Seeing 'V for Vendetta' References in Today's Election Coverage? That's Because It's Guy Fawkes Night

All over the U.K. tonight, people are celebrating Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night. Typically, hoards of Londoners take to the street to celebrate, though officials hope a lockdown due to the coronavirus will curtail such public gatherings. Instead, people in the U.K. are encouraged to celebrate at home. Even in the U.S., though, you have likely seen Guy Fawkes turn up on your Twitter feed today, considering the state of the 2020 presidential election.

Perhaps, you're only seeing more appearances of people wearing this creepy mask:

guy fawkes mask
Guy Fawkes masks have been popular method in underground circles since the release of the 2006 film "V for Vendetta." PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty

But what does it all mean?

Guy Fawkes Night and the mask's history go all the way back to 1605 and the Gunpowder Plot, which was a failed plan to blow up the English Parliament using 36 barrels of gunpowder. Though a fellow with stylized facial hair named Guy Fawkes didn't solely conceive of the failed assassination attempt of government officials (and King James I), he became the symbol for the movement. It's been said that he was to light the fuse to set off the gunpowder. But perhaps his association with the event is because he committed suicide by falling from the scaffold where he was to be hanged for his involvement in the plot and broke his neck, thus technically escaping his execution.

Since then, people in the U.K. have been lighting bonfires to mark Guy Fawkes Night, but in recent decades it has become customary to burn effigies of whichever public figures are most despised at the time. (Often the Pope is an effigy.) Large amounts of fireworks are also let off from the evening until the following morning during the celebration. Cities have official fireworks displays in typical, non-pandemic years, but expect plenty of people to be setting them off on their own properties tonight.

Over the years, though, the Guy Fawkes mask has taken on a larger meaning. While Fawkes may have been considered a traitor during his lifetime, he now stands for action against government corruption or corporate greed. The use of the mask as a symbol comes largely from the graphic novel series V for Vendetta (started in 1982) and the 2006 film of the same name inspired by it, starring Natalie Portman and written by the Wachowskis (The Matrix).

In the series and movie, a vigilante wearing a Fawkes mask battles a right-wing, neo-fascist regime in a dystopian future. Shortly after the film's release, the collective of cyber-activists called Anonymous co-opted the mask as their symbol. The group, often referred to as cyber-terrorists by its targets, has been known for online attacks against several governments, institutions, corporations and the Church of Scientology. The Guy Fawkes Mask also became popular among protestors associated with the Occupy Movement.

On Guy Fawkes Night, the Million Mask March, also known as "Operation Vendetta," is held worldwide as an annual protest associated with Anonymous. Police in London have been breaking up Million Mask March gatherings tonight, arresting some protestors in the process.

MILLION MASK MARCH IN LONDON: Londoners take to the streets for the annual 'Million Mask March' connected to the hacktivist group Anonymous on Guy Fawkes Day, 5 November.

— NowThis (@nowthisnews) November 5, 2020

All over Twitter, people noted Guy Fawkes Night by expressing their disdain for politicians.

And so it’s November 5th again, bonfire night. Every single year it comes round I always think we could do with a successful Guy Fawkes to sort the shithouse lying politicians out. This line sticks out most of all from V for Vendetta, now more than ever.

— Ben Alexander (@Ben_Alex_86) November 5, 2020

It's unclear what—if any—attachment William Shatner has to the occasion.

Happy #GuyFawkes Day! I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot! 😉

— William Shatner (@WilliamShatner) November 5, 2020

Along the same odd lines of Shatner posting about the night, here is a tweet from another shadowy figure famous for wearing a mask, who showed his love for Fawkes:

As many will be unable to see a firework display this Guy Fawkes Night, we thought we would bring you a Phantom themed one right into your home! #BonfireNight2020

— The Phantom Of The Opera (@PhantomOpera) November 5, 2020

Recent years have seen effigies of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jung-Un burnt in effigy in the streets by marchers. If effigies appear this year, expect to see all the familiar faces of world leaders.