Reincarnating Guy Fawkes: A symbol of revolution

Nayeem Chowdhury | Thursday, 5 November 2020

"Remember, remember! The fifth of November, The gunpowder treason and plot; I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot!" This is what a traditional old British rhyme says. November 5, known as the Guy Fawkes Night, is celebrated primarily in the UK and the west to commemorate the gunpowder plot that happened in the year 1605 to blow up the British parliament.

History says the gunpowder plot is a failed conspiracy by a group of zealous Catholics led by Robert Catesby to assassinate the protestant King James I of England. That time the country was vindicated between two religious groups, Roman Catholics and Protestants. The main motive behind this intrigue was to end the oppression and persecution of Roman Catholics by the Protestant government.

There was a political alternative like election, but the rebels decided to blow up the house of parliament. The plotters hoped to replace the government with catholic leadership.

However, Guy Fawkes, one of the members of the conspiracy group, was arrested as the conspiracy came to light. Eventually, all other members were arrested as well and executed for treason after trial.

Today, the name Guy Fawkes has a new meaning. The purpose of celebrating Fawkes night has been much forgotten in the common cultural memory. To the neoteric generation, he has been best known not as a religious extremist but as a populist hero, an icon of dissension and defiance.

As we know, Guy Fawkes mask is a popular icon of anarchism – seen at the ‘Million Mask March’ – an annual worldwide protest event associated with the hacktivist group Anonymous in recent years. It was even seen during the Arab Spring. The common factor uniting all these groups is the resistance to authority. It is also a strong symbol of showing dissension against establishment.

A pale bearded face that people wear as Guy Fawkes mask was made famous by Alan Moore and David Lloyd's 1980s graphic novel ‘V for Vendetta’ and the 2006 Warner Bros film of the same name. Lloyd, who illustrated the mask, once said that this can be used as a placard in protest against tyranny. An icon of popular culture being used in such a way is quite unique.

The movie V for Vendetta can be attributed as the reinventor of Guy Fawkes as a rogue and revolutionary antihero who is a champion for human rights rather than a traitor. The eponymous character V is an alternative modern version of Fawkes. Veteran actor Hugo weaving played the character V while Natalie Portman played the co-protagonist role.

The movie depicts a totalitarian and neo-fascist regime that has subjugated the United Kingdom. While V, a deranged psychopath, takes the oath to destroy the oppressive government – never reveals his face and fights for injustice and revenge. V is seen wearing a Fawkes mask which symbolises V's belief that doing the right thing is not the same as following rules.

V is also symbolised as an idea in the film with a powerful quote, “Ideas are bulletproof.” The quote reflects on the notion that thoughtful ideas never fade away; however, can be dangerous if used by wrong people.

The cinema indulges the viewer with mystical concepts of morals and rectitude and questions perspectives of evil and good. It gives hope to audiences that they can be the difference for the greater good. The whole thing emphasises the magnitude of symbolism and shows the importance of freedom of individuals from the government’s oppression and the importance of freedom. The image of Fawkes persists as a symbol of rebellion today, with his stylised face emblazoned on masks worn by protesters around the world. It has become a symbol of unity and revolution.

Nayeem Chowdhury is pursuing his undergrad, majoring in Finance and Banking from Shahjalal University of Science and Technology.

[email protected]