Love it or hate it, the Anonymous mask has morphed under many guises. Starting life as the face of an audacious revolutionary, it has become a political disguise turned corporate nightmare. But it's future as a potent image remains in the balance.
"This is a quality mask .... I felt anonymous Immediately, that enigmatic smile is so sexy ... I quite fancy myself when I wear it .... I look just like the other guys ...." Rocky Wolfbanger III
In 1605, Catholic renegade Guy Fawkes attempts to blow up The House of Lords in an effort to kill the Protestant King James I. Part of a larger group of mutineers, the responsibility fell on Fawkes to light the fuse, blowing the king sky-high. He is caught and hung, drawn and quartered as an insurgent and terrorist.
Towards the final years of the 18th Century, reports began to emerge of vagabond children dressing up in grotesque Guy Fawkes masks made of paper and begging for money. By the 1980’s however, the masks that often came free with comic books began to be replaced by Halloween costume.
Revived in the V for Vendetta comic books written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd in 1982, the notorious mask that we know now, then became an internet meme. It was first seen on 4chan (an image bulletin board) in 2006 and initially was a stick character called “Epic Fail Guy” who would strut around, failing at everything he did.
In the same year, two rival groups confronted each other outside the DC Comics office. One protested against V for Vendetta, the other acted as a counter-protest donning Guy Fawkes masks handed out to them by Times Warner, the owners of DC Comics. This mask was reborn as a symbol of protest.
The mask was first used by Anonymous in 2008 at the Project Chanology protest - a march on the Church of Scientology. The protest was a response to the church’s attempt to remove internet video clips of an interview with celebrity Scientologist, Tom Cruise. The protesters wore the masks to allow them to demonstrate without worrying about being harassed.
In September 2011, Occupy Wall Street hit the news. The Huffington Post explained that the Vendetta masks had now become a “symbol of the movement.” One month later, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange rocked the mask whilst leading a demonstration at St. Paul’s as part of Occupy London Stock Exchange. He was forced to take it off, reportedly at the insistence of police. Rather than just hiding identity, it now becomes a symbol of rebellion.
In June 2012, a group of protesters voiced their anger at the Indian Government’s internet censorship regime at Azad Maiden, India. As part of nationwide demonstrations, students and members of Anonymous donned the masks. It was now spreading across the world and becoming a globally recognized emblem.
In the past few years, a commercial market has opened up for the masks. It is estimated that Rubies Costume Company sells over 100,000 every year. The mask has also become the best selling mask on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de. It is now a finacially lucrative product.
In February 2013, the Bahrain Commerce Minister, Hassan Fakhro places a ban on the importation of the masks. Anyone caught wearing them will now face arrest. They are the third country to implement a ban on the mask after the UAE and Saudi Arabi, who ordered all masks to be confiscated and destroyed. The mask is being remodeled as a sign of criminal activity.
So what for the mask now? What was originally its power is in danger of becoming its downfall. As more people slip it on, there's a danger it will lose its potency as a shock tactic. As an image emerges of an accordion playing demostrater in Turkey, does the photograph below reveal the mask's true future as a clownish prop?
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