Annual Rant: Remember Remember the Fifth of November

... or, please don't.

It seems I will end up running a version of this column this every year, because ever since Alan Moore's damn graphic novel became a damn movie, we're going to see people running amok in V for Vendetta masks advocating freedom from oppressive evil government forces because popular culture is more important than, y'know, historical fact. Or something. We are a fact-aversive society now, and wearing a cool-looking mask now takes the place of useful action.

So let's get this straight:

• Guy Fawkes was not trying to overthrow a theocratic, repressive government; he was trying to create one. King James began his reign by offering religious freedom, at least the best that time period could envision. Only after constant threats of violence if he did not convert to the Catholic faith personally, and the Bye Plot, which was a failed plan to kidnap the king and hold him until he agreed to reinstate the Catholic Church as the sole faith of England, did James get cranky and begin persecuting Catholics.

• The November Plot was to assassinate King James, to kidnap and install Princess Elizabeth, all of (I think) eight years old, because she could be easily controlled. It was not the work of anarchists who believed in no government or freedom from oppressive government; it was exchanging a monarchy for a totalitarian theocracy. They also tried to convince Spain to invade England and ignored the pleadings of the Pope, who thought it was a bad idea to reinstate Catholicism by violence.

• The Fifth of November was not a heroic martyrdom of patriots; it was a failed terrorist plot. Fawkes was caught attempting to blow up Parliament, not just King James. If it had succeeded, hundreds of innocent people would have been killed, including all of Parliament.

• The "remember remember" chant grew into popularity in England cheering the failure of the plot, not supporting its aims. It ends by cheering on burning Guy Fawkes at the stake, though that didn't happen; Fawkes managed to kill himself on the way to his execution, though his effigy was burned on Nov. 5 each year for centuries.

• The fact that Fawkes' face mask has been used by Anonymous and Alan Moore wrote a graphic novel in which a terrorist co-opts Fawkes' image to blow up a pastiche of Margaret Thatcher's Parliament does not make the Fifth of November a holiday for freedom. The gross misunderstanding of the November Plot is one of the reasons I dislike V for Vendetta so much.

• I personally don't intend to remember remember the Fifth of November. I'm not even British.

Instead, I like what Joy Coop posted a year or two ago. It's a saner, smarter and less historically cranky response than my grumpification:

Forget for the moment Guy Fawkes was trying to institute theocracy, and instead take the modern-day meaning of the day: DEFY SOMETHING IMPORTANT TODAY! Whether it's your own stubbornness, procrastination, or laziness. If it's something that should have been said months ago. Make a positive change you once thought impossible.

Making a positive change sounds like a good thing to me. Maybe it's the weather, the state of the world, or just the blah that seems to envelop everyone after Daylight Savings, but the level of crankiness within and without seems to reach epidemic levels at this time each year. Once again I've seen a number of posts from people angry not about politics or family drama, but about other people's happiness. Angry about hearing Christmas carols too early. Angry about the gleeful and overcaffeinated Nanos typing madly away at their novels. Angry about other people being happy.

So instead of remember-remember yet again and posting images of that damn mask as though it makes you a warrior for justice, let's forget a failed terrorist plot in another country centuries ago, and let's make a positive change today. Pick a nonprofit that needs volunteers for the holidays. Call someone you've meant to call for a long time. Give your family extra hugs and tell them you love them. Donate your extra cash to a cause. Don't have a cause? Find one! 

Hell, if you have no other ideas, buy a few flowers and go to the poorest cemetery in your town. Place your flowers on graves that don't have any.

Do something to make the world a better place by sundown than it was when you woke up this morning. I don't know of a single religion that would call that a bad goal. To hell with Guy Fawkes. 

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