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ICONS ARE BETTER #60: GUY FAWKES

Only the British would cherish an icon enough to burn it on an annual basis. But if you love something, aren’t you meant to set it free?

Guy Fawkes, that cheeky chappy who thought he could change the Protestant governance of Britain with one explosive act, created a myth that taps into the individualist fantasy we share; the idea that one passionate person might rock the boat of history. The original rebel with a cause, a figure of piratical fun when I was a child. What an icon…

…only, that’s not the whole story, is it? Because now that we live in a world with so many real wannabe Fawkeses, that face – via Alan Moore’s brilliant V For Vendetta – has come to mean any challenge to the status quo. The face of militant Catholicism now represents pro-Choice, the 99%, climate action, vigilante paedophile hunting… And most curious of all, he does so as a mask you can buy from the gigaretailer Amazon, a badge of badgelessness, the anonymity of the internet made real, mass produced in Shenzen plastic.

(Is anyone making fairtrade V masks this Christmas? You’ll be printing money)

What would Guy think of his becoming the face of humanist causes, of those who want to fight back against Daesh by rickrolling them into submission? Maybe he’d smile: culture means that’s the only expression I can imagine him making. But one thing he would know: you can’t keep an icon under control for long.

James Mitchell – Planner