie clearly alluded to that depth, but did not contain it. An A-list of actors from associated genres, Hugo Weaving, famous as Agent Smith from the Matrix, Natalie Portman from Star Wars, and a few others. It was difficult to ascertain what was Hollywood and what was the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, the allusions in the movie to various dystopian cultural references were prophetic in some ways, and a classic mish mash of the usual suspects and 1984 as well. Interestingly, the credits referred to Lloyd, the illustrator (and designer of what became the mask) but not to the author, who, I have read elsewhere, like me, thought the movie version sucked ass. This could have been a much better movie than it was. It quite simply, dumbed down what I get the impression “V for Vendetta” was about.
But it did the job. Comics are more popular in a subculture of artists and nerds, usually both. Movies, however, involve a broader audience in the popular culture. The basic message that governments can engage in false flag operations to wield the sword of authoritarianism over the masses got through. The message that this applied not specifically to the present, but would be experienced by people born around 1985 in their adult years, strikes a chord with a relevant generation. The idea that there is a ‘culture hero’ from the past who - despite his other leanings - was rebelling against similar authoritarianism or autocracy - was quite strong. And the mask - never taking it off, alluding to the moral ambuiguity of the character V (terrorist or freedom fighter?), the idea that insurrection is born in the fires of opression and agony by anomalous persons, but contains both humour and violence - this too was important.
All the themes of V for Vendetta exist in Anonymous, and it’s likely origins in Project Chanology in 2008, or before that in the folklore of the Habbo Raids, the ‘hive mind’ like amorphous Anonymous users of /b/ on 4chan (and other chans). Somewhere in the mist of anonymity, and the discussions about anime, comics and science fiction culture “We Are Anonymous” was born. Anime in itself deals with dystopian concepts, and V for Vendetta is centred around these. Historicity, censorship, authoritarianism, and “false religion” through technocratic overlords. These are the themes of the genre, and the sentiments of the troll minds that gave birth to Anonymous. The chans love free speech, are bastions of anonymity, and thus, the politicisation of the ‘merry pranksters’ of the digital age was born. In the case of Project Chanology, against the technocratic false religion of Scientology - and to protest and protect anonymity off line, a symbol, a mask was required - and what a more suitable symbol than the mask worn by V.
From this random “/b/” birth associated with a movie that was now in the popular culture domain (even as it remains a cult classic) thousands of reiterations of quotes from the movie left the annals of Hollywood and made their way to YouTube and across the internetz in general. Almost every second line in V for Vendetta has been used by people claiming to be members of Anonymous. Famous quotes I’d seen for years, long before I’d even heard of this movie. One particular line rings in my mind, and existed even before the movie:
Remember, Remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot…
I had heard this said as a child on Guy Fawkes day. My family has family friends who used to live on a farm adjacent to a farm run by some English migrants. We spent the late Spring with them one year and this coincided with the 5th of November. The neighbouring family followed this tradition and we joined in; a huge bonfire, followed by saying that very line. It may even be the case that I have celebrated Guy Fawkes day with other families in my early childhood, I seem to remember more than one spring bonfire in more than one field as a young girl. Guy Fawkes, a historical figure inspiring the character V, is also part of a long standing English tradition. Thus, Anglo persons who see V, likely see much more to to the movie V for Vendetta than persons outside the United Kingdom. And the author, himself a Briton, likely meant a great deal more than the movie could convey. Although, it is likely the case that non-Anglo persons suffering due to the imperialism of the institution dealt with at the end of the movie, would have smiled just as widely at the story’s conclusion.
At the end of the movie, Britons fill the streets wearing the masks and cloaks that V had delivered to them. Evey, the female protagonist, has sent the train with explosives underneath Parliament House, along with V’s corpse. Parliament House detonates in in an amusing array of colourful fireworks whilst the 1812 Overture bursts from the public speaker system. The Britons take off their mask, and are free.
This is the culmination of many centuries of the Guy Fawkes tradition, leading to the final success of the Gunpowder Plot for which the man became infamous. By keeping Guy Fawkes alive, and continuing the authoritarian, aristocratic opulences of the British classist system, the false flag operation, and fascistic statism of the era in which V for Vendetta is set, was made possible. But also possible was the idea that even as Guy Fawkes day is a tradition that marginalises and demonises treasonous acts of violence, it also upholds, discretely, the hope that one day a proto-Fawkesian hero will rise from the ashes (literally in the story) of opression to rally against the violence of the state with dangerous pranks that unite the lower classes. V for Vendetta is the testimony of anarchist thought in the hundreds of years since the Gunpowder plot, the tension in that thought between ‘violent’ revolt, and peaceful protest, the idea that in a classist system the individual is rebranded according to the whims of the controlling elite. Both humour and suitably targeted vengeneful violence, is deemed neccessary to shake the mental chains that enable oppression to continue.
This message, this spirit of V for Vendetta, is the zetigeist of the Anonymous movement. In terms of artistic production value, the movie was an “epic phail” but in terms of it’s capacity to express the sentiments of disenfranchised youth seeking open political dialogue in a world that would rather repress this, the movie is a symbol of “epic justice”. It reflects both “newfags” and “oldfags”, religious and secular activist sentiment, the tension of liberty regardless of political affilitiation (even as the movie has anarchist overtones), and most importantly, a call to action. And for that, regardless of what the original authors desired, and regardless of how the movie fares aesthetically, it is likely to be one of the most influential films of the 21st Century.
That’s my review of V for Vendetta. And now for my favourite quote, used by left and right, anonymous and non-anonymous alike:
People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.
Whether this was a line borrowed from somewhere else, as may be the case with other lines in the movie, I sense that this is the spirit of our times.
We are Anonymous
We are legion.
We do not forgive.
We do not forget.