a children's history of catholic terrorism

America Stuck With All These Guy Fawkes Masks, We Guess

These guys again ...As this photo from our #OWS correspondent KenLayIsAlive makes clear, the guys with the Guy Fawkes masks are well represented at Occupy Wall Street and many other Protest Occupations around the country. The cultural trajectory of this mask is sometimes hard to follow, but here’s our attempt to explain it, and also explain why it creeps us out.

Never Forget.Guy Fawkes was a religious extremist and fundamentalist terrorist — basically, a right-wing theocratic Catholic nut. After fighting in a variety of Catholic jihads against liberals and reformers in Europe, Fawkes adopted the racist parody name “Guido” and returned to England to do terrorism there, for the Pope. He was part of a terror cell with Robert Catesby, “who planned to assassinate the Protestant King James and replace him with his daughter, third in the line of succession, Princess Elizabeth.” In 1605, Fawkes was reportedly caught guarding a massive “fertilizer bomb” in a basement room beneath England’s Senate, the House of Lords. The terror plot was discovered and Fawkes was tortured and then he leapt off the execution scaffold and broke his neck, which was a success of sorts, as he avoided being torn into chunks by a team of horses, as was the tradition in Merry Olde England. And Elizabeth is still the Queen of England today!

Also, the English still celebrate “Guy Fawkes Night,” when they celebrate their hatred of the Pope and Catholics everywhere by burning the Catholic terrorist Guy Fawkes in effigy, and then getting blindingly drunk as the English do each and every night (and day). When the tons of vomit and blood are hosed off the streets by Double-Decker Bus the next day, all is as it once was!

Masked and anonymous.There is quite a distance between that historical conspiracy and the religious hatred/savage drunkeness it still inspires “across the pond” and the now-common sight at American anti-corporate protests of youngsters wearing stylized “Guy Fawkes masks.” And it’s a distance that can only be bridged by a fairly recent shitty comic-book-adaptation movie that was deeply loved by Ron Paul’s hobgoblin youth army of World of Warcraft nerds in 2007.

In the movie, V for Vendetta, a make-believe terrorist wears the stylized Guy Fawkes mask. (Fawkes was described as having red hair and thick red beard, like Jim Newell, so who knows where the Snidely Whiplash cartoon mask comes from.) We think maybe this is the movie where Natalie Portman gets busy with that other ballerina girl? It is hard to keep track, these days! In any case, the movie resonated with youngsters who didn’t like George W. Bush having dumb wars everywhere — dumb for everyone but the Defense Contractors and Oil Company stockholders, haw haw — and so in 2007 some of these people rallied around an elderly Texas gynecologist who loved golden doubloons more than anything.

Uhh.Photograph of people in Guy Fawkes masks in Minneapolis the day before the Republican National Convention, August 2008.

And then the amorphous online activist group Anonymous adopted the mask as its sinister anonymous face/logo, with its anti-Scientology protesters hidden behind the plastic Halloween masks. The leap from comic book to Hollywood movie to Ron Paul ReLOVEution to dastardly online mischief makers was complete. And through this strange transition, the Guy Fawkes mask has now returned to the fearsome power of the Gunpowder Plot — leaders of the World Governments and Giant Corporations now feel Maximum Terror when Anonymous shines its light on their dirty secrets. The ridiculously horrifying mask with its knowing leer is perfect for our ridiculous, paranoid, edge-of-apocalypse era.

The Cathars Were Right.By the time the Occupy Everything movement took hold, there was little doubt that the Guy Fawkes masks would be as common as rhythmically challenged people insisting upon the playing of drums. (Why do drum circle people insist on so many drummers? Because if one drummer keeps time and the Grateful Dead needed two drummers to not keep time, then it takes at least seven drummers to fuck up everything.)

A recent New York Times style piece about the Guy Fawkes masks noted that many #OWS protesters wear them backwards, so that their faces are unhidden and there’s an unsettling appearance of people with cartoon heads on the back of their skulls, like Voldemort.

