November 5, 2011

Out Fawkes-ing the Mask

Occupy Wallstreet Businessweek

It’s one thing when you see demonstrators wearing it. But then, how odd is it to see the Guy Fawkes mask on the cover of Businessweek? Objectified this way, does it associate Occupy more closely in the public mind with Anonymous, the hacker-collective who popularized it in its Scientology protests? Or, does it more spiritually tie Occupy to it’s most direct source — the “V for Vendetta” comic, and it’s anarchist hero fighting a fascist totalitarian British government after a nuclear war?

Given the ambiguity right now over how to frame the movement; the tendency (as well as the right-wing and conservative media agenda) to hang the behavior of violent outside agitators on Occupy; and Occupy’s own aversion to elevating individual faces, the exhibition of the mask by corporate media serves as much to perpetuate an unease over Occupy (the face itself having a villain-ish twist) than an invitation to better understand it — especially when BusinessWeek takes a spray can to it.

What also creates bias here is the seemingly innocent anchor text statement: “Who’s Behind the Mask.” If there is something inordinately rare and impressive about OWS so far, it’s the transparency and inclusiveness under which they’ve been operating. That being the case, there is something suggestive that happens when you talk about people, in the political sphere, “being behind” something. BW can’t expect the phrase to be read practically here, not the way it suggests overseers or special interests (the way the Koch Brothers would be “behind” the Tea Party or discreet millionaires would “be behind” political PACs) which is the complete antithesis of what Occupy is.

And then, what’s with the spray-painting of the mask? I see at least two ways to look at it (given that Occupy – in contrast to those outside agitators – doesn’t endorse defacing property). One is the media defacing the movement. The other is a perfect snapshot of how traditional media deals with reality — whether we’re talking about movements, candidates and campaigns, or just about anything — which is to spray their own narrative on it.

(Photo: Jamie Chung. Type: Justin Metz)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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