Hypocrisy, Anonymous, and Activism Policing
The Media’s Most Idiotic Anonymous Story
It amazes me to find people still writing about Warner Brothers benefiting from the Anonymous movement because of the sale of Guy Fawkes masks, and that this somehow reflects poorly on Anonymous.
First off, Warner Brothers doesn’t sell all those masks. In this age of protests, masks have become an urban service, like umbrellas magically arriving for sale on every corner of New York the moment it starts to mist. These days, when people start getting angry, some guy will show up with a blanket and a stack of masks and do a few hours of brisk trade until the tear gas starts coming in. I personally love this, because I love how humans are like that. “Hey!” they say to themselves, “I bet I can make a few bucks/dinars/pounds/rupees/etc. before the army rolls in!” The guys who show up to sell things when shit is kicking off are interesting,and in a funny way hopeful. Variations on them exist in every conflict zone in the world. But they are not sent by Warner Brothers, I promise, and neither are their masks.
Fellow journalists, let me introduce you to a miraculous little website called alibaba.com. It’s a Chinese business-to-business portal that is bigger in sales than all the other ecommerces sites you know. Combined.*
Here is what you get when you search Ali Baba for “Anonymous mask.”
If you still think those are authorized by Warner Brothers, you may be beyond help.
So why isn’t WB cracking down on all this terrible counterfeiting? Because it’s not counterfeiting. Guy Fawkes masks have been worn in Britain for Bonfire night and thereabouts since the 18th century, and sold regularly up to the 1980s. There were many variations, but they were all similar to the one used by Alan Moore, who grew up with them in Britain — the one used eventually in the movie. Warner Brothers doesn’t own the Guy Fawkes mask. It only owns its line of Guy Fawkes masks. Intellectual property is insane, but fortunately you still can’t own the right to depict a historical figure.
What makes this argument even more idiotic to me though is the idea that consumers are somehow morally bound to a supply chain they never had a choice in. I’m pretty sure those other masks are not made by little protest fairies, they are probably made, like most things in our lives, by some combination of robots and humans other humans have chained to tables. The idea that we can’t critique this system because we have to use the tools this system built to critique it is ahistorical and incoherent.
Every bit of social and political progress has been built on the infrastructure of the preceding system. Do we discredit the work of American abolitionists like Fredrick Douglass or Henry David Thoreau or John Brown if we find out they wore cotton? No, because that would be stupid. The wearing of clothes or eating of sugar was not inherently pro-slavery, since you, the abolitionist, could put on your clothes, have some tea, and declare that you wanted your clothes and sugar to not rely on slave labor anymore.
Similarly, you can want your laptop to not be made by slaves without being a hypocrite for saying this on the internet.
If you want to have a voice in a capitalist system, even if it’s to say you don’t like this capitalist system, you have to use the roads and media and iPhones it built to say it. And, yay for this, because if that were somehow wrong or bad or ineffective, we would all still be living in absolute monarchies. This is the most fundamental piece of progress: at some deep level we always use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house.
So please, anons, wear your masks with pride and source them how you want. Anticapitalists, get out your iPhones and use them to tell the world you believe there’s a better way to build technology. Capitalists, use your free software to argue with them. This is how better worlds are built.
I’m going to go put on some clothes, get breakfast, and try to think of better ways we can support labor rights and sustainable agriculture.
* This is hyperbole, but not by much.