We hope you enjoyed this Brief History of the Guy Fawkes Mask Over 500+ Years. And now we will implore you not to click this link: SexyFawkes.Tumblr.com. Don’t do it. It’s not “work safe” by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s not “safe” for your brain or your libido, either. What do we mean? There’s no way to explain. But if you do click that link and find yourself, in months ahead, unable to reach sexual satisfaction without your “partner” (whether virtual or maybe even human) wearing the monstrous mask of a cartoon Catholic Terrorist, then don’t come crying to us. (The Internet will be shut down by then, anyway.)

Thanks, Twitter, for sharing this with the world.

ALSO: The American version of Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, will be celebrated by closing your Wall Street Bank account and putting the money in a credit union, or a mason jar. Do it Now! (On November 5.)

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About the author

A writer and editor of this website from 2006 to early 2012, Ken Layne is occassionally seen on Twitter and writes small books and is already haunting you from beyond (your) grave.

View all articles by Ken Layne

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230 comments

  1. smitallica

    You guys have this all wrong. These folks are just happy because the Special Edition of "V for Vendetta" is finally out on Blu-Ray.

    1. Guppy

      A movie popular among anti-establishment types released in a format that phones home over the internet.

      /facepalm

    1. Lascauxcaveman

      Eh. Kinda creepy/sexy. Too many tats and uncomfortably-placed piercings for this old fuddy-duddy.

      Also, I'm not into the Guy Fawkeses; just the Gal Fawkeses.

      1. Guppy

        Remember: it's not the body modifications, it's the daddy issues that lead to the modifications to begin with.

  2. Beowoof

    So many learned their history from the movies. They think they are V for Vendetta fighting the right wing overlord.

  3. McRibzgood

    I never saw the movie. But if your going to wear a mask and not know anything about it, or it's history,here's Baconz (AKA Temp McRibz) suggestion: J. R. "Bob" Dobbs!!!! At least you wont look too much of a tool.

  4. Generation[redacted]

    Rumor has it that Anonymous is going after the Mexican drug cartels, so don't wear one of those masks anywhere in Mexico for any reason ever.

      1. Negropolis

        You know, they may not make the impact that they want to, but unless the cartels are as steeped in the internet as Anonymous (and they aren't; not even close), I don't see what they have to worry about.

  5. GorzoTheMighty

    The mask looks suspiciously French to me. Maybe it is concealing Madame Defarge? Can the guillotine be far behind?

  6. e_z

    Guy Fawkes, the original religous terrorist. They gave him the rack, he confessed, fingered his buddies and got hung, drawn and quartered for his troubles.

    However the good news is fabulous Fireworks and Bonfires on November 5 every year.

    Penny for the man?

    1. MaxNeanderthal

      Er, apparently, he didn't confess (which is questionable, probably the only person who was racked who didn't), but it didn't matter anyway, as the plotters had already been well grassed up by informants/agent provocateurs…

  7. smitallica

    I mean, in all fairness, why should the Tea Party be the only ones allowed to co-opt historical symbols about whose meaning they know positively fuck-all?

    1. Chichikovovich

      I couldn't agree more. Let's all dress in stockings and puffy, garish clothes to honor insurgent freedom fighter Louis XIV.

    1. kissawookiee

      Rick Perry remembers the Alamo about that well, if his New Hampshire performance is any indication.

  8. weejee

    Ken, Guy Fawkes day in Saturday you silly. My guess is the Fawkes masks are made in V for Vendetta China, so they will not add much to the making of the jerbs, but a thumbs up for the making of the mirth.

  9. donner_froh

    Everyone back then was a a right-wing theocratic nut who spent most of their time torturing and killing each other for Jesus–the Catholics just did more of it and organized it better but people in one Protestant group would gladly chop off the head of someone from a competing Protestant group.

    Organized Jesus religions suck.

    1. SorosBot

      Now, not all the Christians then were genocidally violent and torture-happy; for one, the Quakers were peaceful, along with… um… …OK just the Quakers.

      1. Mumbly_Occupado

        That's not strictly true either; the Great Separation of the mid-1800s was so severe that a member of one Meeting sprained an ankle in the fracas.

