Happy Guy Fawkes Day (here are the problems with it)

“Remember remember the 5th of November,
the gunpowder treason and plot.
I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot.”

So the famous rhyme goes.  It commemorates the failed attempt by conspirators, including Guy Fawkes aka Guido Fawkes, to assassinate King James I of England and VI of Scotland and blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of England’s Parliament on November 5th 1605.   The attempt was not made as part of some noble social anarchist conspiracy or as simply an attach against tyranny per se.  It was another instance of religious infighting between Catholics and Protestants over control of England.  Simply put, Guy Fawkes and company objected to the current protestant theocracy that governed the country and wished to install a more traditional, conservative Catholic theocracy instead.  Nothing anarchistic or egalitarian about this.  The ultimate goal was to install Jame’s daughter Elizabeth as the Catholic head of state.  The plan failed when Fawkes was caught guarding 36 barrels of gun powder and subsequently executed.  To commemorate the event bonfires the failed conspiracy bonfires are held in London each November 5th.

I first learned of Guy Fawkes Day and the associated conspiracy through John Lennon’s song Remember, from his surprisingly dark album Plastic Ono Band.  It has gotten more attention recently from the 2005 film V For Vendetta and the classic Alan Moore graphic novel from which the film is based.  In both the titular character V (a sort of anarchistic superhero) where’s a Guy Fawkes mask and refers to the above quoted Rhyme.  It is from this source, that Guy Fawkes has taken on his inaccurate reputation as an anarchist freedom fighter.  As such the Guy Fawkes mask has become taken as a symbol by various libertarians and anarchists (including social anarchist) and has even been appropriated by some Ron Paul supporters.  Of course the rights to the image are owned by Time Warner, so by buying one,  you are supporting one of the biggest media conglomerates on the planet, as well as one that has undoubtedly benefited from government intervention in the economy.

Of course if you want to make your own Guy Fawkes mask, by all means go for it (after all, I oppose copyright anyway), but just know the contradictory message it actually sends.  Which brings me to one last point, V actually falls short of the values of many if not most self-identified anarchists, he makes frequent use of non-defensive violence and tortures a young girl who is in no way part of the ruling class or a threat to him.  This part of the story has always bothered me, but I suspect it was intended to.  Like many Alan Moore character’s V is a flawed hero figure, and if anything the black and gray morality of the story is thought provoking, but it would be unfortunate if readers took this as an endorsement of torture or harming innocent people for one’s own ends.  That said, happy Guy Fawkes Day.

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2 Responses to Happy Guy Fawkes Day (here are the problems with it)

  1. Fritz says:

    Sounds like you were there. Maybe you can’t imagine being Catholic at this time in History. Maybe fighting back at an unjust government doesn’t appeal to you. Maybe you can’t imagine giving your life for something you believe in, Your opinion is as dry and lifeless as the English government at this time. Go Guy Fawkes!

  2. Mr. Wilson says:

    Thanks for input, I think you make a good point. I did not mean to downplay what Catholics were going through under the above mentioned authoritarian protestant regime, and I commend anyone willing to fight authoritarian governments in all their forms. I do however, think Guy Fawkes’ fight against tyranny is tainted, due to the fact that his movement’s ultimate goal was to establish an authoritarian regime of its own. I also reject, blowing up buildings full of people as means of creating social change (though I suspect many house of lord members at the time completely had it coming).

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