Anonymous members at the 2008 London Scientology protest
A story used over the weekend as a funny-haha from New York Times tech reporter Nick Bilton talks about an ironic chain of money: the Guy Fawkes mask used by Anonymous members is an image owned and licensed by Time Warner, who created the film V for Vendetta in both comic and film forms, through DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint and Warner Brothers Films. The mask is based on an image initially created by Alan Moore.
Bilton’s report essentially stops at the point where we realize that Anonymous is a bunch of kids, and they’re inadvertently giving money to one of the corporations they probably kinda hate. It’s kind of obvious to stop right there, but there’s more that’s going to happen in response: Anonymous must now respond to the report, else risk being ridiculed in their ongoing pissing match with the mainstream media.
The most likely outcomes to the report are:
Anonymous stops using the Guy Fawkes mask and moves onto something else. I don’t believe they would entirely do this; the comic form of V for Vendetta is legendary in geek circles, so there’s a natural affection for Alan Moore’s work ingrained in the culture.
Anonymous ignores the report. (My bet is that this won’t happen.)
Anonymous begins to steal the mask by hand-making copies. An obvious retort, and a witty one.
Anonymous steals the mask by figuring out a way to mass-produce them on their own and sell them among members. This is what I hope happens, only for the sake of changing the idea of commoditizing a commercially-produced symbol.
Right now, the Guy Fawkes image is pretty well-aligned with anonymity and protest as concepts, but it’s also aligned with consumer-driven pop culture. But the way the mask is acquired—a purchase leading to crime—is the same thing we see in horror movies. It’s a symbolic step: an acceptable transaction leading to an unacceptable usage. It’s common in horror movies: Jason Voorhees wore his childhood hockey goalie mask, Ghostface wears a throwaway rubber Halloween mask.
But what happens if Anonymous begins to actually manufacture copies of the masks themselves? They would need to show that the copies aren’t meant to be copies, but in fact rip-offs. In successfully acquiring the image and giving it new meaning, they have to prove that it’s stolen.
Whatever form that theft of imagery takes, it will do some interesting things to the idea of Guy Fawkes’ face: it will create an image that resurfaces in many different ways for many different purposes, both play and destruction, with those two roles blended, given Anonymous’ pucklike antics. The idea that an image can successfully become commoditized from folk culture, then re-commoditized and re-purposed as a different version of itself, and a new kind of folk hero, is fascinating.