        In Quaker circles, that was actually a huge deal.

      2. Terry

        Quakers were on the other side of the Atlantic and more than a few years after the era of Guy Fawkes et al. Generally nice folks, the Quakers, but they did produce Nixon.

          1. prommie

            California Quakers, of which Nixon was, are a different variety from the eastern pacifist quakers.

    2. Oblios_Cap

      I am unaware of any organized religion (except maybe Buddhism) that doesn't suck.

      I mean, those Baal-ists totally rocked!

      1. pdiddycornchips

        My cousin made up his own religion based on the TV show "What's Happening?".
        He was eventually incarcerated for various criminal activities but I think he still practices his faith.

        1. MissTaken

          I was eavesdropping on two ladies while getting a mani-pedi at the salon last week. One mentioned her friend was starting a religion based on the songs of the Black Eyed Peas. The other lady didn't even flinch.

          The fucking Black Eyed Peas??

          1. MzNicky

            The Church of Elvis is still alive and well in Memphis, TN, last I heard. Now that's one awesome Christian denomination right there.

    3. emmelemm

      In fact, I was under the impression that a group of Protestants got in a big ship and sailed away for new lands, because they didn't want their heads lopped off or something.

      I am not a history expert, though.

      1. prommie

        Most of the time when "puritans" are complaining about being persecuted, its not because someone is trying to lop their heads off, its because someone won't let them lop other people's heads off.

        1. Terry

          They were also "persecuted" when other people refused to convert to the Puritans' brand of Christianity.

        2. SorosBot

          Hey, you know how badly the Puritans were oppressed by the English? They forced them to live among people who wantonly danced and attended the theater, and stopped them from burning suspected witches to death.

          1. Mumbly_Occupado

            Now, now. A lot of the stuff about burning witches was, at least as far as Europe goes, a bit of a myth. The prescribed punishment for witchcraft was hanging.

            It's also worth noting that the supposed 'tells' of a witch happened to include things like, say, chanting in some arcane language (Latin) under one's breath. Not that I'm saying the witch scare stuff was necessarily deliberately intended to catch a bunch of underground Catholics along with it, but…

        3. tessiee

          "its not because someone is trying to lop their heads off, its because someone won't let them lop other people's heads off. "

          And lo and behold, we're hearing the same kind of whining from the folks who are running the show today. Circle of life, etc. etc.

      2. vulpes82

        No, they just wanted freedom from oppression. Specifically, the freedom to oppress others who disagreed with them even slightly. And thus was born AMERICA!

          1. Oblios_Cap

            And, lo!, that's why Fundementalist white christians are still the most oppressed group in America, even unto this day.

          2. vulpes82

            You should read Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates. It's short, pithy, and funny. Or, for something a bit more weighty, try Nathan Philbrick's Mayflower.

        1. SorosBot

          The Puritans were all about freedom; after all, they managed to free Charles I's head from the rest of his body.

          1. vulpes82

            And free us from the fun, frivolity, and presents of Christmas! And free us from the tyranny of plays and musical performances! (Seriously, they were total killjoys. Many think they lost power so quickly because people wanted to have some damn fun.)

          2. Mumbly_Occupado

            That is almost, but not quite, as good as the story of the Shakers, who exploded during one of the 19th-century Evangelical revivals, but then vanished just as quickly. The problem? Shakers believed that all sexual relations -including marital relations- was a sin. And thus, there was nobody around to make new Shakers. Plus, that thing about it not being all that fun.

          3. vulpes82

            They made some damn fine furniture, though! I guess if the only way you could play with some wood was to make a table, then, damnit, you make some fine-ass tables. And at least they got to dance!

          4. Chichikovovich

            Though in their defence, it must be said that Charles I had a head that absolutely cried out to be severed.

  10. Mumbletypeg

    Natalie Portman… she's the one who showed up preggers at that ceremony, then some time later pooped out a baby bunch of movies one after the other rather un-ceremoniously, yes?.. You're right Ken, it is hard to keep 'em all straight…

    1. Ansnarkist

      I love how Black Swan got a metric tonne (British spelling in honour of Guy Fawkes) of great reception and now everyone has turned their backs on it. What a waste of money that movie was.

