Throwback Thursday, where, essentially I post old writing samples, essays and short stories that I dig up from my pile of hoarded papers and school assignments or from the depths of my computer. So everyone can see how my writing has changed/improved over the years.
The Guy Fawkes mask is a defining characteristic of V. In the same way, cameras (and the constant surveillance they allow) are a defining characteristic of V’s dystopian England. These things are important because the perception of others, as well of the perception of one’s self, has a profound effect on a person’s actions and reactions. People tend to conform to the majority, particularly when one can be persecuted for doing otherwise. When this element is removed, either by turning off the camera, or donning a mask, a person can be their true self, with their own actions, without fear of condemnation. Which is why V would not be V, were he to be unmasked.
The Guy Fawkes mask symbolizes the ideas he presented on the fifth of November when Fawkes tried to blow up parliament. Though Guy Fawkes failed, V holds similar values and goals, and he wants to pay tribute. Unlike Guy Fawkes however, V does not fail, he succeeds in knocking the government off its pedestal. Though the mask itself is important, the perception of it is also important. V believes he will succeed where Guy Fawkes has failed, and by wearing the mask, he acknowledges this past in a way the government can see, especially since the government never truly sees V, they only ever see the mask. This makes them underestimate him, makes them think he is simply a terrorist. It gives the illusion, strengthens the perception, that V will fail as well. Perception is important in V, because how people see him, see the government, see each other, how V sees himself, all have important ramifications on the characters and their story arcs. If you change the perceptions, you change the story. The mask changes the perception others have of V, were he not wearing the mask, or if he were even wearing a different mask, the perceptions would change and the story would with it.
V’s mask is necessary because of the presence of cameras, as is controlled and monitored by the government. Necessary, because being watched changes a person’s behavior. While V’s behavior would probably not change much without the mask, because he is quite convinced of the good behind his actions, the reactions of others would differ quite greatly were he to be unmasked. The mask, aside from playing into V’s extremely theatrical nature, because he is an actor, playing the part of an idea, and so he becomes that idea fully, rather than a man, by de-personifying himself through de-individuation. He makes himself stand out to remain invisible.
The mask makes him unidentifiable, physically removing his identify. No face, no name other than “codename: V” (Moore). In this world, the state’s biggest power is its ability to watch its subjects. The cameras capture every face, at every moment; can find any man masquerading as a terrorist. Except for V, because the mask nullifies the man. As stated by Alice Robb in a New Republic article, “anonymity is disinhibiting” (Robb). In other words, hiding your face makes you act differently, act without consequences, because if people cannot see you they cannot judge you. He makes himself stand out; he makes it impossible for them to find him. That is what makes him dangerous to the state; he is an uncontrollable, unaccounted for, and unknowable variable that isn’t intimidated by their main threat, because if they don’t know who he is, he cannot be found. They do not know the truth, not until he wants them to by leaving the doctor’s journal for them to find. The mask adds to, it creates this anonymity, creates the mystery that surrounds V. The mask deprives the cameras of their purpose, weakening the power V is trying to take down before he has even started.
Without the mask, V would blend into the crowd; V would be able to be found by the cameras. It would counteract V’s theatrical nature, it would nullify his speech of being an invulnerable idea, and it would eliminate the fact that V has flipped the fear on its head. Because the government cannot scare V, V scares the government, though they are loathe to admit that fear. Admitting the fear would be admitting that V has a chance of success. The future of their rule hinges on the fact that V does not succeed. The government comes to power on the fear of the people, and it will burn for their fear of the people, or at least a person. The mask gives V the power to be unseen by the government. By making himself standout, he becomes invisible. V is easily found in the cameras view, but the man beneath the mask never is. Had he been unmasked this would not be the case. Had they seen his face, they would have known him as the man from room five. The withholding of information from the government keeps the power of intimidation in V’s hands. V’s power of them scares the members of the finger and other parts of the head, and this fear makes them sloppy. Inhibits their ability to catch him. It makes them lose, and lets V win.
As told, the government of dystopian England gets power from the people’s fear. They garner this fear with constant surveillance via cameras. As seen in both the book and movie, when the cameras are on, people mostly behave as the government enforces. As soon as V turns them off, true colors start to show. A prime example being the young girl who spray-paints “V” over faith posters while chanting “bullocks” (Moore). This is in part caused by a phenomenon called “social desirability bias” (Weiten G-8) which basically means when supervised, people act, as they feel expected to act, in order to avoid condemnation and/or embarrassment. As people start acting against the government, more people join them. When people aren’t being watched, the government’s threats lessen, because people assume they will not be found, that the threats will not apply to them (self-serving bias) (Weiten G-8). We see this culminate in the movie as the mass of people comes to watch parliament blow up, dressed in capes and masks. When not being watched, people express themselves truly, and in this case, that expression is over throwing a tyrannical government.
Being watched changes people, both actively being watched and the idea of being watched, and as made clear in the novel, ideas can be very powerful, and very dangerous. The idea of being watched, not knowing whether you are or are not being watched, is the idea that lends power to the concept of the panoptica, a prison designed to ensure the prisoners knew they could be being watched, but never knowing when, and thus the fear of being watched would enforce desirable behavior, decreasing the need for much actual surveillance (Ellard). The panoptica is a prison that was never built in true form, but V’s dystopian government creates their own version of through cameras and the perceived omniscience of “fate”. But the idea of the panoptica shows that, in having the power to be watched, less people are truly observed, with his stash of hidden knowledge, V was sure to know this. This idea is seen in V when we see the two men listening to conversations on the telephones. They could hear anything, but it is nearly impossible for them to hear everything (Moore). Being watched changes people, and V was sure to know this. And so, the mask serves a greater purpose than hiding his face, it takes away every power the government could hold over him.
In this world, where everyone cannot help but be seen, V is unseen as a man. He is only V, only the mask, only an idea. This government knows every citizen, what each person is doing at any and every moment, and yet, they do not know who V is. Not until he gives them the knowledge, by leaving the journal, he tells them he is the man from room five, had he not, they may very well have never known. The mask denies the police their ability to find and stop V. The mask allows V to, not be unnoticed, but to be unknown. The mask shields him from the eyes of those watches though the camera. The cameras provide fear, the fear of being watched, being seen, and the ability to stop the behaviors deemed undesirable. But the mask is the greatest contingency against them, because V doesn’t want to be unseen, he wants to be unknown, and the mask, not only draws attention, but it denies the cameras their purpose of knowing, for all they can capture, is the unwavering, ever smiling face of the mask. Allowing V to accomplish his goals in a way that, being unmasked, he wouldn’t be able to do.