The Curious Case of Guy Fawkes

Tomorrow is Guy Fawkes Night in England. Now that I think about it, I guess it’s Guy Fawkes Night everywhere. Who is Guy Fawkes you ask? Don’t feel bad, I had the same question a few years back when one of my English co-workers mentioned that his family was having a bonfire for Guy Fawkes.

Now anyone that knows me will attest to the fact that I pride myself on knowing lots of useless pieces of arcane information. So I was a bit shocked when he explained the history of Guy Fawkes. How did I miss this?

Fawkes was a Catholic insurrectionist who was captured in 1605, plotting to blow up the House of Lords by setting off 36 barrels of gunpowder in the basement of the Palace of Westminster. (That’s the parliament building. You know, Big Ben, and all that). Following several days of torture Fawkes confessed the names of his 13 co-conspirators in what became known as “The Gunpowder Plot”, a failed attempt to assassinate the protestant King James the 1st, and replace him with his 9 year old Daughter Elizabeth as a Catholic head of state. I’m sure there’s a lot more to the story than that, but you get the gist of it. Catholic guy tries to kill King, and overthrow government, but ends up being hanged, drawn and quartered. Seems like the kinda thing that would be right up my alley, so to speak.

To commemorate the failed event, the parliament declared Nov. 5th to be a public day of thanksgiving, and Guy Fawkes, or “Bonfire night” was born. I’m a little fuzzy on the details of the holiday, but it seems to involve drinking excessive quantities of alcohol, and setting stuff on fire. How this is different than any other night in London escapes me, but it’s their celebration so who am I to question it?

Over the years it has become popular tradition for children to make an effigy of either Guy Fawkes, the Pope, or some other such “papist” and burn it in the bonfire. So a cottage industry arose for making masks of Guy Fawkes. Perhaps you seen one before…

Yep, it’s that dude from the “V” for Vendetta movie. Apparently, the guy that wrote the original comic strip used the image of Guy Fawkes for his anti government antihero. And so Guy Fawkes has gradually evolved from a papist terrorist and enemy of the state, to a dashing anti-fascist, freedom fighter that stood for speaking truth to power. Go figure.

Lately Guy Fawkes masks have been adopted by the Occupy Wall Street movement, as a way to maintain anonymity, without looking like terrorists. So his image has been popping up all over the place.

Now, I’ve made my anti-corporate, treasonous, Catholic tendencies abundantly clear in the past, so I can’t say any of this disturbs me. The irony of it is that the Guy Fawkes mask was trademarked by Warner Bros. Inc. when they made the “V for Vendetta” movie, so some of the protestors have taken great pains to point out that they bought their masks from a Chinese counterfeiter. For anti-globalization, anti corporate types, this is Irony2 I guess.

Odd how in 400 years a guy can go from being an effigy, to an antihero. A good reminder that sometimes terms like good and evil say more about which side of the power divide we sit.


5 thoughts on “The Curious Case of Guy Fawkes

    • “I’m a lover, not a fighter baby.” (Wiggles eyebrows)

      Truth be told, I’m not much of either.

      Although I do have a very active imagination, for whatever that’s worth.

  1. Pingback: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics « 20 Prospect

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