Masks of Guy Fawkes, taken from Alan Moore's "V for Vendetta" comic series and later popularized by anti-government protesters around the world, have been making massive sales, The New York Times is reporting. Impressively, a costume store in Manhattan has claimed to have sold more than 100,000 masks this year alone, which signifies that there's something about what it represents that has captured the popular imagination. But what is it?
For the general consumer, the mask is visually interesting and somewhat menacing, the perma-smile echoing the enigmatic qualities of the Joker, which has an archetypal appeal that is both pranksterish and fun. For the politically minded, the mask, which covers the entire face, contains a fairly strong anti-establishment message, portraying the face of Guy Fawkes, who famously attempted to assassinate King James I in the Gunpowder plot of 1605. Finally, it stems from a cult-classic Alan Moore comic series, which adds to its cachet as hipster apparel.
The New York Times and The Guardian have been quick to point out the irony of the mask being adopted by the likes of Hack-tivist group "Anonymous," as the profits from the sales are collected by DC Comics, which is owned by Time Warner, which, in turn, is a member of the Motion Picture Association of America, Anonymous' stated enemy in the fight against online piracy. But in their hurry to make fools of Anonymous as naives, they've missed a couple of key points. First of all, the Guy Fawkes masks began appearing in protests well before Anonymous began making mainstream news, as close readers of the Drudge Report are well aware. In reality, the mask has organically grown as a grassroots, anti-government icon rather than some kind of innovation by Anonymous, who are simply taking part in the global trend. Secondly, when people are buying the mask, they're not concerned with where the money is going, they care about what it represents. And even if they were concerned about the profits, the consumers of the mask are still, in fact, being subversive by re-contextualizing a product that has been mass produced by the establishment as a tool to help bring it down.
With the general move towards anti-government sentiment in societies all around the world, e.g. the Arab Spring, European protests against austerity, and an extremely low approval rating for Congress, it seems as though the Guy Fawkes mask has tapped into the spirit of the times. One wonders, though, what the final use of all these masks will be -- Hallowe'en or something a little more ominous?