      1. Mumbletypeg

        I enjoyed it more than most. For several reasons, including I ignored the hype when it started buzzing, so I could see it w/o pre-drawn conclusions. Overall it was effective as a psych thrill, yet if you sense when a film director (or lead actor, or editor) is "trying *too* hard," for me that's a fine line, but when it's crossed, it becomes less about the end and more about the means — if that makes sense, & this film came close to that effect on me. Ditto with Wrestler.

      1. SorosBot

        The whole Old Testament makes a lot more sense if you view Yahweh as the great deceiving Demiurge instead of the loving god mainstream Christianity claim he was.

    1. SenileAgitation

      and perhaps like me, stay for the Star Doll digital paper dolls ad fapping? Uh, right. Of course not. Sorry to suggest a well-adjusted person would do that.

    1. MaxNeanderthal

      ….is there any other sort? (of catholic, not fundie, I know there's shitloads of them….)

  11. Mumbly_Occupado

    As jarringly at-odds as it is with historic Guy Fawkes, Anonymous's adoption of the masks for their protests against Scientology actually did make a fucking lot of sense, being as the CoS has a rather nasty habit of targetting known critics for lawsuits, harrassment, even some out-and-out stalking on numerous occasions.

    And true to form, the few Anons that have been "outed" have been sued in pretty short order. The sense I get is that they were mainly looking for a visually evocative way to obscure their identities for that reason, and as historically weird a choice as the V-for-Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask is, given all that, it is effective enough to that end.

  12. McRibzgood

    I don't need people to tell me what's NSFW or not…(click)…Oh. Next time I'll use Department Director Dale's terminal

  13. Sue4466

    Maybe using a symbol that takes nine paragraphs to explain is not good branding? especially when it still makes no fucking sense.

  14. fuflans

    and then getting blindingly drunk as the English do each and every night (and day).

    england: still better than us in the important categories.

  15. SorosBot

    The Paultards adopting the Guy Fawkes mask is rather ironic, considering that in the book (which is really good, unlike the movie) V is fighting a fascist capitalist government explicitly based on those of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, of the type that Paul and his followers would like to create, and Alan Moore is a far-left anarchist hippie.

    1. Mumbletypeg

      Fisting this because someone besides me was disappointed in the movie, which is new; and because I am having trouble deciphering the multiple layered fever-dream quality in Ken's post, which is not new

      1. SorosBot

        It's sad that the mediocre Watchmen is actually the best adaptation of one of Alan Moore's works on the big screen; everything else has been aggressively awful. At least this was better than League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The only actually good version of his work was the For the Man Who Has Everything episode of Justice League Unlimited, based on one of his Superman issues.

    2. Chet Kincaid

      But it's not ironic, given that the Real Guy is not too far off Ron Paul's philosophy, since Paul is a theocratic, woman-hating faux Libertarian whose only countercultural cred is being a Republican who hates oil wars.

    3. Pat_Pending

      Do I get downfisted for admitting that I kinda liked the movie, even if the graphic novel is better?

        1. SorosBot

          Actually, as with Watchmen, this is one of those cases where people who haven't read the book tend to like it more (pun unintended) than those who have.

          1. BaldarTFlagass

            Ooops, I wasn't clear, it was Watchmen I was referring to, but I guess that's an answer. Never read Vendetta, and I liked the movie okay.

  16. Goonemeritus

    I don’t like thinking America is succumbing to creeping English cultural imperialism. If we start adopting Guy Fawkes traditions the next thing you know we will be sitting down to jugged hare with spotted dick for afters. Well those fog breathers aren’t pulling the wool over this American’s eyes.

      1. Goonemeritus

        I’m a crusty old competitive cyclist, when I was young if you were going to have cycling hero’s they were all from across the pond.

          1. Goonemeritus

            Some would say Beryl Burton but my heart belongs to Lyli Herse and my libido belongs to Carol Addy.

