Saturday, 5 November 2011

Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke, Mirrors  ...

November the 5th. Bonfire. Guy Fawkes. The tendency is to understand these as synonymous. The popular version of the story, beginning with a failed assassination attempt (led by Robert Catesby and supported by Guy Fawkes) is one that has familiarity, but there's something more that needs a little thought.

Bonfires (historically, the Celtic 'bone fire') stemmed from the traditions of burning waste after the autumn harvest and marked an annual pre-winter rite of passage. The contemporary version was reinforced by the Thanksgiving Act 1605 (also known as the Observance of 5th November Act) and ties in with infamous Gunpowder Plot. Look a little deeper at this and then this date is not just about the saving of King James I. It becomes the macabre 'celebration' of the death of a man who was hung, drawn and quartered following a trial for high treason.

And there is perhaps another rather ambiguous aspect to all this that might get overlooked. Is November 5th a celebration of victory over terrorism or the celebration of the terrorist himself? The popular media and the average Brit probably don't pay much thought to this possibility and are quite willing to live with a slightly over-romanticised idea of toffee apples and fireworks. But just a thought - imagine a similar date set aside for Osama bin Laden.

... and Vendetta

The transformation of rebel to iconic hero is where Guy Fawkes' legacy now lies. During the recent anti capitalist protests, the image of Guy Fawkes, like the one worn as a mask by the unnamed protagonist in the film V for Vendetta, took on a contemporary symbol of resistance. Turns out that Guido Fawkes, the great anti-government rebel, would-be assassin and terrorist, wins after all.

Oh, and my favourite quote from the film? 

"People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." 


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