Monday Muse: A Trip Down Soapbox Lane

Hello. Welcome to today’s Monday Muse.

*gets on soapbox*

Yes. Today is one of C’s bonafide rambles. I haven’t done one in a while, but I’m putting on my angry historian hat and letting my fingers fly.

I’m sure all of you have heard of V for Vendetta. I mean, seriously… we’ve all heard of it. Or watched it. Or, better, read it. And we’ve all seen the effect of its symbolism upon the world.

(Note: Before I continue, if anyone from Anonymous reads this, please do not destroy my life. I’m a nice person; I just think there’s a better person’s face you should be wearing on your face… if that makes sense. A forgotten person. You guys are great.)

OK, so the story is about oppressive governments and whatnot. I dunno… I’ve never actually gotten all the way through it. I could never get past the fact that Guy Fawkes was the person Alan Moore chose as his symbol of fighting government oppression. It baffled me and took me out of the story too much to enjoy it. Because, get this:

Guy Fawkes is not a symbol of rebellion. He’s a symbol of stupidity. And the government he wanted to overthrow wasn’t really all the oppressive, especially when you understand WHY he wanted to bring it down.

Before I explain, let me tell you something about myself: when I think someone has done something stupid, I want to know WHY they did it. What drove them. And so I had to know why it was that Moore and his artist chose, of all things, Guy Fawkes masks. I mean, I understood that the visual was something instantly recognizable to British audiences, and the visual of comics is just as important as the story they tell. Which would have been a decent explanation even if I couldn’t really throw myself behind the idea that these characters chose Fawkes as their symbol. Maybe it was the idea of being willing to use terror as a weapon against tyranny? I didn’t know. But Guy Fawkes… it just seemed stupid.

Why? Because he failed. He failed so hard. And, funnily enough, he wasn’t even really the leader of the event that made him so famous: The Gunpowder Plot. He was just the guy hired because he had munitions experience.

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was an attempt by a group of Catholic dissidents to blow up King James I and Parliament in order to put a more conservative, pro-Catholic (or just Catholic) government in its place. Led by Robert Catesby, the ultimate goal of the plot was to start a series of rebellions in the Midlands that would eventually end with the King’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, on the throne. (Let’s take a moment to appreciate the irony of English Catholics wanting to put a princess named Elizabeth on the throne. Oh… omnomnom. Delicious irony.) Catesby et al did have legitimate concerns about the treatment of Catholics in England, but simply being allowed to live and worship in a Protestant nation wasn’t enough for them: they wanted England to be Catholic again. Even as the King reaffirmed his desire to avoid religious persecution in England, they began their plot. They chose the State Opening of Parliament because, not only would the King and Parliament be there, but members of the Privy Council and even of James’ family. It would cripple the government and allow the conspirators to reform it in their own image.

It failed. Badly. An anonymous letter sent to the Lord Monteagle (possibly/probably by his brother-in-law, who was one of the conspirators) gave up the ghost and brought the whole thing crumbling down. As the man left behind the light the fuses, Guy Fawkes was the one arrested in the early hours of November 5th, but the rest of the cabal were tracked to Warwick Castle and either killed or arrested. Within a few days, Fawkes had confessed; within a month, the Catholic clergy were tied to the Plot. And rather than have a Catholic England, the Plot ended up leading to even stronger anti-Catholic sentiment in the nation.

A lesson unto you all: if you want to start a revolution, DO NOT ASSASSINATE YOUR OPPOSITION’S LEADER. All you’ll end up doing, whether you succeed or fail in killing your target, is strengthening that opposition at its lower levels. You need to change hearts and minds first, THEN work your way up to the stop.

Now. WHY, oh WHY would anyone choose Guy Fawkes as their symbol, knowing all of that?

The worst part was I found out that Moore and his artist somehow came to the conclusion that Guy Fawkes was the product of, like, government suppression of the truth. That he was actually a hero, but history had been re-written in order to paint him as a comical figure. *insert angry face* No. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but, in this case, it didn’t happen. The Gunpowder Plot was not a heroic uprising against a tyrannical government; it was just another battle in the long war of Which Jesus Do You Worship.

BUT! Let it not be said that I am a decry-er of storytelling choices without suggesting another option!

Wat Tyler.

Yeah, that’s right. You want a rebellion against an unjust government cut down and maligned by said unjust government? Then you want Wat Tyler. The Peasants’ Revolt began as a response to serfdom, taxation, and, you know, being treated as Peasants in the 1400s. It began in Kent and, initially, it was successful; they won concessions from Richard II’s government, including the abolition of Serfdom. And then, when the two sides met at Smithfield, Richard’s representatives killed Wat and forcibly suppressed the rebellion all over England, rescinding all of their promises and killing thousands.

Where the hell is his mask? This was the perfect choice for Moore and they went with GUY FAWKES?! WTF? Seriously. Does NO ONE RESEARCH BEFORE THEY WRITE?!

ARRRRGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!

OK. That’s enough for me today. I think I’ve verged into essay territory now. I apologize for that. I’ll be back on Friday for a shorter (I promise!) Boozy Books.

C

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2 thoughts on “Monday Muse: A Trip Down Soapbox Lane

  1. I suppose I could Google this question, but I have a feeling it would be more fun asking you: what is the origin of the GF mask? Was that something contemporary to his time, or cooked up by 20th century graphic designers? Whatever the source, there’s your answer to why a bit-part pawn rather than someone who actually deserves emulation: it’s all about the branding.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Guy Fawkes masks and effigies play a big part of Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Day, which is the 5th of November. It’s celebrated in England as a way to 1) commemorate that the Gunpowder Plot lost and 2) laugh at how stupid they were. The mask is pretty instantly recognizable for that reason. But it’s really a sign of ridicule. The fact anyone can recognize it definitely plays a part in why it was chosen; as I said, comics are as much a visual medium as a written one. But the idea that Fawkes was unfairly maligned by history is what bothers me when Moore had a chance to use someone–Wat Tyler–who really fit his message.

      Like

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