    1. Not_So_Much

      Well, I'm an idiot and I clicked the clicky. Apparently, many of those folks believe it's actually 'guy cocks'.

  17. CZL

    I think we should adopt the Robin Hood cap as our symbol, the way the Teabaggers use the tricorn. In hoc signo vinces!

    1. Limeylizzie

      And he had special little boys found for him, throughout the land, and he would place them on these dowels , in the anus, so that they were good and ready for him when he decided to do the buggery. We're not all tea and crumpets , you know.

      1. vulpes82

        You're a right kinky bunch you are. Centuries of emotional suppression and boarding schools filled with corporal punishment have made you go a bit… funny.

  18. prommie

    The mask is creepy because the leer represents apocalyptic glee, happiness, glee, at the coming of the end times, a "burn baby burn" leer. That glee, typical of the narcissist libertarian Paultards who all imagine themselves as the type who would be freed by the collapse of society, freed to succeed as natural, free-range Galts, so they are happy and excited by the prospect of the coming zombie apocolypse. Of course, they will be among the first eaten.

  19. MaxNeanderthal

    Oddly, I gave a snowbound driver a lift back to the village of Catesby's birth last winter. When she got out she was carrying a sputtering barrel…..

  20. Polythene_Pam

    Neither credit union nor mason jar… But, I'm halfway thru moving my % (avg balance $36) from Chase to locally owned bank w/only 3 branches world-wide. Does that count?

  21. Lionel[redacted]Esq

    Listen, all I want to know is do I have an excuse to get drunk and set off fireworks in November?

      1. Lionel[redacted]Esq

        Do I? No. But I like to have some story to give the neighbors when I start to bring the thunder!

    1. BaldarTFlagass

      I bet the Fireworks vendors in Texas would love that, seein' as to how they are currently only allowed to be open for the two weeks before July 4th and the two weeks before New Years.

      1. Lionel[redacted]Esq

        We really do need two more explosive based holidays; one in the spring and one in the fall. Anyway we can convince people that blowing up eggs and chocolate rabbits is the proper way to celebrate Jesus?

        1. BaldarTFlagass

          Well, here in San Antonio, we have a spring ritual called Fiesta, one of whose traditions is cascarones, festively-decorated confetti-filled eggshells which are broken over the heads of you and your drunken companions by you and your drunken companions. No explosions, but they do make a big fucking mess.

  22. prommie

    Wasn't the Shakespeare character who said "first thing we kill all the lawyers" based on Fawkes? Because if thats true, then, well, there is that, at least, what ho, 23 skiddoo, wazzup, fa-shizzle, you know?

  23. BaldarTFlagass

    That likeness on the T-shirt, which is supposed to be Ron Paul I guess, looks an awful lot like a certain Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the United Federation of Planets.

    1. vulpes82

      Picard-tards would be much sexier and more rational than Paultards could ever be. They'd just be cold quoting Shakespeare and drawing lines HEH all over the place.

  24. Come here a minute

    This Fawkes guy sounds like he could be next up on the Republican Presidential Primary reality show.

  25. LiveToServeYa

    Today, we are all Fawked. I suppose we'll have to find someone else than The Guy to burn in effigy.

  26. coolhandnuke

    We're oft to blame, and this is too much proved, that with devotion's visage and pious action we do sugar on the devil himself.

  27. BaldarTFlagass

    V for Vendetta? Pfft. And how the fuck did he Fedex all those masks without getting busted? Hell, you can't Fedex a quarter ounce of good weed without the DEA getting all in your shit. I liked Hugo Weaving better as Agent Smith. And the Red Skull.

    1. prommie

      You can't? So its not a good idea, even if I pay with bitcoin? I mean, even if a hypothetical person were to pay with bitcoin?

    1. prommie

      If you would rather go to Lewes, Delaware, a bit closer, this weekend happens to be the annual Punkin Chunkin contest, a pumpkin-throwing competition, which involves hundreds of teams which build catapults, trebuchets, onagers, giant slings, and various compressed gas cannons, to see who can throw a pumpkin the furthest. I am hoping to be there, and the Dogfish Head brewery is not far away, too, also.

      1. Limeylizzie

        That sounds really fun and orange. Alas, Prommie, I do not drink , I cannot stand the taste of alcohol.

      2. BaldarTFlagass

        Now that sounds like a fun-filled weekend. Any women with loose morals going to be in attendance, or will it be just a bunch of medieval-weapon/spud-gun geeks?

        1. prommie

          Ladies of easy virtue? I would hope so, but a fat lot of good it would do me anyway, I will be accompanied by the 11-year old Prommie Jr.

  28. BaldarTFlagass

    I wonder if the critics of the OWS movement would be more comfortable with the whole thing if the occupiers wore Ronald Reagan masks instead. Bodhi FTW!

  29. Not_So_Much

    No, I think the Natalie Portman movie is the one where she pretends she is Sinead O'Connor so she can seduce British Hitler (who it turns out becomes Darth Vader).

    1. BaldarTFlagass

      I thought she got Jean Reno to teach her to be an assassin so she could assassinate Hitler?

        1. prommie

          I thought she was in love with Timothy Hutton, but she was underage and so she was going to wait till she was old enough?

          1. Not_So_Much

            Yes, but instead she became a lesbian on the side with Meg Griffin from Family Guy. She's multi-talented.

  30. Poindexter718

    The Jon Waters moustache on the mask is apocryphal and came about as the result of an ahistorical conflation of Guy Fawkes with a radical & politically active modern Papist known as Dirty, Dirty Santorum.

  31. coolhandnuke

    Mario is drinking a Rolling Rock.
    Guy Fawkes died at 33.
    The "33" on the Rolling Rock label.
    Coincidence?

  32. Terry

    "Guy Fawkes was a religious extremist and fundamentalist terrorist — basically, a right-wing theocratic Catholic nut. "

    Catholics actually WERE taking a literal and figurative beating in England during that period, unlike the fundies in the US today. Trying to blow up Parliment wasn't the best of ideas, but the people behind the Gunpowder Plot did have some justification behind their views and feelings.

    1. vulpes82

      And the Protestants had some justification for fearing a Catholic takeover, considering Bloody Mary and the constant Catholic plots for insurrection and coup. It was the Cirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrcle of Hate, and it moves us alllllllllllllllllllllllllll…….

      1. Terry

        True. If only Catherine of Aragon had given birth to a son and not forced Henry to start boning Anne Boleyn.

  33. Allmighty_Manos

    I think Fawkes' popularity has more to do with his resemblance to the Zig Zag man (or one of the Dutch Masters) than anything to do with English history.

    1. Ken Layne

      We live in a Time of Emotional Terrorism. Childhood is now (again) just preparation for Horrible Death …

      I have no idea, but it's horrible and it makes little kids cry. Is Edvard Munch getting royalties for these things, in Hell?

  34. finallyhappy

    I never really got why in V for Vendetta the main character made Natalie one of those summer camp cook out eggs-tear the middle out a piece of white bread, put it in a pan with melted butter and put an egg in the hole in the bread. Did it have some deeper meaning?

    1. BaldarTFlagass

      The National Egg Council of Britain threw in a couple hundred pounds for a little product placement.

    2. Angry_Marmot

      Toad in the Hole was childhood comfort food, nothing more, except as contrast with Evie's exploitation by the rest of society. (In the novel, she was out working the street when V rescued her; another of those alterations made by Hollywood.)

  35. JackDempsey1

    I predict that these mask-wearing boobs will be punshed by a vindictive Catholic God in the movie sequel "U is for Uppity-ness."

  36. Pat_Pending

    And the 'Guy Fawkers'? I clicked. Meh. I'll survive with my libido intact. If I can remember where I put it…

  37. Nesnora

    You got it wrong- I was too busy getting my paladin melee hit-rating up over 8% to waste precious time bothering with silly movies in 2007.

    Ron Paul? I didn't read about him in "The Old Gods and the Ordering of Azeroth"…

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