Throughout the United Kingdom people are celebrating Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night, tonight. Normally hordes of Londoners take to the streets to celebrate, although officials hope that a ban due to the coronavirus will limit such public gatherings. Instead, people in the UK are encouraged to celebrate at home. But even in the US, given the state of the 2020 presidential election, you have probably seen Guy Fawkes appear on your Twitter feed today.
Maybe you’ll just see more appearances of people wearing that creepy mask:
But what does it all mean?
The story of Guy Fawkes Night and the mask goes back to 1605 and the Gunpowder Plot, a failed plan to blow up the English parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder. Although a fellow with stylized facial hair named Guy Fawkes not only conceived the failed assassination attempt on government officials (and King James I), he became a symbol of the movement. It is said that he was to light the fuse to ignite the gunpowder. But perhaps his connection to this event is due to the fact that he committed suicide by falling from the scaffold where he was to be hanged for his involvement in the plot, breaking his neck and thus technically escaping execution.
Since then, people in Britain have lit bonfires on the occasion of Guy Fawkes Night, but in recent decades it has become common practice to burn the portraits of the most despised public figures of the time. (Often the Pope is an effigy.) Even during the celebrations, large quantities of fireworks are burnt from evening to the next morning. Cities have official fireworks in typical, non-pandemic years, but expect many people to light them on their own property tonight.
Over the years, however, the Guy Fawkes mask has become more important. Fawkes may have been considered a traitor in his lifetime, but now he stands for measures against government corruption or corporate greed. The use of the mask as a symbol stems largely from the Graphic Novel Series V for Vendetta (begun in 1982) and the 2006 film of the same name inspired by it, starring Natalie Portman, written by the Wachowskis (The Matrix).
In the series and the film, a vigilante wearing a Fawkes mask fights against a right-wing neo-fascist regime in a dystopian future. Shortly after the film was released, the collective of cyber-activists called Anonymous co-opted the mask as their symbol. The group, often referred to by its targets as cyber-terrorists, is known for online attacks against several governments, institutions, corporations and the Church of Scientology. The Guy Fawkes mask has also become popular among protesters associated with the occupation movement.
On Guy Fawkes Night, the Million Mask March, also known as “Operation Vendetta,” is held worldwide as an annual protest in connection with Anonymous. Police in London this evening broke up the meetings of the “Million Masked March” and arrested several demonstrators.
MILLION MASK MARCH IN LONDON: On Guy Fawkes Day, November 5th, Londoners take to the streets for the annual “Million Mask March”, linked to the hacker group Anonymous. https://t.co/qGMr6p9Wzb
– NowThis (@nowthisnews) November 5, 2020
Everywhere on Twitter the Guy Fawkes Night was met with contempt for politicians.
And so it is again November 5th, the night of the bonfires. I think we could use a successful Guy Fawkes every year to weed out the shit-house lying politicians. This line stands out especially in V for Vendetta, today more than ever. pic.twitter.com/JPG6vEkd4C
– Ben Alexander (@Ben_Alex_86) November 5, 2020
It is unclear what – if anything – William Shatner is attached to on this occasion.
All the best for GuyFawkes Day! I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgotten! ð pic.twitter.com/MWepc0cqvww
– William Shatner (@WilliamShatner) November 5, 2020
In reference to Shatner’s strange posting about the night, here is a tweet from another shadowy figure famous for wearing a mask and showing her love for Fawkes:
Since many people can’t see fireworks on this Guy Fawkes Night, we thought we’d bring a phantom fireworks display right into your home! #BonfireNight2020 pic.twitter.com/1u4eovxTeT
– The Phantom of the Opera (@PhantomOpera) November 5, 2020
In recent years, portraits of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jung-U