Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Guy Fawkes is no hero, Anonymous BART protestors

Guy Fawkes is not the hero "Anonymous" makes him out to be.

On Jan. 1, 2009, a police officer employed by the BART transit agency shot and killed a subdued man named Oscar Grant, who was suspected of fighting on a train. The officer who fired the shot said he thought he was holding his TASER at the time, and was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter. The shooting and the verdict brought massive protests in parts of the Bay Area. In July 2011, another BART officer shot and killed a man named Charles Hill at Civic Center station. Hill was reported to police after reportedly seeming belligerent and intoxicated.

A large protest against Hill's death and alleged heavy-handed techniques of BART officers briefly closed the Civic Center Station later that month. When another demonstration about the shootings was scheduled for August 2011, BART officials, mindful of how social media is used to coordinate protests in this day and age, ordered cellular phone repeaters in the underground stations be shut down in an attempt to corral protests.

The effort backfired spectacularly, as people from First Amendment supporters to tech columnists lambasted the move and multiple protests against the cell service shutdown have shut down stations and frustrated commuters. Key organization for the protests has been supplied by the loose association of individuals known as "Anonymous," which initially gained widespread notoriety by supporting the information-sharing website Wikileaks.

It's here where it gets interesting. "Anonymous" supporters, in protests from London to San Francisco, have taken to wearing Guy Fawkes masks like those sported by the anti-hero "V" in Alan Moore's classic early 1980s comic "V for Vendetta." These protesters, as seen at the top of the page, apparently seek to emulate the anarchist hero (seen below) of the comic-books (later collected in graphic novel form). At the end of the movie adaptation of the books, scores of protesters in Guy Fawkes masks are symbolically seen helping to bring down a fascist British government.

The problem is that Guy Fawkes was no hero. He planned to blow up Parliament, killing the King, Lords, and MPs inside, in order to found a repressive Catholic theocracy. While V had a specific reason to wear a Guy Fawkes mask because he also intended to blow up Parliament (which is done on page 7 of the comics and at the climax of the movie), I'm not seeing why Anonymous has adopted the symbol. Yes, the comic V was an anarchist, as no doubt are some Anonymous supporters, but Fawkes himself was very much the man these people would be fighting against -- a mercenary for hire who fought for a number of countries that supported his religious philosophy. Indeed, basically a Christian jihadist. Fawkes thus has no place being the figurehead of a non-violent protest movement.

But, BART is also not blameless here. When officials such as spokesman Linton Johnson claim "there's no right to free speech" on train platforms, they may be legally correct but morally wrong. Preventing communications in order to disrupt a protest does, in fact, remind me of the repressive government in "V for Vendetta," who are always letting the public know they are in charge (see right).

Of course, this thing makes me wonder: how many Anonymous folks read Moore's other seminal work, Watchmen, where good intentions went very awry (in form of exploding squid)?

No comments: