Remember, remember the 5th of November…
You can kill people, but not ideas.
With tomorrow being said date – I love a good bonfire as much as the next person – I feel the ritual of “Bonfire Night” remains while the meaning may have fallen by the wayside, like a number of things nowadays. Plus, it makes for an interesting exploration of ideas.
“Remember, remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot; for there is a reason why gunpowder and treason should ne’er be forgot.”
Ah yes, that fated day in 1605 when Guy Fawkes conspired along with Robert Catesby (who led the gunpowder plot) and other individuals to blow up the House of Lords in London, but ultimately failed. I still find amusing the statement that Guy Fawkes was the only man who entered the Houses of Parliament with honest intentions. However, this brings us to an important point of “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators were viewed as Catholic terrorists during a time of Protestant Elizabethan rule and her successor King James I. There had been much unrest and oppression for some decades of Catholics in England leading up to the event, the use of recusancy laws and also with Pope Pius V, in 1570, declaring Her Majesty a heretic and purported to dissolve the duty of all Elizabeth's subjects of their allegiance to her.
Short history lesson over, the failed gunpowder plot is a marked celebration every year on the 5th November, where children traditionally create effigies called “Guys” and throw them onto the bonfires amongst the fireworks. It’s a very ironic festivity – the people celebrating with bangs and explosions, a bang and explosion on the rulers that did not eventuate. Catesby, Fawkes and those involved were all killed, but evidently the idea lives on.
V for Vendetta, originally created as a comic and then later became a film by the Wachowskis (there are fundamental differences between the two, but I’m not getting into that and I refer to the film here in this post), the caped crusader in a Guy Fawkes mask who seeks to liberate the people from the tyrannical, military rule by virtue of recreating (and succeeding in) the infamous gunpowder plot.
Authoritarian rule, be it fascist or communist, has a tendency to creep into society with the population complicit in it. A couple of good measures to counter this is to be careful what you give up in the name of safety and security and to take on the Nietzschean idea to "distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful", and these themes are all explored in the aforementioned film to varying degrees.
“I dare do all that may become a man; who dare do more is none” – V referencing Shakespeare’s Macbeth implying what was done to him (and others) was unjust and what he’s doing is just.
We still have many people fighting against oppressive regimes today, so the idea “people shouldn’t be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people” lives on. The “illusion of coincidence”, artists using lies to tell the truth while politicians use them to cover the truth up, constructed news; these are not new ideas and they’ll remain long after I’m gone.
V's Latin phrase on the mirror – Vi veri universum vivus vici – “By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe.”
The domino scene towards the end of the film is a tremendous piece of visual storytelling and artistic creation, illustrating that it only takes one to start a chain reaction of events which have further flow on effects, and that there is usually one domino preventing the whole thing from collapsing.
While we may love ideas, it is our love of people, a singular person even, that is superior. In the end scene of V for Vendetta where Evey is giving her final monologue, she espouses that V is not just a person, but he is everyone i.e. V has transcended personhood and become an idea, a symbol. The thing is, while V may be a symbol or an idea to the people that will never die, he was a specific individual to her that she has lost from this world.
Alas, it is easier to kill a tangible person than an intangible idea. Sometimes it may be helpful thinking of it like this, “people don’t have ideas, ideas have people” – A Jungian notion. We must seek to understand the ideas that possess us, that burn in us like a bonfire or explode like gunpowder. Although, we don’t necessarily need to do it to the sound of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture.