The Occupy Wall Street protests have been rolling on through most major American cities for nearly two months now, and if you've been paying any attention, odds are you've noticed more than a few of the grinning, pale masks created by Alan Moore and David Lloyd for the now-classic comic V for Vendetta.
The mask has become a symbol of popular resistance, and though Moore says he finds the phenomenon "peculiar," he also finds it more than a little amusing.
Moore himself first noticed the masks being used by demonstrators in 2008, when he witnessed a protest by the Internet collective Anonymous against the Church of Scientology's censorship of a YouTube video. Since then, we've all watched the masks pop up in more and more demonstrations around the United States and the world, and Moore says he'd always had a secret desire to see it happen.
"I suppose when I was writing V for Vendetta I would in my secret heart of hearts have thought: wouldn't it be great if these ideas actually made an impact? So when you start to see that idle fantasy intrude on the regular world ... it's peculiar. It feels like a character I created 30 years ago has somehow escaped the realm of fiction," he said.
The mask is based on the face of Guy Fawkes, one of 13 English Catholics who conspired to assassinate the Protestant King James in what has become known as the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. When the plot failed, the people of England were encouraged to celebrate the safety of their king by lighting bonfires every Nov. 5 (the anniversary of the plot's foiling). The event has since also become a time to participate in government protests, including the burning of effigies on the bonfires.
Moore and Lloyd began publishing V for Vendetta in 1982, and installments continued through 1989. It tells the story of an eloquent and mischievous outlaw known only as "V" who wears the Fawkes mask constantly as he plots against the now-totalitarian English government.
The mask was further catapulted into pop culture by the release of a film adaptation of V for Vendetta in 2005. Ironically, most of the masks being worn by protestors are movie tie-in pieces sold by Time Warner, one of the major corporations that have drawn the ire of the movement. Moore, who has struggled publicly on many occasions with Time Warner subsidiaries Warner Bros. and DC Comics, finds this rather amusing.
"I find it comical, watching Time Warner try to walk this precarious tightrope." Through contacts in the comics industry, he explains, he has heard that boosted sales of the masks have become a troubling issue for the company. "It's a bit embarrassing to be a corporation that seems to be profiting from an anti-corporate protest. It's not really anything that they want to be associated with. And yet they really don't like turning down money—it goes against all of their instincts." Moore chuckles. "I find it more funny than irksome."
That infamous smirk that adorns each V mask also holds special meaning, Moore says. In the comic, V lectures his protégé Evey on the importance of melodrama when you're fighting the powers that be. For Moore, performing is just as important as protesting.
"It turns protests into performances," he said. "The mask is very operatic; it creates a sense of romance and drama. I mean, protesting, protest marches, they can be very demanding, very grueling. They can be quite dismal. They're things that have to be done, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're tremendously enjoyable—whereas, actually, they should be."
Though Lloyd has admitted to popping in on the protestors to see what they're about, Moore doesn't have any interest in actively demonstrating, though he does sympathize with the OWS movement. As for those masks, he sees them as an embodiment of the title of V for Vendetta's final chapter: Vox populi.
"Voice of the people," he said. "And I think that if the mask stands for anything, in the current context, that is what it stands for. This is the people. That mysterious entity that is evoked so often—this is the people."
(via The Guardian)