Remember where the word ‘Guy’ comes from | Daily News


 

Remember where the word ‘Guy’ comes from

What about Guy Fawkes? As “guy” and “guys” become ever more familiar, is he remembered as the original Guy, or is he left behind?

The answer is definitely the latter, at least for the United States and in some instances at least also the rest of the English-speaking world.

During the 20th century, most users of “guy” and “guys” had not the slightest awareness of its connection to Fawkes. Severing the connection, in fact, was necessary to allow the word to acquire positive connotations. Toward the end of that century, however, as the original reason for bonfires on November 5 faded from memories even in England, the face of Guy Fawkes became more familiar than ever.

Obscure comic

This was thanks to V for Vendetta, a graphic novel written by Alan Moore, illustrated by David Lloyd. It began as a serial in an obscure comic in England in 1982. The finished story was published in one volume by DC Comics in 1988. V for Vendetta imagines a Labour electoral victory in the 1980s that develops into a ruthless Fascist government in the 1990s, one that keeps the population in thrall by television propaganda and ruthless force. Opposing the entire Fascist regime is a lone rebel, who develops skill with all manner of weapons as he miraculously manages to escape from a government concentration camp. He calls himself simply V, the V standing for Vendetta as in the title. And he goes about single-handedly destroying the entire government, thus freeing the population of England and enabling an anarchist state.

Moore and Lloyd made this character a modern Guy Fawkes. In the very first chapter, after rescuing a young woman from sexual assault and worse by government police, V recites to her the familiar “Remember, remember, the fifth of December, gunpowder, treason, and plot. I know of no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.” And with that they watch as the houses of Parliament blow up, followed by a V in fireworks.

What is particularly memorable about the character of V is his costume: a cloak with daggers, a hat like the fashionable one depicted in contemporary illustrations of Guy Fawkes, and a face mask that is a simplified version of Guy’s face in those contemporary illustrations. The one difference is the smug smile on V’s mask. The smile changes the original Guy’s fierce look to a lighthearted cheerful one, making him appear to be laughing as he goes about terrifying and destroying officers of the Fascist regime.

Disused underground

After a year of successful surprise attacks, the government collapses and freedom reigns. V himself dies, but the young woman puts on his mask and arranges a “Viking funeral” for V, complete with blowing up the prime minister’s residence on Downing Street.

This Guy Fawkes mask reached a larger audience in the 2006 movie made from the book, featuring Natalie Portman as a much stronger version of Evey and Hugo Weaving as V. The time moves ahead to remain in the near future. The destruction of the Houses of Parliament takes place in modern fashion: In a disused line of the Underground, V sends an empty subway train filled with explosives under the building. This makes for a grand finale of explosions and fireworks amid Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, witnessed by angry citizens in the streets, all wearing Guy masks. The movie was changed so much that Moore refused to endorse it or have anything to do with it. But the connection to Guy Fawkes remains, and so does the mask.

Both the novel and the movie represent the complete transformation of Guy Fawkes from diabolic arch-villain of 1605 to heroic freedom fighter of the present day. Both versions explicitly refer to the original Guy, thus adopting the original Guy’s attitude toward evil authority, and making him succeed where the original Guy did not. Unlike his collaborator Moore, David Lloyd approved of the movie. He told BBC:

The Guy Fawkes mask has now become a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny, and I’m happy with people using it. It seems quite unique, an icon of popular culture being used this way. My feeling is the Anonymous group needed an all- purpose image to hide their identity and also symbolize that they stand for individualism.

Historical revolutionary

V for Vendetta is a story about one person against the system. We knew that V was going to be an escapee from a concentration camp where he had been subjected to medical experiments but then I had the idea that in his craziness he would decide to adopt the persona and mission of Guy Fawkes, our great historical revolutionary. As Lloyd said, the book and the movie made the Guy Fawkes mask an icon for protests against governments and institutions perceived as evil. During the Occupy Wall Street movement of September 2011 and subsequent “we are the 99 percent” protests against wealth and income inequality, some protesters wore V masks to show their determination and unity, as well as to conceal their identity.

The masks are made by a variety of companies in a variety of styles, but the mask used in the movie is copyrighted by Time Warner and earns a royalty on every mask sold. It’s also a popular mask for Halloween.

The book and the movie today are the best- known current versions of Guy Fawkes, but they weren’t the first. The change in attitudes toward the original Guy began about 200 years ago. Early in the 19th century, James Sharpe notes, Fawkes sometimes had a role other than simply the villain of a dramatic or literary work.

- Lit Hub


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