The old joke runs that Guy Fawkes was the only man ever to enter parliament with honest intentions. But at least the idea that blowing up parliament is a more noble calling than serving in it is supposed to be funny. Protesters like those who gathered outside parliament and Buckingham Palace last night in Guy Fawkes masks appear to be in earnest when they appropriate the image of a man who wanted to restore a Catholic monarchy in place of the Protestant one as a symbol of a supposedly popular rebellion.
If the symbolism of the absurdly misnamed ‘Million Mask March’ appears to reveal a bad case of historical illiteracy, its real source is of course the execrable 2005 film adaptation of comic book V for Vendetta, in which a man in a Guy Fawkes mask battles a fascist regime, Stephen Fry plays a gay Koran collector (the liberal’s fantasy fascists hate gays and Muslims), and Natalie Portman has a haircut.
And if the fact that Guy Fawkes himself was a Catholic reactionary rather than a champion of the people has not given protesters pause for thought, perhaps it is because they are less interested in history than in masks per se. The protests were organised by Anonymous, the pretentious shower of laptop revolutionaries who are always threatening to shut down capitalism but in fact never seem to get past standing around in masks. In making a virtue of their anonymity (which might sometimes be necessary in actual fascist regimes), they reveal their lack of political seriousness. Because going on a political demonstration in a mask is like signing a petition under a pseudonym. Cowardly and pointless.
‘Whose streets? Our streets!’ they shouted last night. But who exactly are ‘they’ to be claiming possession of public space? Hiding behind their silly masks, they might as well be agents of the Spanish crown.