Peter Roccia. Anonymous in Ukraine: The Guy Fawkes mask as a semiotic marker for memetic cross-cultural transmission during the 2013/2014 Ukrainian street protests

In this interdisciplinary and cross-cultural study, we examine the transmission of the Guy Fawkes mask as a material semiotic marker for protest from its origins in Renaissance England to the streets of present-day Ukraine. Although the mask has been ubiquitous in 21st-century world street protests as varied as New York and Frankfurt (the Occupy Movement), the Arab Uprisings, Gezi Park (Istanbul), Los Indignados (Spain), and Anonymous Brazil (against the 2014 World Cup), its recent Ukrainian manifestation in Kyiv’s EuroMaidan, and Kharkiv’s, Slavyansk’s, and Donetsk’s Pro-Russian demonstrations has received relatively less focus within the Western media. Using a media archaeology, we trace the development of the mask from its historical and popular culture iterations (ritual, comic books, film) through its political and social dimensions (online parodies, hacktivism, street protests) from .4chan to Project Chanology, to its current street protest manifestations worldwide. Next, we examine news photographs gathered from image databases (Google, Getty, AccuNet) and video clips posted on YouTube, Tumblr, and Instagram as a way to isolate the uniquely Ukrainian elements grafted on to the generic Guy Fawkes/Anonymous semiotic template. Finally, we compare these results against semiotic (Peirce), memetic (Blackmore), and cultural transmission (CT) models, as a way to assess the risks and advantages of the movement’s heterogeneous social structure, and to explain why the mask, so visible in protests from New York to Malaysia, has had relatively less success projecting itself through the intercultural media lens trained so intently on the EuroMaidan and eastern Ukraine.

Peter Roccia
Associate professor
Communications
MacEwan University

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