A few years back, two left-leaning writers, Andy and Lana Wachowski, adapted the story of Guy Fawkes, a Catholic radical who is remembered primarily for his failed attempt, on November 5, 1605, to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill King James I. The Wachowski brothers movie, V for Vendetta, made Fawkes the hero and presented the British crown as an oppressive dictatorship that was meant to echo, at least in technique, certain aspects of the administration of George W. Bush, down to the hooded prisoners, the orange jump suits and the unapologetic embrace of harsh interrogation techniques.
The meaning of Fawkes is, of course, not fixed. The Wachowski brothers’ retelling of the Fawkes’ story was later embraced by libertarian supporters of Ron Paul. During the 2008 campaign, “Remember, Remember The Fifth of November” became a rallying cry for Paul boosters, who shared at least some of the revolutionary fire of both Fawkes and the Wachowskis. On November 5, 2007, Guy Fawkes Day, Paul supporters raised more than $4 million online.
Now, the Fawkes mythology has come full circle. The Republican Governors Association has embraced the symbolism of Fawkes, launching a rather striking website, RememberNovember.com, with a video that showcases far more Hollywood savvy than one can usually expect from Republicans. Again, the Fawkes tale has been twisted a bit. This time, President Obama plays the roll of King James, the Democratic leadership is Parliament, and the Republican Party represents the aggrieved Catholic mass.
The politics and substance aside, this strikes me as a remarkable bit of political messaging, not just for its cinematic quality. The RGA, under the control of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, is clearly stepping out of the stodgy, safe territory it normally inhabits. It is aiming to tap into the vast well of anti-government fury now coursing through the nation. Who would have guessed that Barbour would embrace the symbolic value of the same would-be mass murderer as the Wachowski brothers?
One other note, RGA message wizards have intentionally not circulated this video on YouTube or made an embed version of it publicly available. (Swampland asked for, and was granted, special dispensation.) They want people to view it on their site, RememberNovember.com, in the hopes of building a grassroots army.
UPDATE: I notice quite a bit of electronic dust this post has stirred up on the interwebbing. A couple points: First, as I suggest in the post, the tale of Fawkes has been so thoroughly appropriated by so many that it is just not right to associate the latest appropriators with the intent of the original criminal in 1605. The RGA is not calling for a violent uprising here. It is tapping into well-established online anti-government memes. (Remember 1984.) The Wachowski brothers, who were themselves referencing a comic book adaptation of the Fawkes story, were not calling for violence when they made their movie. Ron Paul supporters were not calling for violence when they decided to raise $4 million in 2007. To suggest that this is what the RGA is doing now is, it seems to me, overly simplistic and inflammatory. Second, there has been some speculation in the comments that the RGA fed me the Fawkes reference. They did not. But the connection is not exactly a stretch for anyone who has closely followed Republican politics online (and yes, here I am counting Paul as a Republican). Aside from the Remember November refrain, the classical music, the near-apocalyptic crises messages, the suggestions of totalitarian intent, the imagery of Castro and marching soldiers, the sound of a ticking clock all points to a well established online narrative, where Fawkes thrives as a sort of folk hero for all ideologies. These sorts of videos are made to go viral. They are intended to be edgy, provocative. They are meant to tap into running passions, online story lines. This one is very successful at accomplishing its viral mission.