In 1605, a young Englishman named Guy Fawkes tried to plant a massive bomb beneath the British Parliament. The goal was to kill the king--a Protestant--and replace him with his nine-year-old daughter, who Fawkes and his co-conspirators believed would give greater power to England’s Catholics.
It wasn’t meant to be. Fawkes was caught in the basement of the House of Lords with three dozen barrels of gunpowder, which he said was designed to “blow you Scotch beggars back to your native mountains.” The Protestant monarchy of England had him tortured before sentencing him to death. Though Fawkes managed to kill himself before the King could have the pleasure of hanging him in the Old Palace Yard, his corpse was still drawn-and-quartered as a warning to other would-be insurgents.
Jump to 1982, when English writer Alan Moore publishes the graphic novel “V For Vendetta.” The story is set in a bombed-out dystopian future where an anarchist named “V” attempts to bring down the fascist government that has come to power after a large nuclear attack. Throughout the story, “V” wears a mask of Guy Fawkes’s face.
When "V For Vendetta" was turned into a movie in 2006, the plastic masks went on sale all over the world. Not long afterwards, during the rise of Anonymous and Occupy Wall Street, the mask became popular as a way for anti-establishment protesters to show their resistance to the status-quo while simultaneously concealing their identities.
The mask’s symbolic value carried over into the Arab Spring. In places like Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria--where military regimes had little tolerance for dissent--the mask was a convenient way to stay anonymous. Alan Moore--the author of “V For Vendetta”--told The Guardian: “It feels like a character I created 30 years ago has somehow escaped the realm of fiction.”