V Is What Democracy Looks Like: Image Politics and the Guy Fawkes Mask
Jones, Bryan L.
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How do political demonstrators use the Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta to persuade viewers to engage in actions of dissent in both online and corporeal environments? In seeking an answer, I identify important connections among public writing, visual rhetoric, and digital activism that allow me to understand how dissident rhetors communicate their views and construct ethos in online and corporeal spaces. Political demonstrators use the Guy Fawkes mask to construct ethos and transform spaces into protest arenas. I argue that visual rhetoric contributes to the building of activist movements by alerting potential participants to the transformative possibilities inherent in the environments they inhabit, helping to forge dwelling places for emerging dissidents. Understanding ethos as the creation (or transformation) of a rhetorical space is more effective than merely seeing it as an appeal to some platonic form of universal good character, as most textbooks still define it. For me, an appeal to ethos is better thought of as what Michael J. Hyde, in The Ethos of Rhetoric, calls a dwelling place, which refers to the way “discourse is used to transform space and time into ‘dwelling places’ where people can deliberate about and ‘know together’ some matter of interest.” (xv). I add to the discussion of ethos as a dwelling place by showing how activist rhetors build a sense of dwelling through their visual rhetoric. Ethos develops visually in the concept of our appearance to others, not only in the masks we wear when we construct our persona, but also in the ways in which our personas are constructed through the masks we adopt in specific situations. The V mask as used by protesters and the hacktivist collective Anonymous has become a dwelling place, with clues as to specific ethics taking shape for the wearer in the way the mask is presented. Rather than seeking to directly persuade powerful actants to behave in certain ways, they seek to gather others into their dwelling as they slowly transform what it means to live in the environments they inhabit.
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