So, earlier PZ posted a picture that has been widely shared around the internet, this one, from a Michigan protest:
While I was over reading Wonkette (where I first encountered this photo) someone asked a question to people generally about why such a protestor would wear a Guy Fawkes mask unknown in the United States until the movie V for Vendetta, especially given the peculiar situation in the fictional setting was so different from that of the present day United States. (For later clarity, the movie was referred to as the “normal context” of the Guy Fawkes mask for Americans by the person asking the question). I actually took some time to think about and respond to it, and thought people here might be interested in reading what I wrote over there…
I think it’s like this: the “normal context” of that mask in the USA doesn’t come from Guy Fawkes Day celebrations, but rather from the movie (no, not the comic book) V for Vendetta. In the movie, V is portrayed as a superhero, a Batman-like figure. He is immune to pain because of damage previously done to him. He’s smart as a Batman. He has effectively infinite resources, gadgets, money, etc. And, finally, he has his secret V-Cave.
But V doesn’t set himself to clearing the streets of common criminals, no. The streets are already cleared of them by the fascist government that enforces curfew. V is after the fascist government itself. By attacking secret policemen and other targets of special privilege inside the government V (again, like Batman) inspires fear in the people who make up the government.
Now, we could take a turn here and talk about how the disease in the movie is caused by the government and the crisis is then used to impose fascism. We could point out that even in the movie the quarantine wasn’t the problem but that the government used the time of the quarantine to achieve its fascist ends. And, of course, we could point out that the governors are only doing the quarantining, and it’s Trump who is actually using fear of disease to increase his own power in myriad ways, from stealing states’ own supplies to asserting infinite executive power including the power to (temporarily) dissolve a Congress.
But ignore all that for a moment, because we want to know why this idiot wears the mask, not what motivates the protest more generally (which the idiot could attend without a mask).
In the movie, only V is superhuman, but because he wears a mask that is already well-known and mass-produced, anyone can get hold of V’s costume, and if they walk down the street wearing that costume, the government officials terrorized by V will be equally terrified by the random wearer of V’s costume … at least until someone shoots the normal person and they don’t go all super-human fascist-stomper.
So from the point of view of a random normal person in the movie who dons Guy Fawkes’ face, the point of wearing the mask is to cause someone else to be afraid.
And I think for this person the most important point is exactly the same. Though also I think the idiot thinks that wearing the mask somehow makes the wearer “cool”. But that’s secondary. Lots of things could make you cool. This mask is intended to make others afraid.
In the movie, V tried to target the fear, but there’s no denying that the average Security Bear in the final scene was very afraid. To make V heroic they had to play up the fear of the most powerful and play down the fears of every day contributors to the functioning of the government. How could the unemployment clerk know that V wouldn’t target the unemployment office? The clerk couldn’t. V, even if bringing down the fascist fictional Brittain was a good goal, acted like a terrorist. He acted deliberately to inspire fear, to terrorize. And the movie made that seem cool, because in fiction land we don’t have to deal with unintended, undesired consequences. The writers just skip that part and move on.
And so… V for Vendetta, in the midst of a post-9/11 world that appears to uniformly condemn terrorism, provides seemingly the only cultural reference that permits the possibility of the good-guy terrorist, the cool terrorist. There is a reason why the right wing calls every mildly-left wing proposal tyranny. They were raised with the KKK as heroes, able to kill others just for wanting to vote while the wrong race or the wrong party. They’re nursed on dreams of ethnic cleansing and genocide, looking forward to the time when they reestablish a permanent theocracy or permanent white ethno-state. But denying people the right to vote isn’t cool anymore. The right to murder racial others no longer inheres to white skin.
Some of them tone down their dreams. They gerrymander. They call vote-by-mail corrupt. They pass new voter ID laws during a fucking pandemic when the DMV isn’t open to provide new IDs.
But predictably, some of them yearn for the days when terrorizing others was cool. In a time when the USA has gone out of its way to erase distinctions between freedom fighters resisting occupiers and “aggressive” terrorists who launch violence from behind a wall of privilege, when the USA itself denies that bombing weddings and fruit-pickers on siesta might have a terrorizing effect since it was done while wearing the flag, V for Vendetta is the only model the alt-right has of the popular terrorist.
And they yearn, they yearn existentially both to create fear in their enemies and to be popular, not the pathetic and fringe movement that they are.
So idiots like this wear the mask, not to fight fascism. They don’t know what that is, and don’t oppose fascism itself anyway.
Idiots like this wear the mask to be the bully, to be king of the elementary school again for just a moment, to inspire fear and worship. In a word, to be awesome.
Idiots like this wear the mask because they are terrorists.
Edited Above: Corrected erroneous protest location, replacing mentions of Michigan’s capital with Ohio’s.