Tuesday, the FBI revealed the identity of Sabu, founder of the notorious computer hacking organization LulzSec. It turns out Hector Xavier Monsegur was tracked down last June through a carelessly uncloaked IP address, and has been working as an FBI informant ever since. Monsegur led authorities to five of his LulzSec partners, who are now facing charges of conspiracy to commit computer hacking. Monsegur formed LulzSec as a spin-off group from the computer “hacktivist” collective Anonymous, whose supporters/members live up to the name at Occupy movement protests and other demonstrations by wearing identical white-faced, black-Van Dyked masks. While the media is devoting all its attention on uncovering the details of Monsegur’s private life, I’m more interested in the face he and his alleged co-conspirators showed to the public.
The unofficial mask of Anonymous and the Occupy movement represents Guy Fawkes, a 17th century English folk-villain who took part in a 1605 conspiracy to blow up Parliament. The anniversary of Fawkes’ failure has since then been commemorated in the U.K. with fireworks and bonfires, onto which effigies wearing Guy Fawkes masks are tossed. This particular model mask was made famous by the title character of the 1982 graphic novel masterpiece, V for Vendetta, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd. The story is about an anarchist revolutionary attempting to single-handedly overthrow a fascist dictatorship that took power in Britain after a limited nuclear war obliterated most of the other first-world nations.
As Moore put it in a February 9 post on the BBC’s Web site, he began conceiving the plot of V for Vendetta during “a summer of anti-Thatcher riots across the UK coupled with a worrying surge from the far-right National Front.” Thirty years later, the goals of the Occupy movement are to end vast economic disparity, unchecked corporate greed and rampant financial fraud. Or as the movement’s tag line implies, to end the control of 99% of the world’s people, wealth and resources by the richest 1% of the population. The inspiration for the nationwide Occupy movement was the pro-democracy demonstrations that swept North Africa and the Middle East during last year’s Arab Spring uprisings. (Comic book coverage of recent acts of citizen unrest “from the Mid-East to the Mid-West” appears in the latest issue of the political anthology magazine, World War 3 Illustrated.)
As for the use of V’s Guy Fawkes mask by Anonymous and the Occupy movement, that was apparently inspired by the final scene in the film version of the graphic novel, where (spoiler alert) throngs of defiant citizens wearing the masks fill the streets. In the same BBC post, Moore expressed displeasure—though not surprise—that the movie removed any reference to the original work’s radical politics:
If there truly was government unease about the mask and its associations back in the 1980s, these concerns had evidently evaporated by the first decade of the 21st century, when the movie industry apparently decided to re-imagine the original narrative as some sort of parable about the post-9/11 rise of American neo-conservatives, in which the words “fascism” or “anarchy” were nowhere mentioned.
Moore doesn’t mean “anarchy” as a synonym for “chaos.” He’s referring to the political philosophy of anarchism that promotes a stateless society in which all forms of coercive authority are abolished. With that meaning in mind, he also shared why he thought the Guy Fawkes mask was eventually taken up—and put on—by today’s real-life anti-capitalist and anti-globalization activists:
It also seems that our character’s charismatic grin has provided a ready-made identity for these highly motivated protesters, one embodying resonances of anarchy, romance, and theatre that are clearly well-suited to contemporary activism, from Madrid’s Indignados to the Occupy Wall Street movement.
This was the second time Moore had publicly spoken out in defense of Occupy protesters. The first time was back in December of last year when he responded to a vicious verbal attack on them by another comics legend.
Clash of the titans
Frank Miller and Alan Moore are both credited with revolutionizing superhero storytelling in 1986 with the near simultaneous releases of what most consider to be their magnum opuses, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, respectively. In Miller’s work since then on projects like Sin City and 300, many readers and critics have came to see disturbing endorsements of violent, misogynistic, and homophobic thought. His most recent graphic novel, Holy Terror, has largely been condemned as hackneyed, anti-Islamic hatemongering.
In a November 2011 statement titled “Anarchy” posted on his official Web site, Miller went on a hysterical tirade against members of the Occupy movement that laid to rest any questions about his personal political views at the same time that it raised some serious doubts about his grasp of reality.
“Occupy” is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America.
“Occupy” is nothing short of a clumsy, poorly-expressed attempt at anarchy, to the extent that the “movement” – HAH! Some “movement”, except if the word “bowel” is attached – is anything more than an ugly fashion statement by a bunch of iPhone, iPad wielding spoiled brats who should stop getting in the way of working people and find jobs for themselves.
Alan Moore was asked to comment on Miller’s rant in a December interview with Honest Publishing. Better read and far more rational, Moore clarified, as he saw it, the anarchist-like philosophy behind the Occupy movement, which Miller’s paranoia sees as potentially society-ending chaos.
As far as I can see, the Occupy movement is just ordinary people reclaiming rights which should always have been theirs. I can’t think of any reason why as a population we should be expected to stand by and see a gross reduction in the living standards of ourselves and our kids, possibly for generations, when the people who have got us into this have been rewarded for it; they’ve certainly not been punished in any way because they’re too big to fail. I think that the Occupy movement is, in one sense, the public saying that they should be the ones to decide who’s too big to fail. It’s a completely justified howl of moral outrage and it seems to be handled in a very intelligent, non-violent way, which is probably another reason why Frank Miller would be less than pleased with it. I’m sure if it had been a bunch of young, sociopathic vigilantes with Batman make-up on their faces, he’d be more in favour of it. We would definitely have to agree to differ on that one.
I’d like to think most people would side with Moore on this.