Saturday, November 5, 2011

Today in Pop Culture History: A Penny for the Old Guy

Depends Who You Ask
5 November 1605: "Remember, remember the Fifth of November, gunpowder treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot." And Guy Fawkes's (among others) thwarted plan to blow up Parliament certainly hasn't been forgotten, at least by pop culture. Though it would horrify high modernist T. S. Eliot to be included in a "pop culture" timeline, his "The Hollow Men" includes a reference to "the old guy" that links the newspaper filled effigies of Fawkes that get burned on this day all over England with the emotionally bankrupt modern condition in a manner too poignant to be overlooked because of any snobbish (and nebulous) distinction between high and low art.

Oh, and speaking of art there's also this guy:

He's not here to put you in prison, but to show you the bars.
Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, the Fawkes-masked anti-hero of the seminal graphic novel V for Vendetta begins his anarchical campaign to bring down a dystopian British regime by, well, blowing up Parliament on November 5th. Exactly a year later, V completes his revolutionary dismantlement of Norsefire in rather spectacular fashion. The book was adapted into a film in 2006 starring Natalie Portman, that to my mind in many ways missed the point. In a reference a little more timely, if you were to stroll on down to your local "Occupy" outpost, you might see some homages to V's radical spirit.

Ideas are bullet, tear gas, and baton-proof.

A somewhat less politically informed, but devishly clever, pop culture homage to the gunpowder plot is found in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. The phoenix that lives with headmaster Albus Dumbledore, and that serves as a metonym for anti-Voldemort resistance, is named Fawkes. Because he burns and comes back, you see--just like Guy himself through popular memory, just like the Order of the Phoenix itself once Voldemort returns. It's really quite splendid.

You'd never guess a bird this fierce would ever cry, but if he did, he could totally heal your basilisk bite and then carry your butt out of the Chamber of Secrets.

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