The fifth of November remembered
It’s like this: “Remember, remember the Fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot. I see no reason the Gunpowder Treason ought ever be forgot.” It “remember, remembers” the attempt by a conspiracy of 13 English Catholics to blow up the House of Lords in 1605 with the goal of installing a Catholic monarch—evidently the Catholic-Protestant rivalry was all the rage in those days 407 years ago. Guy Fawkes is the man most remembered of that squad of thirteen—as a man of 10 years’ military experience, he kept watch over the gunpowder that was to be used in the attack (Wikipedia).
I recently finished reading V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (the comic which was later adapted into the better-known movie starring Natalie Portman). Moore’s comic (Lloyd illustrated what Moore wrote) was published in the ‘80s in the heyday of the British version of Ronald Reagan (Margaret Thatcher), the Cold War, and the public debut of AIDS. I’ll let Moore describe the times: “It’s 1988 now. Margaret Thatcher is entering her third term of office and talking confidently of an unbroken Conservative leadership well into the next century…the tabloid press are circulating the idea of concentration camps for persons with AIDS. The new riot police wear black visors, as do their horses, and their vans have rotating video cameras mounted on top. The government has expressed a desire to eradicate homosexuality, even as an abstract concept, and one can only speculate as to which minority will be the next legislated against…It’s cold and mean-spirited and I don’t like it anymore. Goodnight England… Hello the voice of Fate and V FOR VENDETTA” (from Moore’s introduction to Book One).
What does that have to do with Guy Fawkes and the fifth of November 1605? Moore’s melodramatic anarchist V wears a Guy Fawkes mask in the comic and implores the audience not to forget 5/11/1605 (European date format there because it’s England) with the scrap of poetry recited in my first paragraph above. V does this while blowing up several British landmarks himself, in the context of an alternate reality- authoritarian government having taken over England after a nuclear war. The “man from Room Five” in the mask never reveals his civilian identity, if he has one, and trains/tortures his protégé audience surrogate, Evey Hammond, while plotting the fascist government’s overthrow and usurping the “Voice of Fate.”
Although similar, there are differences between the film and the comic. The film, distributed by Time Warner, portrays V much more clearly as a hero evoking the Fox (that’d be Zorro) or the Bat whose actions resonate with the English populace and have positive consequences (even taking his torment of Natalie Portman into account). The comic, produced by Moore and Lloyd, naturally fleshes out V’s impact and perception more, along with the people within and under the ruling regime, and the aftertaste for the reader is more ambiguous. If this is just a book review, I’d definitely recommend the comic, even though I’ve said little about it. It’s a solid read/spectacle that’s of higher quality than the movie.
Two phrases from the comic that apply in a nice vague sentimental way for some people today: “At least the trains all run on time but they don’t go anywhere,” and “The bulging eyes of puppets, strangled by their strings!” Mmmm, dystopia. It’s finger-lickin’ good.
Very recently, online non-entity Anonymous have taken to wearing Guy Fawkes masks with pride. Giving a reason as to why anybody’s interested in Nov 5th. The masks don’t mean much—but, I disapprove of Western governments who supposedly value free thought cracking down on the internet at the behest of the “official” mass media producers. Oh, and uh, Occupy Wall Street.
Tom Lynch can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.