Back in the early 80s, approaching the end of Vendetta's epic 38-part cycle, Moore was struggling to think of another “V” word with which to title a closing chapter. He'd already used Victims, Vaudeville and Vengeance; the Villain, the Voice, the Vanishing; even Vicissitude and Verwirrung (the German word for confusion). “I was getting pretty desperate,” he says.
He eventually settled on Vox populi. “Voice of the people. And I think that if the mask stands for anything, in the current context, that is what it stands for. This is the people. That mysterious entity that is evoked so often – this is the people.”
I think Moore nails it when he discusses the Occupy movement’s use of the Guy Fawkes mask as a means of creating spectacle more than anything else. Making fun of the protesters for wearing the ‘face’ of a theocratic terrorist sort of misses the point.
There are more interesting points to make about the mask: how collectivity and anonymity have become a sort of refuge and protest against the corporatization of identity (e.g. social media); how the mask ironically reveals the face of the ‘average’ OWS protester as white and male; the resemblance of the Fawkes mask to commedia dell’arte masks in that it can be “pleasant, breezy, or more sinister”, depending on the context; the interesting choice of leftist protesters to wear these masks rather than the bandanas and hoodies popular among anarchists in the ’90s—perhaps we always find a face more sympathetic, even if it’s not a real one; etc.
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
Protesters at Occupy Hong Kong
Camped out at Occupy London
Zuccotti Park, New York, 10 October 2011 (Andrew Burton/Associated Press)
Shepherd Fairey "Occupy Hope"
By NEIL STRAUSS
If you happen to be reading this article online, you’ll notice that right above it, there is a button labeled “like.” Please stop reading and click on “like” right now.
Thank you. I feel much better. It’s good to be liked.
Don’t forget to comment on, tweet, blog about and StumbleUpon this article. And be sure to “+1” it if you’re on the newly launched Google+ social network. In fact, if you don’t want to read the rest of this article, at least stay on the page for a few minutes before clicking elsewhere. That way, it will appear to the site analytics as if you’ve read the whole thing.
Once, there was something called a point of view. And, after much strife and conflict, it eventually became a commonly held idea in some parts of the world that people were entitled to their own points of view.
Unfortunately, this idea is becoming an anachronism. When the Internet first came into public use, it was hailed as a liberation from conformity, a floating world ruled by passion, creativity, innovation and freedom of information. When it was hijacked first by advertising and then by commerce, it seemed like it had been fully co-opted and brought into line with human greed and ambition.
But there was one other element of human nature that the Internet still needed to conquer: the need to belong. The “like” button began on the website FriendFeed in 2007, appeared on Facebook in 2009, began spreading everywhere from YouTube to Amazon to most major news sites last year, and has now been officially embraced by Google as the agreeable, supportive and more status-conscious “+1.” As a result, we can now search not just for information, merchandise and kitten videos on the Internet, but for approval.
Just as stand-up comedians are trained to be funny by observing which of their lines and expressions are greeted with laughter, so too are our thoughts online molded to conform to popular opinion by these buttons. A status update that is met with no likes (or a clever tweet that isn’t retweeted) becomes the equivalent of a joke met with silence. It must be rethought and rewritten. And so we don’t show our true selves online, but a mask designed to conform to the opinions of those around us.
Conversely, when we’re looking at someone else’s content—whether a video or a news story—we are able to see first how many people liked it and, often, whether our friends liked it. And so we are encouraged not to form our own opinion but to look to others for cues on how to feel.
“Like” culture is antithetical to the concept of self-esteem, which a healthy individual should be developing from the inside out rather than from the outside in. Instead, we are shaped by our stats, which include not just “likes” but the number of comments generated in response to what we write and the number of friends or followers we have. I’ve seen rock stars agonize over the fact that another artist has far more Facebook “likes” and Twitter followers than they do.
Because it’s so easy to medicate our need for self-worth by pandering to win followers, “likes” and view counts, social media have become the métier of choice for many people who might otherwise channel that energy into books, music or art—or even into their own Web ventures.
The same is true of the productivity of already established writers and artists. I was recently on a radio show with an author who, the interviewer said, had tweeted, on average, every 20 minutes for the past two years. Yet, despite all the time and effort spent amassing and catering to followers, as soon as a social network falls out of use, like MySpace, all that work collapses like a castle built of sand.
The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm presciently wrote over 60 years ago that man has “constructed a complicated social machine to administer the technical machine he built…. The more powerful and gigantic the forces are which he unleashes, the more powerless he feels himself as a human being. He is owned by his creations, and has lost ownership of himself.”
So let’s rise up against the tyranny of the “like” button. Share what makes you different from everyone else, not what makes you exactly the same. Write about what’s important to you, not what you think everyone else wants to hear. Form your own opinions of something you’re reading, rather than looking at the feedback for cues about what to think. And, unless you truly believe that microblogging is your art form, don’t waste your time in pursuit of a quick fix of self-esteem and start focusing on your true passions.
And please, despite what I said earlier, do not +1, tweet, StumbleUpon, like or comment on this article. You’ll only be making it worse.