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Crazy Like a Fawkes

There seems to me something unseemly, if not downright sinister, in allowing the public to believe its own most outré fantasies. To take the most obvious example of the past decade, it was disappointing that the Bush Administration made no … Read More

By / November 6, 2007

There seems to me something unseemly, if not downright sinister, in allowing the public to believe its own most outré fantasies. To take the most obvious example of the past decade, it was disappointing that the Bush Administration made no serious attempt to explain why it was invading Iraq, though it could easily have done so just by plagiarizing a few of Christopher Hitchens’s columns. The result was that many of those opposed to the war got bogged down in a quagmire of “blood for oil” paranoia, to say nothing of the still more outlandish theories floating around the murkier margins of the Internet. You go to the antiwar rally with the facts you have, not the facts you wish you had—and chances are you’ll look like an idiot.

We as an electorate are no longer trusted to understand complex arguments. Since we’ve been steeped not in Tom Paine but in disaster movies, the Administration thought it safer to turn our own grotesque imaginations on us with talk of “weapons of mass destruction.” We as an electorate probably think we’ve wised up a bit since then, but Ron Paul doesn’t seem to think so:

Historians and British schoolchildren remember Guy Fawkes as the Roman Catholic, anti-Protestant rebel who on Nov. 5, 1605, tried to assassinate King James I by blowing up the Parliament. Supporters of the Republican primary campaign of the libertarian Representative Ron Paul may remember Fawkes as a wildly successful fund-raising gimmick.

On Monday, a group of Paul supporters helped raised more than $4.07 million in one day—approaching what the campaign raised in the entire last quarter—through a Web site called ThisNovember5th.com, a reference to the day the British commemorate the thwarted bombing.

Many fans of Mr. Paul know of the day primarily through a movie based on the futuristic graphic novel “V for Vendetta,” by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, in which a terrorist modeled after Fawkes battles a fascist government that has taken over Britain.

Many fans? Let’s think this through. Guy Fawkes Night has a fairly simple and unambiguous reason for being: to celebrate a terrorist plot that failed. Every British schoolboy knows the rhyme, which is worth knowing because you get to sing it while burning Fawkes in effigy and setting off firecrackers.

Remember, remember the Fifth of November, The Gunpowder Treason and Plot, I know of no reason Why Gunpowder Treason Should ever be forgot. Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent To blow up King and Parli'ment. Three-score barrels of powder below To prove old England's overthrow; By God's providence he was catch'd With a dark lantern and burning match. 

By contrast, zero American schoolboys know the rhyme, because it has nothing to do with America. Nor does it, at first glance, have any resonance with an American political campaign. The only way the allusion, if that is really the word for it, makes any sense is if it’s an allusion to the worst movie of 2006. In V for Vendetta, you may recall, the terrorist “Guy Fawkes” is the hero, fearlessly battling a dictatorship that resembles a frustrated teenager’s dystopic vision of the Anglosphere. (Here’s what I wrote about V for Vendetta when I was unlucky enough to see it.) This allusion is clearly Mr. Paul’s intent:

ThisNovember5th.com includes video clips and the text of a speech by Mr. Paul, a 10-term Texas congressman. In it, Mr. Paul declares, “The true patriot challenges the state when the state embarks on enhancing its power at the expense of the individual.”

Mr. Paul has stood out from the Republican field for his opposition to the war in Iraq. In the speech he argues that the fight against terrorism is threatening American democracy.

“The American Republic is in remnant status,” he says. “The stage is set for our country eventually devolving into military dictatorship, and few seem to care.”

There’s cognitive dissonance and then there’s claiming, while participating in the democratic political process, that we’re headed for a “military dictatorship.” This kind of hyperbole is par for the course, but then that’s just my point. The scare tactics, the blatant pandering to our ignorance of anything but terrible pop culture—sounds like more of the same to me.

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