Thursday, March 29, 2012

Anonymous, Guy Fawkes, V

I remember when V for Vendetta first came out. My friends were all very excited about it, but for whatever reason I never saw it.

Then the "Occupy" movement and the "Anonymous" group came on my radar, with their signature Guy Fawkes masks. I decided to watch V for Vendetta since it was obviously and dramatically informing our political dialogue.

It's a fun movie, but it is a dumb movie. In the very beginning, it establishes Guy Fawkes as a hero and a martyr. Let's think for a moment about the historical context of Guy Fawkes.

England had been caught up in the Hundred Years' War, and towards the end, also trying to settle their own bloddy civil war, the War of the Roses. Henry VII unified the warring houses and finally put an end to the nation's internal conflict.

Then his son, Henry VIII comes along. A powerful king, but with his rejection of Roman Catholocism and the creation the Anglican Church, he set in motion decades of religious upheaval and persecution. His daughter, Mary I, became monarch and earned her title, "Bloddy Mary," by her vigorous pursuit and murder of Protestants. She had almost 300 Protestants burned at the stake in only five years. That kind of execution rate must make even Texas blanch.

Elizabeth I
Mary died and was succeeded by her sister, Elizabeth I, "The Virgin Queen," "Good Queen Bess." Elizabeth was a successful monarch. She got a lot done, but she was still pretty big on religious persecution, just in the opposite direction. She was unforgiving of her Catholic rivals, executing her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, and over 700 rebels in one go.

Clearly, these were rough times for England. On top of all of this, the plague was ravishing London, and the enormously powerful Spanish empire had its sights set on Britain.

After Elizabeth's death in 1603, James I took the throne. Like Elizabeth, he was Protestant, but he was not nearly as interested in religious genocide as were the two previous monarchs.

James I was the patron of Shakespeare, funding both his writing and his troupe of players. This was the era of Marlowe, Donne, and Dowland.  Milton was born in this period. Soon, the King James Version of the Bible would be penned and published, which would have an incalculable influence on literature and poetry for the next four centuries. The English Renaissance was reaching its zenith.

Britain, with its constitutional and parliamentary monarchy, was the only thing like democracy in the civilized world.

Now enter Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot. Contrary to what V for Vendetta would have us believe, Fawkes wasn't an anarchist. He wasn't a populist. He wasn't forward-thinking or even particularly radical (besides the whole "wanting to kill everyone in the government" thing). He was a papist in the true sense who wanted a Catholic king, subject to the Pope rather than to Parliament.

Let's consider the implications for Britain if the Gunpowder Plot had succeeded. Shakespeare would have been out of a patron. In fact, he probably would never have been seriously published. The folio (his complete works) was published after his death. And if Fawkes & Friends had done as they had planned and murdered all of Parliament and the King, the whole nation would have been thrown to bloody chaos. In all probability, England would have become a province of Spain, and they would be in no position, economically, to care about the theatre or publish a bunch of plays by a recently dead guy. (I hope you, who have seen V for Vendetta, will see the irony of all those Shakespeare quotations. We wouldn't know anything about Macbeth or Henry VI Part 1, let alone Part 3.)

The same goes for Marlowe, Donne, Dowland, and Milton.

There certainly would have been no King James Version of the Bible. And before the scoffing atheists roll their eyes, I ask you to soberly consider the influence that book has had on publishing, language, literacy, and literature.

And perhaps most importantly, the only democracy in Europe would have been destroyed. No more Magna Carta. No elected representation. No possibility of a British colony in the Americas. No Declaration of Independence. No American Constitution.

Guy Fawkes mask from "V for Vendetta"
But Guy Fawkes is the hero of V for Vendetta and the "Anonymous" movement.

Let's take a moment to consider "V" himself. He promotes a prepubescent worldview of binaries: People are guilty or innocent. Either the government fears their people or the people fear their government.

I don't believe either the people or the government should fear the other, especially in a country like the US where "government" and "people" are anything but mutually exclusive. Congress should not be worried that any old maniac could murder them all if he's displeased with their performance.

And I'm sorry, but "V" is wholly unjustified in his torture of the Natalie Portman character.

He's not a hero, he's a vigilante. And as George Zimmerman has taught us, we don't need any more of them.

Watching this movie has removed whatever credibility "Anonymous" and "Occupy" had with me. This is not the kind of informed discourse on which you should be basing your political and moral philosophy. This is a 14-year-old's empowerment fantasy. The petty bullying of "Anonymous" and the ineffectual groans of the "Occupy" movement are echoed in the kind of inane, misguided violence of the film.

It's a fun movie, but it's a stupid movie.

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